It’s a gross violation of the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. It’s the local symbol of state repression and unchecked power. It also, apparently, leads to some really sloppy police work.
The conversation surrounding Montreal Municipal Bylaw P-6 has largely focused on the violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms inherent in it and big picture issues of police powers. However, it now looks like it may be defeated on a technicality and police laziness.
A Bit of Background
In 2012, when the Maple Spring was in full bloom, Montreal City Council decided to provide some legal cover for Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s controversial and unenforceable Bill 78. They added clause 2.1 to P-6, making any demonstration that does not provide a route to police in advance for approval illegal.
It took a bit of time, but once student protests resumed, following new premier Pauline Marois’ decision to raise tuition in her own way, the SPVM (Montreal Police) started applying P-6 routinely, at the start of demonstrations, mass-kettling hundreds of people and issuing them $638 tickets. This made demonstrating difficult, and drawing solidarity marchers from the general public, as was the case during the Maple Spring, next to impossible.
Even if you support a cause, the risk of being forced to stand in the cold in one spot for four, five, six hours and then paying for the “privilege” may be the deal breaker, especially if you have kids at home or work the next day. Not letting the new round of protests turning into a mass revolt seems to have been the goal and it seems to have worked, at least until last week.
The Richmond Decision
On March 22, 2013, there was a mass kettling and fining done under P-6. As with other cases, the defendants decided to fight the ticket. However, this time, with no lawyers, they chose to argue that the tickets themselves were invalid and the judge agreed.
Municipal Court Judge Randall Richmond determined that 2.1 did not constitute an offense, but even if it did, the defendants would have to have been organizing the demonstration and there was no way of proving they were.
Richmond also repudiated the procedure police used to issue tickets to demonstrators. Once the protestors were moved from the kettle to busses, SPVM officers issued the tickets to all of the people on the busses en masse. The problem is that the officers signing the tickets had not personally witnessed the accused committing any infraction.
Imagine getting a speeding ticket that’s signed by someone at police headquarters who you never met. Now, imagine that you try and fight it and the person who signed the ticket isn’t even a witness. How can you possibly be expected to pay that ticket?
You can’t. And that’s why Judge Richmond decided to throw out 16 tickets in total, including some for people scheduled for other days.
So, while this is clearly a victory against P-6, it isn’t a total one. The bylaw is still on the books and can be amended by City Council. Hopefully that will seem like an undesirable waste of time, at least long enough for it to be overturned completely on constitutional grounds. Also, it could be appealed.
In the meantime, Judge Richmond’s decision means that anyone police can’t prove to be an organizer can argue that simply being at a demo doesn’t constitute an infraction. Seeing as it’s almost impossible to prove, in some demos, who the organizers are, the SPVM can’t really hold anyone accountable.
Big win for non-hierarchical anarchist organizing. I guess just make sure a non-hierarchical organization creates the Facebook event and not an individual, or if it is an individual, make sure it’s a fake profile with a funny name, or better yet a real name taken from the other side. I, for one, would love to see the SPVM try to fine Ian Lafreniere, Denis Coderre or Heywood Jablome.
It also means that one officer mass-ticketing hundreds doesn’t fly anymore. If the SPVM wants to keep kettling people, they’re going to need a lot more people on hand to witness infractions.
Why Didn’t I Think of That?
This is the kind of decision that hearkens back to Al Capone going down for tax evasions because, of course, organized criminals don’t pay tax. How could anyone caught in a kettle be fined? We all know that police block off any escape route. What if someone happened to be walking down a side street – let’s say a tourist. They turn onto the main artery and get caught. How can the SPVM justify fining them $638?
What about mass ticket signings? How can that be legal at all? When a police force doesn’t apply the same bureaucratic rigour to a gross violation of civil liberties that they do to a parking ticket, you know there’s grounds to fight it.
It seems so simple after the fact. Why didn’t I think of that? Why didn’t anyone think of that? Well, fortunately some did. Rich James in particular is responsible for suggesting this course of action, and he started doing so in April 2014. However, it was really the defendants Patrick Rene, Eric Thibault-Jolin (or Thibeault-Jolin, according to the court documents) and someone named AK (who had an unsigned ticket and was a minor) who really embraced the concept, fought for it and won.
Cases that came before the court on February 13th were thrown out, too, because the prosecutor had no new evidence. Over 200 more tickets are expected to be thrown out on February 25. Unless the prosecutor comes up with more decisive arguments, the people appearing before the judge on March 23rd and 24th, challenging article 2 itself, can expect the same result.
Now, with the annual Anti-Police Brutality March scheduled for March 15 (as it always is) and the promise of many anti-austerity actions to come, this is going to be an interesting spring and summer.
* Top image by Jonathan Cyr via Twitter