447 people detained at a May Day march Wednesday, some for as long as six hours without food, water or access to a bathroom. Elementary school parents hassled Thursday morning for not providing the route they and their children would take to educate the public about road safety at a dangerous intersection. The SPVM has been busy enforcing bylaw P-6.
Cops in Montreal seem to be on a power trip. Not surprising considering just last Tuesday, Montreal’s city council voted down a motion 34-25 put forward by Projet Montreal councilor Alex Norris that would have removed the changes made to bylaw P-6 last year forcing protesters to provide police with a route of their demonstration among other things (this following Projet’s François Limoges’ excellent speech on the right to protest).
Politicians voting in or to uphold a law that anyone can tell is both unconstitutional and wrong is nothing new, not even in Quebec. Just last spring, the Charest government brought in Bill 78 and the Tremblay-controlled council passed the aforementioned changes to P-6 as a way for the SPVM to enforce 78 without actually doing so and facing a charter challenge.
But those were different times. Those laws were passed as a desperate attempt to stop a peaceful protest movement that was already in full swing and garnering international media attention.
Predictably, they failed. The Maple Spring was too big to contain. Even the cops used their newfound powers sporadically.
This time around, the draconian measures kicked in before there was a large enough groundswell to jump over them. With only a few hundred people to corral, the SPVM were free to act like bullies and politically profile and target people they didn’t like.
Even in front of city hall, in front of the cameras in broad daylight, the cops tackled someone who was just taking pictures and ticketed people for playing music and spitting on the ground. These disgusting abuses of authority have now been vindicated by our elected officials and that’s really scary.
It’s also truly frightening to think that anyone going out to demonstrate will have the thought of a $637 fine and six hours without a bathroom break in the back of their mind. That may not prevent the hardcores, but it will give many second thoughts.
I’ll admit that I’m even a little nervous to attend a protest. Given the way the SPVM have been treating what even they see as legitimate media lately makes me wonder if an FTB press pass would carry any weight with them.
In this climate, how can something like the casseroles ever happen? Last year people who were too busy to express their sympathies with student marchers and their disgust with Bill 78 on a regular basis could just take a walk down the street banging on their pots and pans on a warm summer night and then go about their business. Now, sadly, they may be too scared.
That’s obviously why the cops decided to use these tactics. They wanted to prevent the movement from reaching the widespread appeal it had last year. Their other goal, presumably, was a political one : to change the script.
If the student movement’s reboot hadn’t been crushed in its infancy, it would be clear to everyone that it never was for Marois and the PQ, just against Charest and his Liberal Party’s education policies. If the protests that resumed when Marois decided to index tuition hadn’t been oppressed by the SPVM when they were still small, you wouldn’t hear anyone blaming the students for what the PQ is now doing.
In an alternate reality, we may have marchers opposed to Bill 14 walking side by side with the students. Instead, Marois has brought the discourse back to language and separation, window dressing to distract from the fight against austerity and neo-liberal economic policies.
Meanwhile, very few people attending or covering the protests are talking about the Marois education policy or even Marois at all. It’s now a fight against a municipal administration and for the very right to protest. It’s kinda hard to make this a Quebec-wide thing when the movement is stifled in its would-be epicentre.
Last year, our city was a beacon of hope for people opposed to austerity and the oppressive nature of the state. Tourism didn’t suffer, in fact, people even came here for the protests and spent money at local merchants. This year, the image that is getting out is that of the police kettle. Montreal: come for the smoked meat, stay six hours in a kettle because you can’t leave.
The script, indeed, has changed, but it looks like some of the cops have misplaced their copies and are winging it. While their management is claiming that they understand the “necessary nuances” and won’t be enforcing P-6 when it comes to, say, Habs victory celebrations (read: only enforcing it against those they don’t like), it seems that whomever decided to declare that a group of elementary school parents and their children promoting road safety an illegal assembly wasn’t thinking in a very nuanced fashion.
Now consider this along with some of the recent police actions caught on video: an arbitrary arrest of someone walking on the sidewalk, a fully protected riot squad officer shoving a woman with his shield for trying to talk to him, the list goes on. You start getting the picture that police in this town are generally revelling in their newly re-approved authority.
Mayor Applebaum and the city council have created a monster that even they don’t seem able to control anymore. There is a political solution, but that will have to wait until November.
What do we do until then? We can’t accept our city becoming a police state. We can’t accept P-6 and provide a route for spontaneous demonstrations. But we also can’t keep getting hurt, kettled and arbitrarily arrested.
If you have any ideas, please share them. I’m kinda stumped.
* Top image by Jonathan Cyr via Twitter