The cu­ri­ous case of the peace­ful anti-po­lice bru­tal­ity protest

Demon­stra­tors and jour­nal­ists re­flect on Mon­treal po­lice’s be­hav­iour

The McGill Daily - - News - Joseph Ti­man News Writer

On March 15, the 20th an­nual demon­stra­tion against po­lice bru­tal­ity, or­ga­nized by the Col­lec­tif op­posé à la bru­tal­ité poli­cière (COBP), ended peace­fully, to the sur­prise of many. In previous years, the Ser­vice de po­lice de la Ville de Mon­tréal (SPVM) have con­sis­tently ket­tled marchers, is­sued tick­ets, and as­saulted demon­stra­tors.

Two weeks af­ter the march took place, demon­stra­tors and jour­nal­ists who reg­u­larly at­tend Mon­treal anti-po­lice bru­tal­ity events are still ques­tion­ing why the po­lice be­haved so dif­fer­ently this year.

In an in­ter­view with The Daily, Jen­nifer Bo­bette, a Mon­treal-based artist and COBP sym­pa­thizer, said that the press con­fer­ence held by the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee for the Support of Demon­stra­tors (SCSD) the day be­fore the demon­stra­tion “helped a lot.” SCSD called “on civil so­ci­ety to at­tend, whether to par­tic­i­pate in the protest or to sim­ply be a wit­ness to what will oc­cur.” SCSD rea­soned that the SPVM would act with more re­straint if they were aware that the march had a wide au­di­ence.

Bo­bette also spoke about the bar­beque that took place at Parc La Fon­taine right be­fore the march. “[The bar­beque was] to of­fer the fam­ily, the old peo­ple, the kids, [...] a spot to ex­change about po­lice bru­tal­ity in a calm at­mos­phere,” Bo­bette said.

Franklin Lopez, who was cov­er­ing the demon­stra­tion for sub­me­dia. TV, told The Daily, “It was a peace­ful march for the most part, peo­ple got their rage out, and then at the end, peo­ple got on the metro and went home.”

Nev­er­the­less, many who at­tended the demon­stra­tion claimed that pro­test­ers did not act dif­fer­ently from previous years. Matt D’amours, a re­porter at the Link who at­tended the march, told The Daily, “Be­fore the march started, they had an ef­figy of a po­lice of­fi­cer as a pig, and it was a piñata that they whacked. So the tone, the dis­course was hard­core, it was mil­i­tant, it was anti-po­lice.”

D’amours, who has at­tended many demon­stra­tions in Mon­treal, claimed that the dif­fer­ence this time was that the po­lice were less vis­i­ble. He be­lieves that heavy po­lice pres­ence at the be­gin­ning of previous years’ demon­stra­tions may have played a role in pro­vok­ing vi­o­lence.

Katie Nel­son, a Con­cor­dia stu­dent ac­tivist, agreed. Nel­son told The Daily, “In one of the most vi­o­lent protests that hap­pens in Mon­treal ev­ery year, no vi­o­lence hap­pened be­cause no po­lice were there. I think that speaks a lot.”

Nev­er­the­less, while the po­lice were less vis­i­ble this year, riot po­lice still fol­lowed the march on par­al­lel roads. For this rea­son, Jaggi Singh, a Mon­treal-based ac­tivist, be­lieves that the po­lice were not show­ing any re­straint at all.

“This year was pro­foundly vi­o­lent,” Singh said in an in­ter­view with The Daily. “The pres­ence of hun­dreds of riot po­lice, the he­li­copter, the his­tory of this demon­stra­tion, meant that it was a pro­foundly vi­o­lent place to be, not be­cause of any par­tic­u­lar ac­tions of pro­test­ers, but be­cause of the po­lice.”

Singh was re­luc­tant to spec­u­late as to why the po­lice acted dif­fer- ently this year. “I feel like we can’t know that un­less we’re a fly on the wall in a po­lice sta­tion,” Singh said. “And even then, there are a lot of in­de­pen­dent fac­tors at play.”

SPVM spokesper­son Lau­rent Gin­gras told The Daily that the SPVM ad­justs its strate­gies ac­cord­ing to what hap­pens, but Gin­gras did note one dif­fer­ence this year. “[The protest] was not le­gal in the sense that they did not give us an itin­er­ary, but it was still none­the­less tol­er­ated,” Gin­gras said.

Last year, the po­lice im­me­di­ately stopped the march by declar­ing it il­le­gal ac­cord­ing to mu­nic­i­pal by­law P-6, which re­quires an itin­er­ary to be sub­mit­ted to the po­lice prior to demon­stra­tions. Po­lice also is­sued fines to in­di­vid­u­als for “[ob­struct­ing] ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic on a pub­lic high­way,” un­der Que­bec High­way Code Sec­tion 500.1. How­ever, the courts ruled in favour of many who con­tested th­ese tick­ets, and in Novem­ber 2015, a Que­bec Su­pe­rior Court judge ruled that the use of the sec­tion is in­valid, claim­ing that it vi­o­lates con­sti­tu­tional rights.

Aaron Lakoff, a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer in­volved in sup­port­ing the vic­tims of po­lice bru­tal­ity and the news co­or­di­na­tor at CKUT Ra­dio, said in an in­ter­view with The Daily, “The fact that they did not in­ter­vene in this demon­stra­tion is really based on the fact that they’ve been stripped of those le­gal mech­a­nisms by which they were crack­ing down on us be­fore.”

How­ever, D’amours, who has been tick­eted by po­lice for “ob­struc­tion of roads” at other demon­stra­tions in Mon­treal, said, “In no way do I think that the po­lice were ham­strung on the evening of the po­lice bru­tal­ity demo. They still have tons of tools at their dis­posal if they wanted to clamp down on a protest.” D’amours in­stead pointed to “PR rea­sons” as a rea­son why the po­lice al­lowed the march to take place this year with­out de­tain­ing, as­sault­ing, or tick­et­ing pro­tes­tors.

The SPVM’S poor pub­lic im­age wors­ened in De­cem­ber when an un­der­cover of­fi­cer pulled out a gun at a protest. Nel­son, who was hos­pi­tal­ized as a re­sult of this protest, told The Daily that “the only rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion I can find is that they’re just try­ing to save pub­lic im­age.”

Re­flect­ing on the SPVM’S wors­en­ing pub­lic im­age, Bo­bette said, “More and more the SPVM are fuck­ing up [with] their pro­fil­ing, their po­lice re­pres­sion to­ward eth­nic peo­ple in Mon­treal North, or the so­cial cleans­ing that they are do­ing down­town.”

Although the lack of vi­o­lence at the March 15 demon­stra­tion was seen as a vic­tory, D’amours was cau­tious in as­sum­ing that the po­lice will con­tinue to be­have this way in the fu­ture. “I’m not con­vinced that this is go­ing to be the strat­egy, that [this] tac­tic is go­ing to con­tinue to be ap­plied night af­ter night,” he said.

Bo­bette was op­ti­mistic about a rise in at­ten­dance in fu­ture demon­stra­tions. How­ever, Nel­son ar­gued that pro­tes­tors’ fear and anx­i­ety will not dis­ap­pear. “Even if they com­pletely turn around to­mor­row and apol­o­gize for all the in­jus­tice and all the vi­o­lence and take ac­count­abil­ity for all the things that have hap­pened, I don’t think peo­ple will go into protests feel­ing safe,” Nel­son said.

“They’ve been stripped of those le­gal mech­a­nisms by which they were crack­ing down on us be­fore.” Aaron Lakoff, CKUT Ra­dio news co­or­di­na­tor

“In no way do I think that the po­lice were ham­strung on the evening of the po­lice bru­tal­ity demo. They still have tons of tools at their dis­posal if they wanted to clamp down on a protest.” Matt D’amours, Link re­porter

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