Yesterday afternoon I didn’t have anything better to do, so I decided I’d check out the anti-police brutality protest.
Past experience has shown me that these protests tend to get rather tense when the radical wing confronts police near the end. I could never quite figure out the cause of the pattern until yesterday when I realized something I should have concluded earlier was obvious:
The entire purpose of anti-police brutality protests is to prompt police brutality.
I arrived at the Snowdon metro shortly after 5 p.m. to a small gathering just outside the station’s entrance. On the other three intersections, a row of police officers on bicycles, and others on foot, standing and watching. Above, a TVA helicopter, which one protester flipped the bird at, probably confusing it with a police helicopter which was also circling overhead.
Cameras were just about everywhere. The networks sent reporters, newspapers sent photographers, independent media were getting sob stories and the protesters themselves were photographing and filming the event.
CTV’s Paul Karwatsky, very preppy in his suit and tie and cashmere coat, is chatting on a cellphone with the office, trying to find out if he’ll be reporting live from the scene for the 6 o’clock news. An LCN cameraman is stringing out cable, frustrated because the network didn’t send a reporter to help him out. The Gazette’s Max Harrold is getting a comment from a woman in line for the 51 bus, surrounded by a sea of people. By 5:30, the human traffic becomes so cumbersome the bus stop is cancelled and those who can make it out of the station have to walk two blocks to the next one in the bitter cold.
A protester grabs the megaphone, and asks a favour: “We’re in an immigrant, working-class neighbourhood,” he says. “This isn’t downtown, this isn’t Westmount.” So presumably random property destruction just for the heck of it will be frowned upon.
A sign reads “Fuck you (la police)”, a phrase which would be repeated verbally throughout the night, along with “no justice, no peace”, an odd phrase for the radical left-wing who are supposedly anti-war.
One kid climbs up a pole where a Mario Dumont poster is hanging, and defaces it with a black marker. He draws a Hitler moustache on the ADQ leader and writes “futur Reich”. The police sit by and do nothing as this vandalism takes place. Strangely, Dumont (especially on his signs) makes a pretty good Hitler. But even as right-wing as the ADQ is, I don’t think mass extermination of Jews is on their platform yet. Perhaps they’ll announce that part after the federal budget is tabled.
5:43 p.m., and the protesters move into the street to begin their march. The police move in and … block off the street for them. The motorists who are caught in the middle sit by and idle. I’m always impressed with how motorists here are so forgiving of protests like this. Had it been one person moving into the street, they’d be leaning on their horns. But not a single honk. Perhaps it’s because police are nearby, or maybe they’re just scared.
As the march moves on, a parade of vehicles starts appearing from Circle Road: Four police mini-buses, two ambulances, five unmarked police vehicles and almost 20 cruisers, in addition to the dozen cops on bikes and the helicopter overhead.
The march turns left on Cote-des-Neiges Road. Not content with disrupting the 51 bus, they attack the STM’s most vital bus line: the 535 Park/Cote des Neiges and all the working-class, public transit-using people on it. Ironically, they also block a now-detoured 51 bus which thought it could get around the march by taking Jean-Brilliant Street.
On Cote des Neiges the destruction began. Broken glass on phone booths and bus shelters, mailboxes toppled over. Apparently, payphones, buses and postal service are all tools of the proletariat used to oppress the working class. Or something.
Political posters are also town down. The big Liberal signs, predictably, are prime targets. But also those of Québec solidaire candidate Sujata Dey (whose name appears to have been originally misspelled).
At Cote des Neiges and Lacombe, a woman driver is talking on her cellphone, explaining to someone why she’s running late. She’s not amused. On the other hand, two young boys on roller blades stand with their jaws dropped counting the police cars. “Fuck man…” one says.
It’s about here that I meet up with Yves Engler, the notorious left-wing radical and former Concordia student politician (until he was kicked out for … oh, nobody remembers anymore). He’s not crazy about the wanton property destruction either. It’s pointless. He tells me he’s working on a new book criticizing Canada’s foreign policy. I’ll leave it to you to guess what grade he gave them.
On Barclay, where the protest has made another left turn, there’s an injury. Not from police brutality (though some might have thought so). He fell off his bike and scraped his arm, causing a lot of bleeding. Fortunately, this group has its own medics who quickly administer bandages, and the march goes on.
At the corner of Victoria and Carlton, I see that Yves Engler isn’t the only one who disagrees with the tactics of property destruction. A small group of protesters picks up a mailbox that had been dragged into the street and place it back upright on the sidewalk. It’s a small gesture, unnoticed by anyone but myself, but it’s one less innocent victim of the hooligans.
At Kent and Victoria, some nearby wooden pallettes provide a makeshift street barrier as they’re piled up at the intersection. The police on their bicycles stop and wait. They don’t make arrests, they don’t touch the pile. They just wait.
The protesters then decide they haven’t disrupted public transit enough and head into the Plamondon metro. It starts slowly at first. The first kids down whip out their passes and pass them through the turnstiles like civilized people. One of the first ones without a pass asks the lady in the booth to let him through because (I kid you not) “I’m part of a protest”. Unsurprisingly, she says no.
A few minutes later, the first turnstile jump. Two metro security cops leaning on the wall smile. They’re not interested in giving out tickets or stopping anyone from not paying their fare. Shortly after, the roar of an angry mob starts coming down the escalator, and the metro cops swing into action: they open up the barrier and let everyone through. This doesn’t stop people from jumping the turnstiles anyway.
At 6:55, the metro arrives heading toward Henri-Bourassa. It’s been a few minutes since the last train, so just about all the protesters are waiting on the platform. They intentionally keep the doors open for about five minutes, until riot police step in and convince people to let them close. Everyone yells out to meet at the Berri metro, where the protest will continue.
I hop on the next train so I can see what the riot cops are up to at Plamondon. They don’t do much, just walk down the platforms.
At Berri, following their trail isn’t hard. On the floor outside the turnstiles lie copies of Hairstyling and Teen Hairstyles magazines (these magazines exist?) grabbed from the magazine store.
Outside, the protesters are once again on the sidewalk, but this time no police presence. I guess the police didn’t hear about the downtown meetup. It takes them a while to race down to the scene. Meanwhile, two masked men are trying to force themselves into UQAM’s Pavillon Judith Jasmin, arguing with a security guard.
The march moves up St. Denis, much to the bewilderment of local traffic. Some protesters decide to walk on top of cars (some with people inside them) until they get to the McDonald’s and decide to start throwing garbage cans at the window. Seeing as how this particular franchise probably gets vandalized about once a week, the glass doesn’t break after repeated attempts.
Then someone decides it’s time to start with the mayhem. Suddenly the crowd starts racing down Emery St., causing a panic-stricken taxi driver to start backing up faster than I’ve ever seen a car back up in my life. They start throwing things on the street, grabbing trash cans and smashing windows. Among the victims of this rampage, the Boite à son video store, the Journal de Montréal and the federal government’s Youth Café all have windows broken. Police are nowhere to be seen until a few minutes later, but again they do nothing.
As they stand around at the corner of Emery and Sanguinet, some get the bright idea that being in a dark alley isn’t the best place if you want to expose police brutality, especially if all those photographers and videographers have long since gone home. So they head up to Ontario, passing by CEGEP du Vieux Montréal (no protest is complete without a pilgrimage to Activist Central).
Finally, the police are starting to move. As the protesters pass St. Denis, they notice a cavalry of riot cops running toward them, and they take off toward the Bibliothèque nationale.
It’s the first time I’ve been in that building. It seemed nice. I have to remind myself to go back when there’s not a riot going on.
The library’s security is up in arms … well, up in fingers-pushing-in-earpieces … as the protesters head out through the other side and into Berri Square.
At 8pm, three hours after the protest began, police make their first (visible) arrest: the drummer. No clue what he’s being charged with, but the protesters aren’t happy about it.
Here’s where things get weird. Apparently the police tactic when angry protesters are assembling after having vandalized buildings is to fall into line two-by-two and start running at them, banging their batons against their shields. The protesters run away, the police stop running, and then a few minutes later the same thing happens again somewhere else.
What is the point of this? Exercise? If people are doing something wrong, arrest them. If they’re not where they’re supposed to be, block off any restricted areas. But running after them, pushing them with your shields and then backing off? What exactly is this supposed to accomplish?
The answer is fear. It’s the same tactic the vandals are using. Under the strict definition of the term, they’re both terrorists, using fear against innocents to achieve an objective.
In the end the police made 15 arrests, for everything from vandalism to throwing a rock at a police officer. I have no sympathy for the protesters (those that marched downtown anyway). They destroyed property just for the heck of it, using the power of numbers to escape punishment. But even those protesters shouldn’t be stripped of the one guarantee the rest of us face: If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from the police.
Because of the way police handled the situation, and the way protesters protected each other, I was in the firing line. I had to run away because I couldn’t be sure that when the cops were coming in my direction, they wouldn’t trample me or hit me or cause serious injury, just because I’d been standing on the sidewalk while there was a protest going on.
The media weren’t exactly taking the protesters’ side:
- Globe and Mail had a dry story about arrests.
- The CBC mentions that it started out peacefully, but turned “violent” after everyone moved to the “east end” (Berri and St. Denis is the east end now?).
- The Gazette’s Max Harrold came closest to hitting the nail on the head, mentioning their allegations and the fact that they were baiting the police.
- The McGill Daily apparently sent a reporter. He was seen arguing with riot cops over whether or not he was a journalist. The two officers, who weren’t the most polite guys in the world, made it clear the officers don’t comment to reporters in the middle of an operation. I suppose that makes sense. But somehow I doubt the Daily will see it that way.