Protesting police brutality

Photo by Keith Race

Montreal’s 17th annual anti-police brutality march was a disjointed and hectic affair that led to the arrest of more than 250 people.

Service de police de la Ville de Montréal officers descended on the Friday evening protest early, separating groups of demonstrators and making arrests moments before the event began.

Officers clashed with small groups of protesters on Ste-Catherine St. near Place-des-Arts several times between 5 and 7 p.m.. The busy area was crowded with police, demonstrators and bystanders as officers used tear gas and concussion grenades to disperse crowds and form perimeters.

The protest informally ended when more than 200 people were placed under mass arrest on Ste-Catherine St. near Sanguinet St. where two large groups were surrounded by police, handcuffed and taken away in city buses. Kettling, a police tactic often used during last spring’s demonstrations against tuition fee increases and Bill 78, sees protesters contained within a limited area and provides only a single option of exiting. Journalists from several media outlets, including The Concordian and The Link, were also detained but released shortly after.

According to the SPVM, the majority of those arrested were in violation of municipal bylaw P-6. The controversial law, which was passed in the midst of last year’s student protests, forbids the covering of one’s face during a demonstration and demands that authorities be provided with a protest itinerary lest participation be declared illegal.

Those detained were given tickets and released before midnight.

The historically violent march began on a tense note with several hundred people gathered at the corners of Ontario St. and St. Urbain St. amidst a heavy police presence. Cavalry and riot squads attempted to block off the roads leading out of the square while other units moved through the crowd, searching protestors and making preventive arrests.

“You can see from the police here that the SPVM are becoming more efficient as a paramilitary force, and the problem is that this is exactly what people are protesting against,” said demonstrator Marc-Antoine Bergeron. “Evidently, the police don’t want this protest to even take place.”

The march was declared illegal minutes after 5 p.m. on the basis that a planned itinerary was not provided to police, and demonstrators were ordered to disperse.

At that point the march began to make its way south on St. Urbain St., but did not reach the end of the block. Police charged the group, breaking it into smaller factions that were then forced to flee a Sûreté du Quebec riot squad that materialized out of an underground parking garage.

The tactic disorganized the demonstrators, and they did not manage to re-form as a large collective. Smaller, splintered groups were confronted by police for the rest of the evening.

Twenty-two of the arrested face criminal charges that include obstruction of justice, disturbing the peace, outstanding arrest warrants and possession of incendiary objects. Two police officers were injured during the evening’s events.

The anti-brutality march has traditionally been notorious for violence. More than 200 people were arrested at last year’s event, at which a police cruiser was overturned and windows of businesses along the march’s route were smashed.

Police prepared for the worst Friday morning, going so far as to hand out flyers downtown warning the public to avoid the protest. By the march’s end, a few patrol cars that had been damaged with bricks were the only acts of vandalism reported.


Photos: Idle No More protests continue

Photo by Marie-Josée Kelly

Hundreds of Idle No More protesters weaved through the streets of Montreal for the second time last Friday afternoon to support what has become an international movement for indigenous rights.

Marching from the Palais des Congrès, the demonstration was peaceful and timed simultaneously in solidarity with similar protests in various Canadian cities.

Idle No More has gained momentum since Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence declared a hunger strike more than a month ago in an effort to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper met with aboriginal leaders to discuss grievances but Spence has continued her hunger strike despite Harper’s promise to focus on the issues at hand.


Where do we go from here?

Photo from last week’s Nov. 22, 2012 protest (left) by Madelayne Hajek. Photo from the Nov. 10, 2011 demonstration (right) by Navneet Pall.

Several thousand protesters weaved through downtown Montreal in support of free education Thursday despite the Parti Québécois’ reversal of the tuition fee increase implemented by the former provincial government led by the Charest Liberals.

Starting with speeches from the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, students and their supporters gathered at Victoria Square at 1:30 p.m. to promote accessible education in solidarity with the week-long International Student Movement from Nov. 14 to Nov. 22 and address the quality of post-secondary institutions.

The Vanier College Student Association voted this week in favour of a strike and administration cancelled courses at Vanier on Thursday. As the only Anglophone institution to collectively go on strike, many were present for the march including VCSA student representative Nhat Martien Pham.

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

“After the tuition hikes were cancelled, we […] thought that it could have been over, since the purpose of the protests were to oppose the hikes,” said Pham. “I liked that we could show that we are still socially and globally conscious. I was happy to participate, and I was happy Vanier participated.”

The contingent marched for hours without incident before arriving at Place Émilie-Gamelin. While an itinerary was not provided before the march, the Montreal Police allowed the demonstration to continue since it remained peaceful.

Many expressed concern over the provincial budget presented by the PQ last Tuesday. While a higher education summit is planned for February to address concerns associated with the governance of universities and CÉGEPs, the budget provided little information on tuition but reversed the increase in bursaries.

According to Anthony Kantara, a VCSA Mob Squad member, the protest served as a warning to the PQ to abide by its promises.

“It is a statement and reminder to the current PQ government that we are watching and have not forgotten what has been promised,” said Kantara. “We hope that going on strike [will] help put more support in for the major student associations, like ASSÉ.”

L’ASSÉ announced Sunday it will send representatives to the higher education summit.

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

“We remain distrustful of this consultation,” said spokesperson Jérémie Bédard-Wien, “and we stress that only a large, collective action can bring social change.”

Therefore, the ASSÉ will bring the notion of complementary education to the discussion and organize a protest beforehand so “all voices will be heard.”

Conversely, other student associations including the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and the Concordia Student Union, championed for a rollback and freeze of the tuition fees but not the abolishment of fees altogether.

“The CSU has no mandate for free education,” said VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon. “We’re mobilizing our student body in order to get a clear idea of their wishes. Once this idea is clear, we will push for it at the education summit.”


Marches take over the downtown core

Photo by Rob Flis.

A small contingent gathered outside the Montreal Police Fraternity for a vigil to commemorate the victims of police brutality and to protest authoritative misconduct, Monday evening.

The Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition organized the event in solidarity with the annual march that takes place in the United States every Oct. 22. The coalition was comprised of the families of the victims of high profile deaths involving municipal, provincial or national police forces.

The speakers emphasized the need to stop racial profiling, excessive force and coercion from police officers while remembering the lives of the victims.

The event also focused on Officer Stefanie Trudeau of the Montreal Police, who has been scrutinized recently for her use of excessive force, a situation that organizer Julie Matson considers to be “the rule, not the exception” in most police forces nationwide.

Matson’s father, Ben, was killed during a confrontation with police in Vancouver, B.C.. According to Matson, her father was beaten following his arrest outside of a bar and a police officer pressed their knee into his neck causing him to die from asphyxiation.

Photo by Rob Flis.

Following a lack of criminal charges, Matson pressed for a public inquest before taking the case to court where she represented herself, and lost. Matson said she believes that wrongful deaths could be avoided by a systemic change in police technology and education.

“There needs to be a different approach,” said Matson. “There needs to be compassionate training because this kind of violence equals power in police officers’ minds.”

Earlier that day, hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of downtown Montreal for the monthly 22nd demonstration in support of a tuition fee freeze.

The Montreal Police declared the march illegal when protesters left Square Victoria because they did not provide the itinerary of their demonstration, therefore violating a municipal bylaw. The group headed toward Place Émilie-Gamelin before a small crowd separated and headed west to St-Elisabeth St. before police officers intervened.

Approximately 30 to 40 people were arrested for violating the road safety code and received $494 tickets, including student journalists from Concordia University.


Anti-police brutality march remains calm despite tension

Photo by Kalina Laframboise.

The anti-police brutality protest, notorious for its violent turnout, was mostly peaceful and recorded no arrests Saturday night.

Following months of continuous student protests, roughly 200 protesters gathered at Place Émilie-Gamelin before marching through the streets of the downtown core to condemn Montreal Police’s use of excessive force.

Demonstrators were notably present to denounce a recent mass dismissal of complaints against police behaviour filed during the student conflict.

“This year’s protest is mainly about the irregularities within police ethics,” said protester and Dawson Student Union Director of external affairs Nicholas Di Penna. “When people give in complaints and they are simply refused it means there are problems of introspection within the police and we ask why isn’t there more control over police brutality.”

According to the protest’s Facebook event page, the ethics commissioner of the Service de Police de Montréal brushed off 46 per cent of the complaints filed against officers during the student strike movement. As a result, demonstrators are concerned that the accused officers will not face sanctions but instead receive a slap on the wrist or the alleged victims will have the opportunity to “express his or her feelings to the accused officer.”

The Montreal Police’s ethics commissioner could not be reached for comment due to the holiday weekend.

According to the Huffington Post Quebec, the reason behind the dismissals are either a lack of information in order to proceed with an investigation, or the alleged victim dropping the case.

The Montreal Police’s Ethics Commissioner Louise Letarte also said that the number of dismissed complaints might increase as the department reviewed only 149 out of the total 193 complaints received related to the student conflict. So far, 60 complaints will lead to further investigation for which the result will appear in spring 2013.

Angered by the dismissals and feeling powerless against a police force individuals believe used excessive violence in interventions, some protesters expressed their concerns over the SPVM’s ability to exercise control over its own officers and to sanction them in the adequate manner.

“If the SPVM and the city won’t hear us in court, then they will hear us in the streets,” said Marc Lamarée, a protester who is currently facing charges in two trials after he was arrested at the Victoriaville riot last May, and at another student protest during the summer. “The SPVM has treated us like troublemakers since the beginning of the movement and I was even told they had a list of protesters to pay special attention to, which I am on. We should be able to defend ourselves legally against such profiling and excesses and this dismissal of complaints is bad news.”

Saturday’s protest was declared illegal by the police before it began due to the organizers failing to provide a march route. The demonstration was still authorized providing it remained peaceful.

The protesters, many of them masked and dressed in black, left Place Émilie-Gamelin at 8:45 p.m. closely flanked by officers and followed by mounted police. They walked through the streets of downtown Montreal, improvising their route and often walking against traffic. Aside from a few busted traffic cones and firecrackers, the protesters carried the march until it ended at its starting point around 11 p.m. with a single individual receiving a ticket.


A Summer of Red

The ongoing conflict between the government, universities and students in what has been Quebec’s longest student protest to date reached a climax this summer.

Following months of protests and students taking to the streets during the early months of 2012 to protest the proposed tuition fee increase, the winter semester ended abruptly for many in the wake of unresolved tension.

Negotiations between the provincial government and student leaders began in April following massive protests in cities province-wide. The Charest government introduced a new deal of a $254 per year increase over seven years to total $1,778 compared to the initial increase of $1,625. This offer did not sit well with student organizations and negotiations quickly dissolved.

In May, following unsuccessful attempts at negotiations between the provincial government and student leaders, then Education Minister Line Beauchamp resigned from her position.

Upon stepping down, Beauchamp said that following discussions with students leaders she lost confidence in striking a compromise.

“I am resigning because I no longer believe I am part of the solution,” announced Beauchamp on May 14.

Following the appointment of new Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, the Charest Liberals tabled a controversial and historic bill aimed at ending the student crisis. The National Assembly passed the emergency legislation May 18 with 68 in favour and 48 opposed.

Bill 78 imposes strict regulations for protests and limits the size, when and how long individuals can protest. Demonstrations must be restricted to 50 people or fewer, where the individuals must provide an itinerary eight hours in advance to police.

Hefty fines are imposed for individuals who block access to classes as the law is aimed to ensure students may attend their courses if they so wish.

The law also immediately suspended the winter semester of 11 universities and 14 CEGEPs affected by the student strikes.

The emergency legislation was immediately implemented and met with backlash from students, citizens, various groups and the Quebec Human Rights Commission that condemned the bill. It resulted in students and their supporters taking to the streets in large numbers in nightly demonstrations.

In defiance, student group Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale etudiante encouraged students to challenge the law by protesting in the streets. Thousands took to the streets in a sea of red during the following days resulting in mass arrests May 22 and May 23. More than 500 lawyers marched in silence to oppose Bill 78 on May 28.

During this time, demonstrators banged pots and pans every night at 8 p.m. from their balconies and in the streets of the downtown core as a way to voice their discontent with the provincial government. International protests were organized to show solidarity with striking Quebec students and the iconic red square even made an appearance on Saturday Night Live when Arcade Fire performed.

As summer continued, so did protests but in smaller numbers. Dozens still march every night but demonstrations fizzled out shortly after the tumultuous Grand Prix weekend in Montreal where police and protesters clashed.

In anticipation of a provincial election, Léo Bureau-Blouin, former president of Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, announced his candidacy for the Parti Québécois on July 25. Bureau-Blouin runs for the riding of Laval-des-Rapides.

The provincial government called an election for Sept. 4 on Aug. 1. Political parties were given 34 days to sell themselves to electors. More than six months of student protests is a force behind the upcoming provincial election.

On Aug. 8, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois quietly announced his resignation as a spokesperson from CLASSE. Nadeau-Dubois’ resignation was timed with students heading back to CÉGEP and participating in strike votes. The move was surprising as Nadeau-Dubois has been the face behind the student movement since February but he felt it was time for “new blood” to arrive.

In a letter published in Le Devoir, Nadeau-Dubois wrote that the student movement had a new stage of renewal, and that it was time for him to go.

In mid-August, thousands of CEGEP students voted to return to class to finish their winter semesters. Following the return to classes of a dozen CEGEPs, students of CEGEP de Saint-Laurent and CEGEP du Vieux-Montréal also decided to discontinue their strike.

As Concordia’s new president Alan Shepard emphasized in an interview with The Concordian, the future of the student strike “depends on the outcome of the election.”

For now, the student movement and crisis has reached a lull while student groups encourage students to vote on Sept. 4. The student strike, while it continues on the 22nd of each month has reached a standstill for the time being.


Hundreds of thousands flood the streets

Check out a photo slide show from the march here.

Over 200,000 people took to the streets March 22 to protest tuition increases, many of whom were students from universities across Quebec.

The Concordia delegation, which led the way for the better part of the three-hour event, congregated near the Hall building around 12 p.m. Over 500 students then began to proceed down Ste-Catherine Street lead by Concordia Student Union VP external Chad Walcott, and President Lex Gill.

The scene at Berri and Ontario at Thursday’s tuition hike protest where an estimated 200,000 people took to Montreal’s streets.

The march began officially at Canada Place, where buses full of students from outside the city started arriving earlier in the day. The approximate length of the route was 5 km, with protesters marching down both Sherbrooke and Ste-Catherine Streets to their ultimate destination, Jacques-Cartier Place in the Old Port.

Protesters held signs denouncing Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government, the leadership of Education Minister Line Beauchamp, and the idea that accessible education is not a priority.

The historic nature of the march had some people in the Twittersphere saying that a “Printemps erable” (Maple Spring) — clearly a play on Arab Spring — had arrived in Quebec.

Despite the massive turnout, the protest was extremely peaceful and the SPVM reported no major incidents during or after the march. Police presence was very light in comparison with other demonstrations that have taken place over the past few weeks.

“This sends an incredibly strong message to the government,” said Gill of the protest. “If anything else, the Liberal party has lost 200,000 voters for life.”

She went on to say that the march was the “largest mass demonstration over a public issue […] in years. It’s twice what they had in 2005,” she said of the last major student strike in Quebec.

The participation far exceeded the predictions made earlier in the day, proving that there is more public support for the student movement than estimated. Despite the success of the demonstration, Gill explained that protesters still have much work to do.

“The fight is not over,” she said. “There will be massive actions in the coming weeks until the government backs down.”

Walcott agreed with her saying that “it’s not a done deal,” and student groups need to “keep the pressure on. He said that the organizers’ willingness to communicate with the SPVM really made a significant difference in the tone of the day’s activities.

Participants in the March 22 demonstration represented every age demographic, from toddlers with their parents to cheering grandparents. Grade 10 student Terra Leger-Goodes of Paul-Gerin-Lajoie School in Outremont was at the march with a large group of students from her class.

“We heard that the cost of going to university is going up by a large amount, so we’re here to protest that. Society can only advance if people can go to school and gain knowledge,” she said, mentioning that by the time she enters university four to five years from now, the government’s tuition hikes will have almost reached their maximum. The Charest Liberals are planning to increase tuition by $325 a year between 2012 and 2017.

For grandmother Danielle Genereux, accessible education is an issue that affects everyone in Quebec, and should be at the top of the government’s priority list.

“Major investments in education should be an absolute priority. There should be no further discussion on that,” said Genereux, a grandmother of seven. “[The government] says opposition against tuition increases is not representative of the whole population. But today, they will see that it is representative.”

At the end of the march, Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois told students to return to their schools and to keep the student movement going. By 6 p.m., most of the protesters had dispersed, crowding into the nearest metro stations.

CLASSE, one of the main organizers of the day’s march, is planning a series of protests next week in an effort to cause an “economic disturbance” in the city, which they say will only end when the government retracts its decision to up tuition. The first “manif-action” takes place Monday, March 26 at 11 a.m. at Henri-Julien Park.

Concordia’s next general assembly where students will vote whether or not to remain on strike is scheduled for Monday, March 26 at 2 p.m. on the Reggie’s terrace. The university has already made clear that as of Monday, students who continue to block access to classrooms or buildings will face charges.

Opposition parties join students

Earlier in the morning, a press conference was held at Palais des Congres by the Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec and the Federation etudiante collegiale du Quebec, and included representatives from groups such as the Centrale des syndicats du Quebec and the Confederation des syndicats nationaux, as well as opposition political parties, the Parti Quebecois, Quebec Solidaire and Option Nationale.

At the conference, PQ leader Pauline Marois reiterated that a PQ-elected government would not proceed with the tuition hikes, and would call for a provincial summit on post-secondary education. “The Charest government must stop considering students as enemies of the state,” she said.

QS spokesperson Francoise David, for her part, emphasized that the government could increase taxes on larger corporations in order to bring in more revenue, rather than asking for more money from students.

After the conference, PQ post-secondary education critic Marie Malavoy spoke to The Concordian about the issue of mismanagement of public funds in Quebec universities that has often been brought up in the debate on tuition increases.

Speaking on Education Minister Line Beauchamp’s recent decision to impose a $2 million fine on Concordia for handing out severance packages totalling $3.1 million, Malavoy said “there is no reason to have targeted one university. We must look at the salaries, the benefits and the severance packages at all universities. It’s foolish to think it’s just Concordia,” she said.

Malavoy mentioned that an idea has been floating among PQ ranks to institute a “commission” to look more closely at the management of public funds in Quebec universities.

Reaction from the government to the March 22 protest became more severe as the days passed. On the morning of March 22, Charest told reporters at the National Assembly in Quebec City that his government would “never stop listening to students.”

By Friday, his education minister was telling the Canadian Press that students needed to get back to class, or else they would face consequences. Line Beauchamp reiterated that the government would not back down from its decision, and said that should students continue to boycott classes, they risk having their semesters extended or classes scheduled at night. Concordia already indicated in a previous statement that it has no intention of prolonging the winter term.


Police officers on horses were at the tail end of the march.


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