Blaring police sirens ringing out in the spring air, lines of armed riot police enforcing kettling tactics, surveillance helicopters hovering in the sky, all pointing to the depths of current police repression in Montréal, a terrible reality on full display for May Day.
Reports from popular protests globally were streaming in all day, as many important May Day demonstrations internationally had already taken place by the time that protests in Montréal were getting started.
Defiant demonstrations in Istanbul, breaking a protest ban and attempting to march on Taksim Square. Inspiring women-lead rallies in Dhaka, vocalizing the fight of garment workers for just working conditions and living wages. Major anti-austerity protests across Europe, with rallies in Paris, Athens, Barcelona and beyond, denouncing the failings of a corporate-driven austerity response to the sustaining financial crisis in the EU and beyond.
On the métro, riding toward the May Day protest in Montréal, images of protests around the world were on my mind, as joining a local anti-capitalist demonstration on a truly global day of action for economic justice is most certainly inspiring.
In Québec this May Day protest was of incredible importance, as the Parti libéral du Québec takes office and moves to embrace a violent austerity-driven agenda, that already is announced as equaling over $1.3-billion in cuts to public spending, a ruthless move that will disproportionately impact poor and working people. Also the May Day protest in Montréal now stands each year as an opportunity to openly challenge and oppose the draconian P6 bylaw, that since the Québec student uprising in 2012 has equaled a selective ban on free protest in the city.
Approaching the gathering point, on Ontario street east, that feeling of international solidarity and a heartfelt focus on the urgent political importance of the May Day rally in Montréal, quickly transformed into a deep, burning rage, as flashing lights and military-like riot police, carrying rubber bullet guns, were everywhere on the scene. People had already been kettled just a couple minutes down the street, while police were closely watching the many of us still arriving.
« Police partout, justice nulle part » chanted many at the scene, with the loud buzz of a police helicopter above us. Police on horses, blocking intersections and sidewalks, backed-up by other cops holding stun grenade guns, along side countless others in riot gear, fully occupying the public space, truly illustrating the grotesquely repressive nature of the P6 bylaw. Today in Montréal, police commanders can move arbitrarily to silence unregulated free protest, an open ban on people taking the streets to express collective ideals and real grievances.
Beyond blocking protests, the P6 bylaw also clearly gives the police expanded space to abuse people, bloody wounds and people being hospitalized are becoming common to Montréal demonstrations. At a recent anti-austerity demonstration in early April, organized by l'Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ), 71-year-old Robert Fransham was seriously injured by police while riding a bicycle and was hospitalized for a head concussion.
Personally a flood of memories of vicious baton strikes are on my mind, images from street protests over recent months. Riot police have struck my body multiple times at demonstrations for various social justice struggles, like the annual protest against police brutality, street actions declared illegal under the ridiculous P6 bylaw. Each time a sinking feeling comes to my heart, right after the baton strike, knowing that the cop is abusing their power and also that very little can be done to create specific accountability for those violent baton strikes and the resulting bruises.
Other memories of baton strikes and police violence are replaying in my thoughts while writing this text, that specific look of physical pain on the faces of many comrades at recent demonstrations, right as the baton strikes, or after a CS-gas grenade explodes close by, moments often accompanied by disturbing and sadistic looks on the faces of the police delivering this arbitrary and unacceptable violence.
P6 equals increased violence on the streets of Montréal, contributing to broader systems of institutional violence in our society. As municipal law, under P6, bans the basic ability for people to take the streets, Montréal is inherently aiming to silence grassroots voices critical of structures of political and economic power. Above being anti-democratic, P6 is a law rooted in authoritarian concepts of state power that aim to silence free and open debate. Beyond the noise of politicians (like mayor Denis Coderre) diffusing liberal justifications of P6, the reality is that the law has equaled expanded police violence and the restriction of open political debate within our society.
At a time of growing economic inequalities, both locally and internationally, the silencing of a May Day rally is deeply shameful. At the heart of May Day protests around the world this year and over recent years, is the persisting crisis of capitalism. Beyond a limited critiques or calls for reform, May Day rallies around the world most often point to the global emergency we are all facing, as corporate capitalism voraciously consumes large parts of Mother Earth for a quick fix of “economic growth”, as seen here in Canada with the tar sands.
In parallel the corruption and contradictions of the global economic system are only becoming more stark, regulatory frameworks drafted by corporate hawks and politician allies are concretely resulting in deteriorating living conditions for poor and working people across the world.
In Canada poverty is on a sharp rise, while one in every ten urban children are living in poverty, while internationally the richest richest 1% literally control half of global wealth. Across Canada many corporations are increasingly depending on temporary foreign workers, most often toiling in difficult conditions, as seen recently at McDonald's. In Montréal the silencing of any rally drawing attention to this urgent crisis of inequality, perpetuated by a fundamentalist capitalist vision gone wild, is deeply shameful.
Over the next weeks and months many protests will continue to take the streets in Montréal despite this systemic repression, in response police will continue their odious and arbitrary deployment of P6. In the face of this state violence under P6, and in recognition of the urgent times in which we live (in relation to both economic inequality and ecological crisis), let us stick together and find common cause and root our actions in solidarity. Lets walk together on the streets to reclaim our city of la Montagne Rouge, but also to do our part for a growing global movement that urgently is calling for ecological and economic justice.