A year after the March 22 protest that took place during the height of the student movement in 2012, the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. A protest which was organized to commemorate the incredible turnout from the year before (a whopping 200,000 people marching from one end of the city to the other) came to a depressing close mere minutes after it began. To date, three Concordian journalists have been kettled and handed $600 fines while reporting on protests during the last two weeks alone and we say that is vastly unacceptable.
What’s really bizarre about this is that even though the reporters were identified by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal as journalists and let out of the kettle — they were still slapped with tickets. It’s an insult to journalism and a very dismaying attempt on the part of the Montreal Police to scare off not only protesters, but also journalists who are trying to cover the events. For all the respect our press passes get, they might as well be drawn with crayons.
While the SPVM can be intimidating and deeply frustrating, the fact of the matter is that in most cases they are just doing their jobs. What’s even more difficult to swallow is that we as student journalists do our jobs just as diligently and yet we end up having to pay the price, literally.
Covering protests during last spring’s ‘printemps érable’ was one thing — but facing this absolutely unreasonable approach from the SPVM during recent demonstrations is another entirely.
The whole practice of kettling already lands the top spot for the most bewildering and ill-advised police strategy imaginable. Minutes after dispersion orders are given over a loudspeaker, police encircle crowds of people regardless of who they are or whether or not they are involved in the protest.
This tactic operates under the assumption that violent or not, every demonstrator within a given area is guilty of some crime. Since the implementation of bylaw P-6 which states that all demonstrations must provide an itinerary 24 hours before a protest, the police have the unbridled power to declare any assembly that does not conform to these rules illegal.
Clearly, police are abusing this power by shutting down protests before any real cause for concern materializes. This ongoing effort to quell the dissent of the public and strike fear into the hearts of potential protesters is disgraceful. Quebec should not be known as a province where freedom of expression is regularly infringed upon.
Last year this type of rampant power-trip from the police would have been considered wildly inappropriate and widely publicized. Now, this injustice barely makes headlines anymore. Just because abuse has become commonplace doesn’t mean it is acceptable.
To the SPVM we have this to say: you can try to scare us off, protesters and journalists alike, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating us, because we are not going to give up so easily.