Protesters in Montreal are no longer required to provide a route to police. The Quebec Superior Court invalidated section 2.1 of Municipal Bylaw P-6 which was added at the height of the Maple Spring student protests in 2012 by then-Mayor Gerald Tremblay.

Over the past few years, Montreal Police (SPVM) used this provision to kettle and ticket protesters and to stop marches minutes after they started. The annual Anti-Police Brutality March being a frequent target.

The Quebec Superior Court had already invalidated Section 3.2 of the bylaw, the provision banning masks at protests, back in 2016. In the same ruling, the court put some restrictions on 2.1, but didn’t eliminate it entirely.

Not content with a partial victory, the plaintiffs, which included protest mascot Anarchopanda, decided to appeal. Today they won and the problematic parts of P-6 are gone and the court’s decision is effective immediately.

“Let’s not forget that this victory belongs to our comrades who take to the streets and risk police and judicial repression to fight for all our rights,” Sibel Ataogul, one of the lawyers fighting the appeal said in a Facebook post, adding: “Despite victories, judiciarisation is not the solution. Only the struggle pays.”

* Featured image by Chris Zacchia

In 2012, at the height of the Quebec Student Protests (Maple Spring), Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s administration amended Municipal Bylaw P-6 to include a ban on covering your face at public demonstrations and a requirement that protest organizers provide an itinerary. This effectively allowed Montreal Police (SPVM) to enforce Jean Charest’s controversial (and now defunct) Provincial Bill 78 without actually enforcing it.

This lead, of course, to more protest. Protest for the right to protest freely without first having to ask permission which had been taken away by these amendments. Kettling became a frequent SPVM tactic to end marches, sometimes just moments after they began.

Photo by Cem Ertekin
Photo by Cem Ertekin

Anarchopanda (the protest character of Julien Villeneuve) decided to challenge the bylaw amendments in a court of law as well. He argued that they were an unconstitutional violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which impeded freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Today, four years later, the Quebec Superior Court agreed with him.

In its ruling, the court declared that Article 3.2, which barred anyone participating in an assembly or procession in a public space from covering their face without a “reasonable excuse,” was excessive, unreasonable and arbitrary. They also ruled that Article 2.1, which bars anyone from assembling in and/or marching through public space without first providing authorities with a route, could only be applied in cases where the march hampered automobile traffic and was inoperative when it came to spontaneous demonstrations.

In a press release posted to his Facebook page, Anarchopanda, who was represented in this case by Sibel Ataogul and Marie-Claude St-Amant of the Association des juristes progressistes, called for the immediate withdrawal of charges on all pending P-6 cases. A large number of P-6 cases had been previously thrown out due to the way the SPVM had enforced the bylaw.

Anarchopanda concluded his press release by saying he hopes “the SPVM will reform its practices to ensure respect for the constitutional rights of protestors.”

* Featured image from Anarchopanda via Facebook

So today, the good ol’ Anarchopanda made a Facebook post that might signify the beginning of the end of bylaw P-6. Here’s a rough (very rough maybe) translation of what he’s written for our anglo readers.

“Judge Randall Richmond of the Municipal Court of Montreal made a decision regarding the trial of those people, who were defending themselves in court after being arrested on March 22, 2013 for violating article 2.1 of Bylaw P-6 (i.e. not providing an itinerary). The judge said:

Article 2.1 of P-6 does not constitute a violation,

Even if article 2.1 of P-6 did constitute a violation, the violation should have constrained the demonstration. Given that nothing in the evidence shows that the accused were the organizers of the demonstration, there is no link between the detainees and the violation of the article.

The police officers who have testified have written tickets for the detainee, without notifying them that they had done so, which constitutes a false declaration.

Plus, some other critiques about the command structure of the SPVM.

Thanks to Lynda Khelil for the info!”

*** UPDATE: The full text of the decision has been released. You can download it as a PDF (2MB). In total, 16 people were acquitted. We will be publishing commentary and analysis in the next few days.

This is interesting news indeed! It’s still not the kind of decision we’re hoping for (i.e. P-6 is actually unconstitutional), but it’s a start, we might say. What do you think?