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Je me souviens : Police repression under the Liberals

memories from the violent PLQ-backed repression of the 2012 student strike

by Stefan Christoff

Je me souviens : Police repression under the Liberals
photos by Thien V.
photos by Thien V.
As media reports buzz about a Parti libéral du Québec win in pending elections, memories of violent state repression at street protests come to mind. Images of helicopters in the skies and tear gas on the ground flash in my memory, moments from the relentless police attacks against mass student-driven protests that took down the last Liberal government. 
Countless memories of vicious police actions in spring 2012, against the thousands joining nightly protests in Montréal, are triggered after seeing Liberal party politicians on Montréal métro media screens. Sustained and ruthless state violence, aiming to silence a collective uprising against neoliberal moves to hike university tuition fees. 
As Liberal politicians cynically play the mainstream media, images of flash bang grenades accompanied by clouds of painful chemical gases launched by riot police, contrast in my mind with the sanitized election media reports that are generally failing to ask the difficult questions.
Memories from Victoriaville are on my mind.
Hundreds traveled on buses to protest the Liberal party general council meeting in Victoriaville, moved outside of Montréal due to sustained unrest on the streets. At the demonstration we experienced relatively severe state repression. After a long spirited march down Québec country streets, with drumming and collective chants, as we approached the small town convention hall hosting the Liberals, with Sûreté du Québec (SQ) helicopters buzzing low in the sky, SQ officers dressed like soldiers quickly launched military-grade CS gas canisters in our direction.
As SQ officers assaulted the demonstration, that included student unions but also Québec community organizations protesting the Liberal government’s attacks on social housing, rubber bullets began flying toward us. Watching the sometimes lethal, plastic coated hard metal bullets being shot by the SQ into the crowd, as we continued protesting and chanting together in solidarity, was terrifying. 
In Québec City 2001, at a protest against the Summit of the Americas and the proposed (now defeated) Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, a SQ rubber bullet hit my knee, not at close range, but still the impact translated to days of difficult walking, while for weeks my knee hurt and until now when the skies are rainy my knee is sore and sometimes it randomly buckles, even after physiotherapy. 
Back to Victoriaville 2012, suddenly there were screams on the streets, people at the protest had been hit by the SQ rubber bullets at close range, ambulances were ringing out, as clouds of tear gas were rolling into an early evening spring rain. 
On that evening Maxence Valade lost an eye, hit by an SQ rubber bullet, also Dominique Laliberté suffered serious facial injuries. These days I see Maxence around at demonstrations and social justice events, each time my heart races because Maxence sustains a serious injury for us all but honorably moves forward, continuing to call for transformative social change, walking with us all collectively outside of cynical, manipulative boxes of mainstream politics. 
Beyond these serious injuries in Victoriaville, so many at the demonstration were exposed to chemical gas weapons, that should be banned, chemical gases that were first used by militaries in the European trenches of World War I. 
Tears are streaming down my face writing these memories, not because the state violence isn’t in perspective, but because there has been no justice. Tears because of the unrelenting violence of state power and the fact that Liberal politicians directly responsible for the decisions to deploy the SQ against us in Victoriaville, are again running for elections and that some will win seats in the halls of political power in Québec City. 
Beyond the street level repression, memories of a deeply corrupt and arrogant government are alive. A Liberal government that refused to negotiate with students on strike and that oversaw a nine-year administration driven to orchestrate sustained attacks against public institutions and our collective well being. A government that fully adopted the economic and environmental violence of a capitalist austerity model, which successfully secures extreme profits for a corporate minority. 
Clearly the PQ minority government over the past 18 months has only deepened this austerity-driven economic model. From sustaining corporate tax cuts, to continuing the public healthcare fees first imposed by the Liberals and imposing a university tuition hike via indexation, the PQ has fully embraced the neoliberal austerity framework that defined the Liberal government and sparked the popular resistance of the Québec student uprising.
Only days ago in Montréal we took the streets in thousands, denouncing the PQ’s austerity-driven policies and to reject a government that has also deployed racist nationalist rhetoric, within the context of Charte des valeurs québécoises. Beyond austerity the PQ government is legitimizing racist discourses in Québec and is proposing legislated discrimination against racialized communities.  
On these final hours of a grotesque election campaign, clearly this text is not to in any way take attention away from the horrible racist and unjust record of the PQ, but this is a reflection to also illustrate the terrible legacy of violence and repression that took place under previous Liberal governments. 
Stefan is a musician, writer and community activist living in Montreal @spirodon

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Stefan Christoff (Stefan Christoff)
Montreal, Quebec
Member since April 2010


Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based journalist, community organizer and musician.

846 words


why did it end? and other questions

do you remember why the struggle ended so abruptly?

was the movement sold out by a couple of leaders? 

did students go home or on summer vacation? 

were students lied to by politicians?

was there any amnesty for people charged with offenses under the oppressive laws passed to end the protests?