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What Really Happened at the Montréal May Day Protest?

From Peaceful Protest to Police Brutality

by Andrew Gavin Marshall

The police line as they are about to charge
The police line as they are about to charge
Peaceful beginnings
Peaceful beginnings
What Really Happened at the Montréal May Day Protest?
Onward and Upward
Onward and Upward
The first sign of trouble
The first sign of trouble
Heading down the financial district
Heading down the financial district
The Charge! (it's blurry because we all had to run)
The Charge! (it's blurry because we all had to run)
this "march" replaced the one they dispersed
this "march" replaced the one they dispersed
protecting the bank
protecting the bank
What Really Happened at the Montréal May Day Protest?
arresting protesters
arresting protesters
throwing protester face-down on the ground
throwing protester face-down on the ground
Girl taken away on stretcher
Girl taken away on stretcher
The remains of the day
The remains of the day
On May 1, 2012, thousands of students and other protesters took to the streets for the Anti-Capitalist rally in downtown Montréal. I attended the protest with a couple friends, and having read the "news" emanating from the "stenographers of power" (the mainstream media), it's important to set the record straight about what happened here in Montréal.

The Montreal Gazette reported the events with the headline, "Police respond as May Day anti-capitalist protesters turn violent in Montreal." This exact story and headline were carried across the English-speaking media fresh for the morning's papers: with the Vancouver Sun, the Province, the Calgary Herald, the Regina Leader-Post, the Edmonton Journal, and the Ottawa Citizen.

The story, as they tell is, goes like this: it started peacefully just after 5 p.m. (this part is true!), and then it "was declared illegal by police at two minutes after 6 p.m. following violent clashes." A police spokesperson (who apparently is the only person the media chose to interview for their article) said that, "injuries to a citizen, police officers and vandalism on cars and property were the reasons for declaring the march illegal." The article then blamed "black-clad youth [who] were seen hurling rocks at store windows," after which the police began to launch flash grenades, and the riot police moved in after 6 p.m. "using batons to disperse the crowd." At 7:10 p.m., "a full hour after declaring the demonstration illegal, police announced that anyone who refused to leave would be arrested."

The CBC went with the headline, "More than 100 arrests in Montreal May Day riot." CTV reported that of the 100+ arrests that took place, "75 were for unlawful assembly, while the remaining 34 were for criminal acts."

So, arrested for "unlawful assembly": what does that mean? It means that when the police unilaterally declare a protest to be "illegal," everyone who is there is "unlawfully assembling," and thus, mass and indiscriminate arrests can be made. In Part 1, Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is stated that "[e]veryone has the following fundamental freedoms": conscience, religion, thought, belief, expression, media, communication, association, and "freedom of peaceful assembly."

Having been at the protest from its beginning, I can say that it was a peaceful march. While there were individual acts of vandalism (the worst I saw was drawing on a bank's window with a black marker), if police action were to be taken, it should be to arrest the specific vandal. Instead, they implemented collective punishment for exercising our "fundamental freedoms."

The protest began in the Old Port of the city of Montréal, and made it's way down rue Notre-Dame, up St-Laurent, and down to the financial district. The mood was good, people were in high spirits, with music, drums, the occasional fire cracker, young and old alike.

As we entered the financial district, the presence of the riot police became more apparent. When the protest made it to McGill College Ave. - crossing a wide intersection - as the march continued in its consistently peaceful path, the riot police quickly assembled alone the street below us. The crowd quickly became nervous as the protest was declared "illegal." Before I could even take a photo of the police down the street in a long line, they began charging the crowd. Protesters dropped their signs and began up the street toward McGill University, while another section branched off along the intended direction, and others scattered.

The march had been successfully split, and the small factions were then being isolated and surrounded. Suddenly, riot police were everywhere, marching up the street like storm troopers, police cars, vans, horses, motorcycles, and trucks were flying by. As one faction of the protest continued down another street, the riot police followed behind, while another massive onslaught of riot police went around to block off the protesters from the other side. When the police first charged, I had lost one of my friends simply by looking away for a moment. After having found each other up the street, we watched as the protest which descended down the street was surrounded by police from nearly every side. It was then that we saw flash grenades and tear gas being launched at the crowd of people. There was a notable smell that filled the air.

As we stood, shocked and disturbed by what had just happened, we made our way toward McGill to see where other protesters were headed when we saw a group of riot police "escort" three young protesters whom they had arrested behind a police barricade at the HSBC (protecting the banks, of course!).

Up the street, and across from McGill, one protester who had run to get on the bus was chased down by several riot police who then threw him face-first onto the pavement, and as a crowd quickly gathered around (of both protesters and pedestrian onlookers), the police formed a circle around the man and told everyone to "get back!" and then they began marching toward us, forcing the crowd of onlookers to scatter as well. The police then took the young man over to where the other protesters were being "collected" at the HSBC.

There was one young girl, with the notable red square patch on her jacket (the symbol of the Québec student movement) who had to be taken away on a stretcher into an ambulance. We don't know what happened to her.

As more and more police gathered, we decided it was time to leave, walking down the street through which the police had chased the protesters, remnants of signs, red patches, and other debris spilled across the streets; the remains of a peaceful protest ended with police violence.

This has become all too common in Montréal and across Québec, as the student protest enters its twelfth week, having had over 160 protests, an average of 2-3 per day. As the demonstrations take place, the police have used obscure and unconstitutional city by-laws in both Montréal and Québec City which are so vague in their descriptions that any peaceful assembly or march can be declared illegal. Those who are indiscriminately arrested are fined $500, and if arrested again, are charged between $3,500 and $10,500.

It is clear that the State has decided - unilaterally - that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly do not confirm to their specific "by-laws," and are clamping down on students and protesters in order to quiet and crush the student strike and the emerging social movement which is being referred to as the 'Maple Spring'. The national media, for its part, has decided to demonize the students, the protesters, and the people; taking the word of a "police spokesperson" over everyone else. Having been at the protest, however, I must question whether these so-called "journalists" were at the same event, because we witnessed two entirely different scenarios.

We entered the march in good spirits, and the police ended it in violence and repression, leaving us standing still, scattered, and disturbed; but our spirits are not crushed, our resolve is only growing stronger, and for each act of violence the police and State impose upon the people, we begin to see them for what they truly are, and thus, what is truly at stake: our very freedom, itself!

 

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.


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AGMarshall (Andrew Gavin Marshall)
Montreal
Member since April 2012

About:

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He has written for a number of publications, including AlterNet, Truthout, CounterPunch, Roarmag, and Occupy, among others, and has done a number of radio and television interviews, including with Russia Today and CBC Radio. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, research director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.

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Comments

Liberty is Threatened

Are we headed for some dark big-brother future where freedom and liberty no longer matter? There is something deeply wrong with a government that has so little regard for the will of such a large portion of its population. One who quashes peaceful protests, blatantly defying our human rights.

Actually there were several

Actually there were several windows smashed. Banks, Starbucks etc... This is just a comment on the accuracy of the article. The rest of the analysis of police repression is totally on point and I'm in no way pointing this out to "make a case" for the police.

Actually there were several

Actually there were several windows smashed. Banks, Starbucks etc... This is just a comment on the accuracy of the article. The rest of the analysis of police repression is totally on point and I'm in no way pointing this out to "make a case" for the police.

Indeed, there was vandalism,

Indeed, there was vandalism, I am not denying that. But I certainly didn't see or hear of any prior to the police aggression. At least it certainly wasn't happening up near the front of the march, which is where they charged at us.

Yes it was more in the

Yes it was more in the middle/back of the march, where I was (or the front of the march after it split off). Makes sense that you didn't see it if you weren't in that section.  I was just pointing that out, as I had first-hand knowledge of it.  Clearly the police were there to do what they always do - to protect the interests and private property of the elite through brutal and violent repression.

Here's an interesting video.

Here's an interesting video. It still seems that the protest was declared "llegal" before anything had happened:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=817yhdtx4t4

Thanks.  (I was just trying

Thanks.  (I was just trying to comment on the vandalism in general, but probably missed someof the key points about the timeline in the article because I was using my phone and the text was jumping around).

I'm sure it was declared illegal before anything actually happened. The police stance seems to be "shoot first, declare it illegal after"  or "declare it illegal and let it continue so we can intervene with violence at any point we want."

It's also clear that they were ready to use whatever tactics necessary to shut down a CLAC demo as early as possible and try to justify arresting as many people as they could.

Anyways, thanks for the clarification and the article.  As usual the mediacoop continues to be a bastion of light compared to the darkness of mainstream media bullshit.

Amen!

And thanks for the extra info, always good to have corroboration!

Cheers

Andrew

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