Potentially hundreds of protesters detained and/or arrested by Montreal Police (SPVM) in violation of their rights at eight protests between 2012 and 2014 are entitled to a share of the $3.1 million settlement the City of Montreal reached with lawyers in a class action lawsuit. The city will also post an apology on their website.
Protests covered by this settlement include anti-police brutality marches and the anniversary of the start of the student strike protest.
This agreement, which still needs to be approved by the Quebec Court of Appeals on December 21st, means that anyone who was detained and/or arrested by the SPVM at the following protests could be entitled to financial compensation:
June 7, 2012 at around 6 p.m., on Notre-Dame Street, between des Seigneurs and Richmond
March 15, 2013, on Sainte-Catherine Street, between Sainte-Élizabeth and Sanguinet Street, from around 5:45pm
March 15, 2013, on Sainte-Catherine Street, between Sanguinet and Saint- Denis Street, from around 6:30pm
March 22, 2013, on De Maisonneuve Boulevard, between Saint-André and Saint-Timothée Street, from around 6:20pm
March 22, 2013, on Saint-Timothée Street, near the intersection with De Maisonneuve Boulevard, from around 6:15pm
April 5, 2013, on De Maisonneuve boulevard, between Berri and St-Hubert Street around 6:35pm
May 1, 2013, on Place Royal, at the corner of de la Commune Ouest around 7:15pm
March 15, 2014, on Chateaubriand Street, between Jean- Talon and Bélanger Street around 3:20pm
Featured Image of a police kettle at the 2015 Anti-Police Brutality March by Cem Ertekin
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.
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.”
It’s a gross violation of the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. It’s the local symbol of state repression and unchecked power. It also, apparently, leads to some really sloppy police work.
The conversation surrounding Montreal Municipal Bylaw P-6 has largely focused on the violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms inherent in it and big picture issues of police powers. However, it now looks like it may be defeated on a technicality and police laziness.
A Bit of Background
In 2012, when the Maple Spring was in full bloom, Montreal City Council decided to provide some legal cover for Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s controversial and unenforceable Bill 78. They added clause 2.1 to P-6, making any demonstration that does not provide a route to police in advance for approval illegal.
It took a bit of time, but once student protests resumed, following new premier Pauline Marois’ decision to raise tuition in her own way, the SPVM (Montreal Police) started applying P-6 routinely, at the start of demonstrations, mass-kettling hundreds of people and issuing them $638 tickets. This made demonstrating difficult, and drawing solidarity marchers from the general public, as was the case during the Maple Spring, next to impossible.
Even if you support a cause, the risk of being forced to stand in the cold in one spot for four, five, six hours and then paying for the “privilege” may be the deal breaker, especially if you have kids at home or work the next day. Not letting the new round of protests turning into a mass revolt seems to have been the goal and it seems to have worked, at least until last week.
The Richmond Decision
On March 22, 2013, there was a mass kettling and fining done under P-6. As with other cases, the defendants decided to fight the ticket. However, this time, with no lawyers, they chose to argue that the tickets themselves were invalid and the judge agreed.
Municipal Court Judge Randall Richmond determined that 2.1 did not constitute an offense, but even if it did, the defendants would have to have been organizing the demonstration and there was no way of proving they were.
Richmond also repudiated the procedure police used to issue tickets to demonstrators. Once the protestors were moved from the kettle to busses, SPVM officers issued the tickets to all of the people on the busses en masse. The problem is that the officers signing the tickets had not personally witnessed the accused committing any infraction.
Imagine getting a speeding ticket that’s signed by someone at police headquarters who you never met. Now, imagine that you try and fight it and the person who signed the ticket isn’t even a witness. How can you possibly be expected to pay that ticket?
You can’t. And that’s why Judge Richmond decided to throw out 16 tickets in total, including some for people scheduled for other days.
So, while this is clearly a victory against P-6, it isn’t a total one. The bylaw is still on the books and can be amended by City Council. Hopefully that will seem like an undesirable waste of time, at least long enough for it to be overturned completely on constitutional grounds. Also, it could be appealed.
In the meantime, Judge Richmond’s decision means that anyone police can’t prove to be an organizer can argue that simply being at a demo doesn’t constitute an infraction. Seeing as it’s almost impossible to prove, in some demos, who the organizers are, the SPVM can’t really hold anyone accountable.
Big win for non-hierarchical anarchist organizing. I guess just make sure a non-hierarchical organization creates the Facebook event and not an individual, or if it is an individual, make sure it’s a fake profile with a funny name, or better yet a real name taken from the other side. I, for one, would love to see the SPVM try to fine Ian Lafreniere, Denis Coderre or Heywood Jablome.
It also means that one officer mass-ticketing hundreds doesn’t fly anymore. If the SPVM wants to keep kettling people, they’re going to need a lot more people on hand to witness infractions.
Why Didn’t I Think of That?
This is the kind of decision that hearkens back to Al Capone going down for tax evasions because, of course, organized criminals don’t pay tax. How could anyone caught in a kettle be fined? We all know that police block off any escape route. What if someone happened to be walking down a side street – let’s say a tourist. They turn onto the main artery and get caught. How can the SPVM justify fining them $638?
What about mass ticket signings? How can that be legal at all? When a police force doesn’t apply the same bureaucratic rigour to a gross violation of civil liberties that they do to a parking ticket, you know there’s grounds to fight it.
It seems so simple after the fact. Why didn’t I think of that? Why didn’t anyone think of that? Well, fortunately some did. Rich James in particular is responsible for suggesting this course of action, and he started doing so in April 2014. However, it was really the defendants Patrick Rene, Eric Thibault-Jolin (or Thibeault-Jolin, according to the court documents) and someone named AK (who had an unsigned ticket and was a minor) who really embraced the concept, fought for it and won.
Cases that came before the court on February 13th were thrown out, too, because the prosecutor had no new evidence. Over 200 more tickets are expected to be thrown out on February 25. Unless the prosecutor comes up with more decisive arguments, the people appearing before the judge on March 23rd and 24th, challenging article 2 itself, can expect the same result.
Now, with the annual Anti-Police Brutality March scheduled for March 15 (as it always is) and the promise of many anti-austerity actions to come, this is going to be an interesting spring and summer.
What is austerity? Very simply put, it is when governments decide to ‘tighten the belt’ in order to resolve ‘debt crises.’ A government starts running a deficit, and thus has to review its budget. While that sounds like a very basic accounting job, it is inherently extremely political. Why? Because you have to decide on which expenditures to cut, or which sources of income to raise.
Two large scaleanti-austerity protests have taken place in the past couple of months. All around Montreal, you can still see ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars covered with “On n’a rien volé” stickers. Clearly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Parti Libéral du Quebec’s (PLQ) cuts are real, but they are in no way new, or unexpected.
Of course, the PLQ’s decision to raise tuition fees was not out of the blue. Quebec was (and curiously, still is) facing a rising debt crisis. What happens when you find out that your balance is in the negative? You try to break even. This sounds all logical and rational. Yet, breaking even can turn out to be problematic, if you have your priorities set wrong.
In 2012, PLQ assumed incorrectly that students could be made to bear the burden of the provincial government’s debt crisis. The Maple Spring was the students’ response to this misjudgment, and it was without a doubt very polarizing. While there were hundreds of thousands of students taking to the street almost every week, there were others who wanted none of this.
The problem with the pacifist mind frame is that not everyone can afford to be apathetic. To some, an increase of a thousand dollars over the course of five years might not be too much; but for others it effectively means that higher education is barred to them.
At any rate, after the Maple Spring, the PLQ was replaced by the Parti Québecois (PQ), which declared that the tuition hikes would not take place. However, the PQ decided to cut university budgets by $123 million. So instead of directly barring education to some students, the provincial government succeeded in reducing the quality of education for everyone.
Similar to Bill 10 which would overhaul Quebec’s health bureaucracy, and Bill 3 that will overhaul municipal pensions, the cuts to university budgets are part of the same austerity regime based on all the wrong priorities. The provincial government finds itself in a debt of about $3.9 billion and figures that the solution is cutting social services.
The Maple Spring showed that students were more than willing to fight a government that encroached on its basic rights. And more recently, the past two months have shown that mobilization against austerity is not just a possibility, but a reality. It is a little disappointing that people start caring about the consequences of austerity only after they themselves are affected, but that does not matter anymore.
“While they reach for the last pennies in our pockets, federal and provincial governments increase military spending, invest in prisons, police, and security measures, and roll out the red carpet for the extraction industries. People with friends in high places, the rich, large companies, multinationals, banks and lobbying firms are running the show. A small minority is strangling the community. If the interests of the majority do not orient the actions and priorities of the government, it is illusory to continue to speak of this as a democracy. In a just and equitable society, wealth should not be accumulated at the expense of our environment and should be fairly redistributed among all.”
There is nothing innocent about austerity. It is not simply an apolitical economic decision to break even; mainly because there can be no such thing as an apolitical economic decision. Governments have priorities, and this government has shown us that their priorities are not social justice, social equality, or even simply social services.
It is clear that the governments of this province, both PLQ and PQ, have got their priorities wrong. It then falls on us to collectively fight against austerity and stand in solidarity with one another.
Of course, none of the political choices available might be pleasing. In fact, you might be completely against the system to begin with. But the realistic choice is fighting one battle at a time; while keeping the dream of social justice and social equality alive. It is realistic, because at least we know we can fight the good fight.
This is not just the students’ fight anymore; although I daresay students have led the charge, and are still leading the charge. But it is time to realize that austerity affects us all. As such, it is our collective responsibility to stand in solidarity, and say no to austerity.
They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. Montreal’s police force, the SPVM, is now openly engaging in political profiling.
Over the past few months, the cops have been enforcing municipal bylaw P-6, which outlaws any demonstration where no route has been provided and makes it illegal to wear a mask at a protest, every chance they get. Within minutes of a protest starting, no matter how big or small, SPVM officers surround, kettle and eventualy release the participants, handing them a $637 ticket on the way out. Last time they even confiscated beloved mascot Anarchopanda’s head.
Now this bylaw may be unconstitutional, but the SPVM brass and politicians like Mayor Michael Applebaum contend that it’s not that restrictive considering all protesters need to do is provide a route. But it’s now clear that only people they decide to discriminate against have to submit to this bureaucratic infringement on freedom of expression.
At a press conference yesterday, a reporter asked Police Chief Marc Parent how his department would treat hockey fans celebrating a hypothetical Stanley Cup victory by the Canadiens (it’s possible, go habs go). Presumably, they wouldn’t provide a route for their demonstration of support for the hockey team and that’s okay with the chief.
“We know very well,” Pare said in French, “that in that moment, we’re not there to ask someone their itinerary. It’s not organized, it’s spontaneous and that we know very well.”
You know what else is spontaneous? A student demonstration where the only bit of organization is where and when everyone is going to assemble. “Meet at Parc Emilie Gamelin at 8pm” is about as much pre-planning as “meet in front of the Bell Centre during the third period.”
So, a spontaneous demonstration of support for the Habs gets a pass whereas a spontaneous demonstration of disgust with the Marois government gets kettled? How can anyone justify this?
Well, maybe it has something to do with violence. Problem is that there was more violence and vandalism in just one night of hockey rioting the last time the Habs made it past the first round then there was in six months of nightly student protests. True, hockey rioters are just a few bad apples and don’t represent the broader fanbase, but so are those who caused the damage during the student protests. The “casseurs” don’t represent the student movement as a whole and the cops know it.
Does this mean that anyone can be charged for what’s happening in a photograph they post online? For a while it looked like that may be the case, but in light of how the chief claims the cops would treat a Habs victory celebration, it’s clear that the SPVM’s current tactics are much more sinister then a blanket oppression of the right to free expression.
It’s selective enforcement. If they don’t like you, they’ll charge you with something.
Cops may have been doing this for years, but at least they had the decency to try and cover it up and make token firings of the unlucky officers who got caught. Now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and they don’t seem to care. Their spokespeople are brazenly admitting to political profiling.
This is would be funny if it wasn’t so damn scary. The public needs to challenge this blatant discrimination and remind the police that they aren’t a gang loyal to each other but rather public servants who work for us, all of us, even those they don’t like.
* Top image thehockeyjunkies.blogspot.com, kettle image by Tim McSorley for the Media Co-Op
Ethan Cox is the Quebec correspondent for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared
“This is approaching absurdist comedy,” tweeted Montreal Gazette reporter Christopher Curtis Friday night, trapped in a police kettle from which Montreal’s finest inexplicably refused to release him as his deadline approached.
“Did they really, actually arrest Anarchopanda????” replied well known Québécoise pundit Josée Legault.
Curtis never replied, no doubt caught up in extricating himself from police custody, so allow me to do so now: yes Josée, they really, actually did. Just call him Arrestopanda. At night’s end the tally ran something like this: one panda, several rabbits, a few dozen journos and almost three hundred dull normals cuffed, processed and slapped with $637 fines. This after being held for hours in the cold kettles Montreal police formed around them.
An obscene over-reaction regardless of circumstance, kettling has been ruled illegal by England’s High Court. In Toronto, the senior police commander who ordered protesters kettled at the 2010 G20 summit has been charged with discreditable conduct and unlawful use of authority. The Toronto Police Service have committed to never use the tactic again after an independent review found it to be unlawful. Kettling is a particularly disturbing tactic because it only works on peaceful protesters who offer little resistance, making it insidiously offensive to the concept of free speech and free assembly.
But, some would argue, once those damn kids started with the breaking of the windows and the throwing of the snowballs, what choice did the police have?
Sorry Dorothy, but we’re not in Kansas anymore. The question of whether you can justify arresting hundreds of people because one or two did something objectionable is sooooo 2012.
Friday night, before the protest had even begun, and without so much as a hurtful word to serve as pretext, Montreal police descended on a crowd of protesters who were, without exception, peaceful and arrested the lot of them.
I don’t go in for a lot of the alarmist stuff you see on Twitter and Facebook. I think Stephen Harper sucks, and I hate what he’s done to our country, but I don’t think he’s a dictator or a fascist. I’ve always hated the SSPVM chant (the addition of an extra “s” to the name of Montreal’s police service alluding to the Nazi SS) and I think such hyperbole often obscures, rather than illuminates, important issues.
So it’s not for nothing that I tell you I woke this morning genuinely afraid. For the first time in my life I am afraid of what can happen to me, and to my friends and neighbors and strangers, if we exercise inalienable rights that we cannot, must not, forfeit. This is not hyperbole, it is fact, and the fact is that the world looks a great deal darker today.
How else to process the preventative arrest of 294 law abiding citizens for the sole crime of attempting to express their political views in a constitutionally guaranteed fashion? Worse, this is the third time Montreal police have moved in to preemptively arrest a protest in its entirety in the space of one week, this lovely new staple of police tactics having been trotted out at the annual anti-police brutality march on the 15th and again to pre-empt a student protest on Tuesday, when 45 people were arrested.
Last night’s shameful spectacle came courtesy of Municipal By-Law P-6, the little known municipal counterpart to the universally denounced, and now repealed, Bill 78/ Law 12. The municipal bylaw shares the requirement that protests must submit their route for approval by the police 24 hours in advance. Among other goodies, it also allows Montreal’s Executive Committee to prohibit any peaceful assembly indefinitely, at their discretion and without notice. It should be noted that this almost certainly unconstitutional bylaw was passed by a municipal government with all the credibility and moral authority of a turnip.
At last night’s demonstration the police declared the protest illegal before it began for failing to provide a route and ordered protesters to disperse. However, they waited only seconds between giving that order and kettling protesters, giving them no chance to comply.
But don’t worry, say the police, they aren’t infringing on anyone’s right to protest, because no such right exists.
“Starting with the last three demonstrations, we have been intervening faster,” Sergeant Jean-Bruno Latour, a spokesperson for the SPVM, told La Presse. “We do not want to hold citizens who wish to go to downtown Montreal hostage. The Charter [of rights and freedoms] protects the right to freedom of expression, but there is no right to protest.” [Translated from French]
This rather jaw-dropping statement raised the ire of Véronique Robert, a criminal lawyer in Montreal. Her scathing rebuttal on the website of weekly newspaper Voir titled “Fear the police, not the protests” is a delicious take down of this absurd position, and if you read French I recommend reading it in its entirety. Here’s a taste:
“This screwball assertion by an officer with the Montreal Police is scary, alarming and frightening, and leads to two conclusions: first, our police urgently need more law classes as part of their training. Second, things are not at all well in Quebec right now, and that frightens me.” [Translated]
Robert goes on to patiently explain that peaceful assembly and protest is an integral part of freedom of expression, without which the right cannot exist. She points out that not only is our right to protest clearly and explicitly protected by our Charter, it is also protected by every document dealing with the protection of fundamental rights in the world, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In 2005, the UN Human Rights Commission criticized, as it did again last year, mass arrests taking place in Montreal in the context of the last student strike, calling mass arrests by their very nature a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The commission called for a public inquiry into police actions, and questioned the article in the criminal code prohibiting illegal assembly.
“The state must ensure that the right to peacefully participate in a protest is respected, and that only those who have committed a criminal infraction during a protest are arrested.” [Translated]
Robert concludes as follows:
“When the young, and the even younger, receive $614 [sic] tickets for participating in a public assembly, be afraid. When protest movements are bullied from the moment they are formed, be afraid. When the police detain citizens en masse for no reason, be afraid. When police conflate interrogation with arbitrary arrest for exercising a constitutional right, be afraid.
What should actually scare us, in Montreal, is the police and their totalitarian declarations. What we should fear is the state and our mode of governance. Not protesters.” [Translated]
Strong words, but necessary ones. Robert is no wild-eyed radical, she’s a criminal defence attorney, and is articulating a position shared by the vast majority of her colleagues. P-6 has been denounced by the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, and a march of lawyers against Law 12 last year drew over six hundred into the streets.
Right now, in Montreal, the very right to protest, that most fundamental right to freedom of expression, is under assault. If we give in, and stay home for fear of these preposterous tickets, we will have lost not just the battle but the war itself. Indeed, the worst part about these tactics is that they work. I know many friends who will no longer go to protests for fear of arrest and a ticket they cannot afford. What a sad state of affairs when the police bully and intimidate citizens out of exercising their right to criticize the government. So go to the demos, go to all the demos, and prove you will not let fear and intimidation win out. If you get a ticket, contest it. The legal resources to ensure you succeed are freely available. And no matter what you do, make sure to go to the demo on the 22nd of April, which I think should be branded as a manif in defence of our civil liberties. If there are enough people in the streets, the cops can’t do a thing. Small crowds are what allow these abuses.
When our police force denies that we have any right to peacefully express our dissent, there is no recourse but to fight tooth and nail to protect our rights. This is far too important an issue to let slide.
Robert and I both expect legal challenges to this law, which will hopefully be struck down, but in the meanwhile I think it’s time we made municipal bylaw P-6 an election issue.
Montreal has a municipal election coming up in November. With the implosion of the ruling Union Montreal party after revelations of widespread corruption, revelations which also tarnished the reputation of opposition party Vision Montreal, the election is more uncertain than any in my memory.
Over the next year any number of politicians will be asking for your vote. Any time they do, make a habit of telling them that you will only vote for a party which commits to repeal bylaw P-6. This is for all the marbles folks, our right to freedom of expression is not negotiable.
The PQ campaigned heavily on a promise to repeal the wildly unpopular Law 12, and now it’s time to finish what they started. The repeal of Law 12 is a Pyrrhic victory if bylaw P-6 remains in force.
I’ll close with an oldie but a goodie: If you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention.
If you are in Montreal, a major demonstration against bylaw P-6 has been organized for April 22 at 6PM, outside of City Hall. For more information or to confirm your attendance you can check out the Facebook event.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois made that statement yesterday, concluding her party’s Summit on Higher Education at the Arsenal in Griffintown. Later that same afternoon, as teargass reigned down on peaceful protesters at St-Denis near des Pins, it looked more like the social crisis was a few blocks north and a number of blocks east of where she was speaking.
Did Marois really not see this coming? Did she think she could raise tuition and no one would hit the streets?
Well, protesters did take to the streets of Montreal. Estimates had the crowd anywhere between five and twenty thousand.
Turns out snowballs and riot cops aren’t a good mix. When a few protesters, whether intentionally or not, threw their soggy projectiles in the direction of the police, things turned ugly: teargass, noise cannons, billyclubs, arrests and claims that the protest was illegal from the get-go because protesters didn’t provide a route. Now, another well-known element of last year’s Maple Spring was back as well: police repression.
But wait, wasn’t Marois personally offended by Bill 78? Didn’t she promise to repeal it? Well, yes, Bill 78 is no longer on the books, but then again, technically, it was never even enforced. All those arrests last year in Montreal for being at an illegal protest because no route was provided, well, they were officially made under a municipal bylaw that mirrored some of the more egregious elements of 78, not the infamous bill itself (in Quebec City, arrests were made under the highway code).
So Marois was offended by Bill 78 but has no problem using a bylaw that does exactly the same offensive things? Makes sense. After all, she repealed Charest’s tuition hikes on her first day in office as she had promised, then brought in her own tuition hikes a few months later.
But wait, these increases only amount to $70 a year or at least that’s what right-wing media outlets keep reminding us. Really, who cares how much it is, it’s an increase and that’s the point. While the much larger amount Charest wanted to impose all in one shot may have made it easier to mobilize such a massive student base in the early stages, the Maple Spring was, at it’s core, a protest against the very idea of a tuition increase and by extension, austerity.
To put it bluntly, for a politician to give the student protesters what they want, they would have to lower tuition with the ultimate goal being free education. To merely avoid more protests, they would have to, at the very least, maintain the freeze. Just one penny in the wrong direction and people will take to the streets.
That much is clear to me and most casual observers and it should have been clear to Pauline Marois, too. I think it was. I think she knew all too well that people didn’t vote for her so she could pay lip service to what students and their allies were demanding; in fact, they didn’t vote for her at all, but rather against Jean Charest and it looked like the PQ had the best chance of replacing the Liberals.
She might have figured that it would be easy to distract people later on, make them think the PQ came to power because of sovereignty, language or some other issue that Quebec politicians have used to distract the discourse for decades. The problem is that with a game changer protest like the Maple Spring, people aren’t as easily fooled or silenced. To paraphrase one of the signs held up yesterday, people didn’t stay the course and stay in the streets for six months just to accept another hike.
Sure, not all student groups were at the protest yesterday, just ASSE (the largest and most radical group which formed the CLASSE last year). The other groups were at the conference itself, fighting for a freeze. Now that they were denied, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them don their red squares again, despite former colleague Leo Bureau Blouin now sitting as a PQ MNA.
Even if they don’t, the student protesters have the support of unions, teachers and others. Who knows how many more will join?
Hell, maybe even anglo rights activists will realize that the goal of free post-secondary education is a better place to put money than the Office Quebecois de la Langue Francais, wash out the pots they just used to cook pasta and start banging on them in the streets. It probably won’t happen, but hey, a progressive anglo boy can dream.
Now that the old tricks don’t seem to work anymore and the new boss is protested just as quickly as the old boss was, the future possibilities are wide open. Maybe Marois was right and the social crisis is indeed almost behind us, but the social revolution is right ahead.
* Top photo by Iana Kazakova, other images courtesy movementetudiant.info
Ethan Cox is the Quebec Correspondent for Rabble.ca where this interview with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the former spokesperson for student group CLASSE originally appeared..
Ethan Cox: You were recently found guilty of contempt of court, for expressing the opinion that picket lines were legitimate in a TV interview. That’s a ruling I know you plan to appeal, so can you tell me why you think the ruling was unjust?
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: Well there are a few things. A problem with the first ruling is that the judge interpreted my words as direct advice to break the injunctions. The point my lawyer and I made is that it was a political opinion I expressed, that those injunctions were not a good way to solve the conflict. I said it was a deception, that those injunctions were used to override the democratic decision to go on strike. That’s one of the main things we are going to focus on during the appeal. I cannot say that I didn’t say what I said. Or that it was not what I meant. I said what I said and I meant what I said. It was a political opinion, not a direct order to tell anyone to do anything. So that’s the main point. It’s very important that we do this, because if the ruling stands, it creates a precedent for other social movements. It will be one of the first times a spokesperson for a social movement could be found guilty for expressing a political opinion. That’s a precedent we don’t want to see created.
What do you think of the PQ government floating the idea of legislating a right to strike for students?
GND: It’s clearly a double-edged sword. The first thing that is important to remember is that the Liberal government created this debate. For decades in Quebec the right for students to have a political strike has always existed. Everyone, including the Liberals, accepted it politically and socially. Mr. Charest himself recognized this right. I think it’s a debate that has been created to delegitimize the student movement by the Liberals. The student movement has shown in the last few years that it is able to take democratic positions on many issues, and is able to make democratic decisions to go on strike.
I don’t see why we have to change the law that’s already quite clear. It gives a monopoly over representation of students to the student associations. It says they are recognized. We are not workers, but students. Our strike is a political strike. I don’t see why we should limit this fundamental right to strike.
There’s been quite an outpouring of support for your appeal through the website appelatous.org, you’re now over $100,000 in donations towards your legal defence fund. So what’s next?
GND: We are expecting the sentence any day now. We will then go and appeal. It’s going to be a long battle, a two-year battle to go in front of the appeal court. That’s why we’ve asked for the people’s donations and solidarity.
We were totally surprised by the amount of solidarity we’ve seen. We now have enough money to pay back CLASSE for the expenses of the case thus far. We also have enough to go forward with the appeal process. There will also be enough money to support other students who are in front of the courts. For me it’s very important to show that solidarity towards the other students. It’s a very beautiful surprise for us. I think even if the mobilization isn’t currently as concrete in the streets, the people are still very vigilant about what’s going on. We have gained this huge amount of money in only two weeks, which I think is indicative of the fact the movement is not dead at all.
What do you think of the PQ government’s budget and performance so far?
GND:I think it’s a deception for the left. We were expecting a lot more. Especially in a context where the Liberals have no leader, and everyone knows there is not going to be an election. I think the PQ had a chance to go forward with progressive measures that they had announced during the electoral campaign, measures that were a first step in the right direction. I think it’s a big deception by the PQ, that they claim they aren’t able to turn things around. The education summit that they have announced is the same type of thing. I think that indexation is the only thing that could come out of that.
I am also preoccupied by the fact that there seems to exist an intention within the Parti Quebecois to continue the privatization of universities that the Liberals started. That’s very disturbing for us. It means we have to be vigilant towards this party. We have to be at this summit, put our positions up front, and be ready to be in the streets if this government does not respect our position.
What do you think the outcome of the PQ education summit will be? Do you think there will be a freeze or indexation? What are your concerns with the commodification and privatization of education? Do you find it hard to communicate this specific problem to students because it’s more abstract than a tuition hike?
GND: The tuition hike was so massive and abrupt that it was a shock for the students. The mobilization was a lot easier because of that. If the PQ do go for indexation it will be difficult for the student movement to mobilize on that issue and on the issue of commodification of education.
The good news is that we began to talk about these things in the last months of the strike. It’s once again proof that the PQ basically share the same ideological foundation as the Liberal party. I hope it wakes up a lot of Quebecers, and left leaning people who are still supporting the PQ. Those who say the PQ are a little bit better than the Liberals. No, this party is part of the same neo-liberal ideology. We have to break this eternal sharing of power between these two parties.
If bad things come out of the summit, how hard will it be to get students to mobilize again?
GND: It will be difficult. Students are now dealing with the consequences of their strike. It’s already difficult for them. One thing that’s also going to be difficult is that we are seeing the common front of student organizations dissolve over the issue of commodification of education.
So we aren’t going to see that alliance. We are going to see once again a student movement that is going to be divided. I think it’s for good reason, but it will be hard to mobilize. It will be a huge challenge for the progressive student movement.
There’s lots of speculation about you becoming the co-spokesperson for Quebec Solidaire, are you interested?
GND: For the moment I have chosen to focus on my studies. I still have a B.A. to finish. I have been very involved in the movement over the last five years. So I feel the need to go back to the books, back to theory. I’m beginning a new degree in Philosophy. I want to focus on that for the moment. I’m still young, I have so many things to do and so many things to learn. It’s not a definitive retreat, only a pause.
I of course will be back in Quebec politics. I’m also writing a book, because I think it’s important to leave something behind and express my own opinions and analysis of the movement. I think it’s important to write about it. It’s a part of history, if we let the mainstream media talk about it, I don’t think they’ll be able to convey the spirit of what the Quebec spring was.
Given the blood on the socialist banner and name in the 20th century, what does a 21st century anti-capitalist movement have to do to be different?
GND: I think there have been two major problems with the socialist experience: a lack of democracy, and a lack of focus on the environment.
A lot of the alternatives to capitalism that were tried during the 20th century were very authoritarian, and sometimes even more destructive to the environment than neo-liberal economies. I think those are the two main challenges. We have to find a way to do this transition progressively and democratically, and with a focus on the environment.
There seems to be an incredible openness right now in progressive movements in Quebec to working with people in the rest of the country. Why do you think that is?
GND: It’s sad to say, but I think it’s because of Stephen Harper. By pushing an aggressive neo-liberal agenda on public services and environmental issues, there is a realization of the importance of what is happening in Ottawa. If all the energy we’ve seen in the last months can be redirected towards the Conservatives, it would lend a big hand to the social movements in the rest of Canada.
This new openness is also one of the consequences of the fact that the political debate in Quebec has become a lot more oriented towards left and right issues than the independence issue over the last number of years. But for this to work we need an understanding by the Canadian left of the national issue in Quebec. Come a referendum, other social movements in Canada will have to respect our right to self-determination. That does not mean they have to be in favor of sovereignty, only respect the fact that Quebecers have the right to make their own decisions on their future. If we agree on that I think we have a beautiful opportunity in front of us to build a truly national movement. Historically this was a problem. I hope it’s behind us.
Do you feel there’s a new sense of urgency to go after capitalism?
GND: I think the ecological crisis is putting huge pressure on our generation. I feel this sense of urgency, and I think many young people do as well. For the first time in history, we have a future for our children that is worse than what we are currently living, in terms of social justice and environmental issues. So I think this sense of urgency is widespread. Now, the challenge is to share this urgency and educate the population. We have to be honest with ourselves. We need systemic change, but have to remember these changes won’t happen in a day. They will happen progressively. We have to begin to democratize and change the structure of our economy. I think that the majority of the population understands that there is something wrong with how things are being done. That there is not enough equality or social rights. Our objective is to take the initiative and say we are the ones who want to change things. This whole idea of “change” is now the slogan of the right wing. The PQ are a good example of that. We need to take back that slogan.
Do you think that building a stronger progressive media capacity is an important part of that popular education?
GND: Yes. It means having strategies for the mainstream media. Having spokespeople to talk to the mainstream media and population. It means concretely mobilizing in our campuses, our workplaces and our communities. It also means creating new platforms and new media infrastructures to begin to deliver an alternative message. We can’t only be in the mainstream or alternative media, we need a complementary strategy.
What were your major influences growing up?
GND: I was raised in a family of activists. My first political mentors were my parents. My father was in the labor movement for years. He was in charge of the environmental issues in one of the major labor unions of Quebec. I was also influenced a lot by activists in Quebec such as Michel Chartrand, Pierre Vadeboncoeur and Pierre Bourgault who were very charismatic activists working with workers and the people to gain rights. They were activists, but also writers and poets.
One of the things that inspired me most in those activists is that they were trying to reach a compromise between the social and national emancipation of Quebec. For me that’s a very big inspiration. I think we have to go back to that influence. Where national emancipation is not only based on a cultural and linguistic level, but also a social level. To present the national independence of Quebec like a political project. That’s what really inspires me in these activists. They were unbelievable speakers and writers, for me they are very big inspirations.
Thanks to Robin Sas for transcription of this interview.
Day two of our national speaking tour dawned sunny in London, Ontario — a good omen for things to come. On day one we spoke to over a hundred people at King’s College in London, an active and engaged crowd who kept us half an hour past the end of the event with questions.
We then had a lovely dinner party with several dozen of London’s finest activists at the home of our wonderful host, professor Bernie Hammond. Discussion and drinking continued into the wee hours, and a fabulous time was had by all. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the tour.
As I write this we’re in a car headed to Toronto, where we’ll be doing some interviews before heading to a pub night at the Regal Beagle at 8pm. Tomorrow kicks off bright and early with Gabriel doing an interview on Metro Morning, the CBC Radio morning show in Toronto, shortly before seven. From there Cloé will be speaking at a rally to kick off social justice week at Ryerson at Noon, before we head to York for a panel discussion and close the night off with a massive event at Ryerson. You can also see Gabriel interviewed live on CTV News Channel tonight at 6pm.
You can find the details for these events, and upcoming stops in Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Victoria and Vancouver later this week, here. If you’re in one of these cities I hope you’ll join us. Sadly time and money prevented us from stopping in Alberta or the Maritimes, which we had originally planned to do — so my apologies to friends in those places.
The tour has already received great coverage in national and local outlets, and local organizers tell us they expect large crowds at each of the stops. But perhaps the most gratifying compliment we’re received came in the form of a mocking blog post by Stephen Taylor entitled “Student entitlement tour coming to a city near you.” When you piss off the President of the National Citizens Coalition (Harper’s former employer) enough to accuse you of “fanciful marxist bleating”, you know you’re doing something right!
I’ll have to keep this post short, as we’re about to arrive at the annual convention of the Latin American Solidarity Network, but I’ll try to write regular, if short, updates from the road as the week progresses.
You can also keep up with the latest news from our tour by following me on Twitter @EthanCoxMTL, and using the hashtag #MapleTour.
Our spirits are sky high, and we’re looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible this week. See you soon!
It’s time for your weekly dose of environment news—student strike edition!
With university back in session, the cops are back on the beat, arresting protesters and racking up overtime. Radio Canada found the SPVM logged $5.6 million in overtime from February 1 to June 27, y’know, keeping track of protesters. As of July 13, it had reached $7.3 million.
– The cost of most of Montreal’s new bike paths (or even more), which at $10 million will add 78 kilometres of bike path to 10 boroughs over the next few years.
– Alternatively, Montreal could go the Chicago route and build some protected bike paths, which cost around $140,000 per mile (something like $86,992 per kilometre). So that’s 80 kilometres of protected bike lane.
CLASSE held a rally that included performances by Quebec artists speaking out against tuition increase last week. The evening featured speeches on issues from democracy to feminism within the student movement and was highlighted by the final speech by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois on behalf of CLASSE after his resignation. The student association intends to motivate students for a huge demonstration on August 22nd. Classe remains unaffiliated from any political party, but intends to influence their power from the streets despite who is elected. Interviews with Dan Bigras and Jeremie Bedard-Wien financial secretary of CLASSE.
Journalist and Editor: Emily Campbell, Videographer: Chris Zacchia
On the 100th nightly demonstration, and the first demonstration since the announcement of provincial elections this September, reporter Emily Campbell interviews students and critics about the future of the student movement and their attitude towards the provincial elections.
Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared.
Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice François Rolland on Wednesday rejected a motion filed by Quebec’s student associations asking for an emergency injunction against certain elements of Quebec’s contentious Bill 78.
In a twenty-one page decision released late Wednesday afternoon, Rolland found that the students case had the “appearance of right”, but failed to meet the two other criteria for this type of emergency injunction, namely “irreparable prejudice” and “balance of inconvenience”.
In Quebec’s legal system various types of injunctions are available, to deal with situations too urgent to leave until a full court case can be conducted, potentially years in the future.
The injunction sought here was a “requete en sursis“, which is similar in nature to a safeguard injunction, and requires the aforementioned three standards be met. It is the most immediate form of injunction, and as a result it is the most difficult to obtain.
In addition to proving that your cause of action is not frivolous, and that you have a reasonable chance of winning the eventual court case (the “appearance of right”) you must also prove that if the injunction is not granted you will suffer irreparable harm, which cannot be remedied at a later stage (the “irreparable prejudice”), and that greater damage, or inconvenience, will happen to you if the injunction is not granted, than would to the respondent if it is granted (the “balance of inconvenience”).
“We have to remember it’s a decision on an emergency injunction, which was only seeking to temporarily suspend some articles of the law. Soon we will be able to argue against the law itself, and we have high hopes that when we argue on the deeper issues we will win,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for CLASSE, one of the student groups seeking the injunction.
In an interview with rabble.ca after the decision was released, Nadeau-Dubois explained that the student groups had filed two motions, today’s injunction, and a request to annul the law in it’s entirety. The second case will hopefully be heard this fall.
On the question of whether the student groups would appeal this ruling, or simply proceed with their main case against the law, Nadeau-Dubois wasn’t ruling anything out. CLASSE will be meeting with their lawyers, and other student associations, tomorrow morning to determine their strategy going forward, but nothing is off the table.
Nadeau-Dubois described Bill 78 as “a strategy from the government to apply the law in the short term, knowing the process to challenge the law will take longer. It’s a deliberate strategy to override the institutions which are there to protect our rights. If it succeeds then any government can pass an unconstitutional law, knowing by the time it’s overturned the crisis will have passed. It’s a terrible precedent.”
Justice Rolland’s impartiality has been harshly criticized by La Presse and Le Devoir, among others, in recent months. He has been quoted arguing that judges must not take part in public discussions, because doing so will compromise their impartiality. Nevertheless, he appears to have done just that earlier this year, when he told students seeking injunctions allowing them to return to class to appeal to the government, and seemed to demand that the government intervene. They of course did, with Bill 78, and he is now the judge handling appeals of the law.
“We had asked the judge to recuse himself in other matters, injunctions, because we thought he was not impartial at the time. This time we decided not to ask him to do so, and maybe that was a mistake. We will be considering all our options about this judge in the future,” said Nadeau-Dubois.
He also took strong issue with the government assertion that freedom of association does not apply to student associations in the same way it does to labour unions.
“We can’t wait to argue the real case. We have strong evidence and documents which prove that the student strike is legal, it should be recognized, and obviously freedom of association applies to student associations as well as unions. When it [the provincial law granting recognition and rights to student unions] was originally passed by the National Assembly, the argument that was made was that obligatory fees are at the heart of having the right to associate”.
One of the articles of Bill 78 which the student groups tried to have suspended allows the government to block the collection of dues by a student association or federation which violates Bill 78.
Nadeau-Dubois explained that the threat of this section of the law was one of their main arguments for the urgency and necessity of the injunction, and they were very dissatisfied with the judge’s decision that since the penalty had yet to be applied, their rights weren’t threatened.
“This is a clear attack on student associations, and on our right to freedom of association. If that part of the law is applied in August there is a high probability that it will simply kill the student associations of Quebec. That would be very sad. It’s probably the element of the law which is least explained in the media, but it’s one of the most serious parts.”
There was further confusion over the legality of spontaneous protests. Although Bill 78 seems to clearly make them illegal, the government argued – and Justice Rolland accepted – that they were legal if not formally organized.
“Bill 78 made spontaneous protests illegal. Now this judgement says they are legal, but what is the definition of a spontaneous protest? Citizens will not know if a protest is spontaneous or not, if it is illegal or not. We don’t know what we have the right to organize. In a democratic society everyone should have the right to organize and go down into the streets whenever they want, without the fear of a huge fine,” said Nadeau-Dubois.
To get a better handle on the legal issues involved, rabble.ca spoke to two legal experts to get their take on the ruling. Patrice Blais, a lawyer in Montreal, and David DesBaillets, a law professor at UQAM.
Both expect the students to win, and prove the law unconstitutional, at trial. They cautioned that while this ruling may be a setback, it should in no way be interpreted as a defeat.
“This is a preliminary ruling, which was decided on prejudice and inconvenience, not the facts of the case. It’s important to understand that losing at this stage does not indicate that you have a weak case, merely that you were unable to clear some exceedingly high legal hurdles. It is exceptionally rare to see a law overturned at the stage of a temporary injunction, that’s why I’m not surprised by this ruling. I would have been very surprised if a court at this point granted this injunction, just as I’ll be shocked if the law is not ultimately struck down,” said Blais.
“The court will almost always take the safe, conservative route, and in this case that was putting off a decision on the constitutionality of the law.”
“To me the decision is disappointing. I think it’s a cop-out. The court chose to pass the buck on constitutionality, and cited the case of Manitoba v. Metropolitan Stores Ltd. to establish that they were required to accept the constitutionality of the law Prima Facie, or as a given,” said DesBaillets. “This case was decided on the balance of inconvenience, by a court which was clearly eager to pass the decision onto a higher court.”
Both lawyers noted that it was odd that Rolland accepted the assertion of the Quebec government that Bill 78 does not restrain the right to hold a spontaneous protest. Given that a spontaneous protest would be considered illegal under Bill 78, and participants could be charged for attending, it seems clear that the law does exactly that.
“My reading of the decision is that the court is trying to make a fine distinction between student associations and individual protesters to provide constitutional cover, but in reality we know they’re one and the same,” said DesBaillets. “You’re not going to have much of a protest if no one organizes it or publicizes it, and in this case that’s the student associations. Bill 78 places so many limits and conditions on protests that, in effect, your rights have been curbed to the extent that you no longer have any meaningful right to protest.”
“I certainly think the reason the government inserted a time limit on the law has a lot to do with their own judgement that this law is not constitutional. It looks like they very deliberately passed a law they knew was unconstitutional in order to restore order at any cost, even if it undermines basic civil liberties. It’s a very dangerous precedent,” he continued.
“I find it interesting that the government is trying to minimize the effect of the law in order to justify its constitutionality” added Blais. “The time limit on the law [it is set to expire on July 1, 2013] is also very interesting, insofar as if this case goes to the end, the law will likely have expired and the government will argue that the issue is academic and the case should not be heard. But I think there will be a strong argument to continue the case, that it is not academic, because it will be about the government imposing laws with a time limit and avoiding constitutional challenges to their actions. That would set a very bad precedent in a democracy, that a government could pass any temporary measure without consequence or judicial review.”
“My understanding of the constitution is that it’s on the students side,” summed up DesBaillets. “I can’t imagine the court ultimately upholding this law.”
Photo of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois courtesy of Justin Ling via Flickr
With another day of action against tuition hikes planned for this afternoon – the sequel for similar actions on the 22nd of March and May – I spent the June 21 combing few some of the recent polls to try and get an idea of where all this madness has left us politically.
It’s been polarizing. After surviving a rash of discontent within her party ranks and rumours of her being replaced by political veteran Gilles Duceppe, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois consolidated PQ ranks around the tuition hike issue. Marois and her fellow PQ MNA’s even took to donning the student movement’s symbolic red square – until recently, that is.
The PQ have also been energized by surprisingly favourable results in recent by-elections, taking Argenteuil from the Liberals last week, and almost doing the same in the Montreal riding Lafontaine, a perennial stronghold of the ruling Liberal Party.
The Liberals on the other hand, led by Premier Jean Charest, have recently found themselves on the back foot. Mired in controversy over both the ongoing student conflict and the Charbonneau Commission into corruption and collusion in the Quebec construction industry – which some predict could have unsavory results for Charest’s Liberals – the party has been trying to protect its image in the past month. The party debuted a new slogan on its website – “Governing: it’s not always easy” – a month ago, and released a new ad this week with Charest defending his “political courage.”
And in the midst of the traditional PQ-Liberal back-and-forth, the wildcard Coalition Avenir Québec – despite plummeting back to earth after leading polls for months earlier in the year – lingers as a possible seat-stealer for both main parties in a future election.
Nor has it been a boring few weeks for Québec Solidaire, the provincial party most sympathetic to the student movement. Amir Khadir, their co-leader and MNA, was arrested during a student protest in Quebec City.
So without further ado, onto the numbers (given the well-documented meaninglessness of polls, I’ve attempted to give as clear a picture as possible by amalgamating various polls, namely Léger Marketing, Angus Reid, Forum Research Inc., and the invaluable ThreeHundredEight.com).
Liberals up by a hair
The Léger/Le Devoir poll released this week has the Liberals narrowly ahead of the PQ, 33% to 32%, indicating the Liberals have actually made a slight gain in public opinion.
As far as other parties go, the CAQ has dropped two points to 19%, but remain the strongest third party with Québec Solidaire down a point to 9%.
ThreeHundredEight’s weighted poll averages have the Liberals edging the PQ by 0.4%, with the CAQ at 19.6% and Québec Solidaire at 9.4%.
Perhaps the most surprising outcome of the poll (depending on how cynical you are) is Charest’s personal ratings. 26% of respondents find Charest to be the best choice for premier – up eight points – compared to 21% for Marois (a two point drop) and 19% for CAQ leader François Legault (a four point drop). Khadir, on of Québec Solidaire’s two leaders, dropped five points to 6%.
ThreeHundredEight predict an election for September, pointing to the 55% of Quebecers who agree, a number which “sounds eerily close to a likely turnout rate.” Either way, says the blog, “with the numbers where they are, it could go down to the wire.”
For ThreeHundredEight’s full breakdown of the Léger/Le Devoir poll, including the numbers by region (teaser: Montreal is looking less Liberal), click here.
Tuition hike numbers
The Léger/Le Devoir poll included the following question:
The government has decided to increase tuition fees by $254 per year for the next seven years for a total increase of $1780. Students dispute this decision and request a freeze on tuition.
Are you more favorable to the government’s position, or more favorable to that of students?
Of the 1000 Quebecers surveyed, 56% favoured the government’s position, with 35% favouring the students.
Broken down by voter intention, respondents who said they intend to vote Liberal came out strongest in favour of the government at 94%, ahead of CAQ voters with 76%. Respondents who said they intend to vote for Québec Solidaire were most in favour of the students at 86%, with PQ voters second at 63%.
NDP, Justin Trudeau make big gains
At the federal level, both a Forum Research Inc. poll and an Angus Reid/Toronto Star poll from this week show the NDP ahead of the ruling Conservative Party.
Forum Research have the NDP with a seven point lead over the Conservatives with 37% of decided voters favouring the NDP. The Liberal Party came third with 22%, with the Bloc Québécois and Green Party coming a distant fourth and fifth.
To put the numbers in perspective, if an election were held today, those numbers would give the NDP a minority government with 136 of 308 seats (a 33-seat increase). Conservative seats would drop from 166 to 114, and Liberal seats would climb from the current 34 to 53.
Angus Reid, however, has the NDP at 35% (up two points) to the Conservatives 34%, and the Liberals at 19% (up one point).
Forum Research found that 53% of Canadians expect the Conservative government to be defeated in the next election, including 21% of Conservative supporters.
Finally, Justin Trudeau leads all contenders for Liberal Party leadership by a mile with 23% – 33% of Liberal supporters also picked Trudeau. Angus Reid had 42% approving of Trudeau, with Westmount-Ville-Marie MP Marc Garneau a distant second with 23%. In a hypothetical scenario where Trudeau is Liberal leader and an election is held today, NDP support would drop to 32% of the electorate, with the Liberals drawing even with the Conservatives at 28% each, according to the Forum Research poll.
“It is clear that Trudeau draws support (about 5%) from the NDP,” writes Forum Research.
Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared.
Quebec students and allies outraged over the repressive and anti-democratic nature of Bill 78, its municipal companion Bylaw P-6, and other extreme police tactics, including political profiling and preventative arrests, are about to get some very heavy duty backup.
One might even say vindication?
In an opening address to be delivered today to the 47 member UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will express her “alarm” at ongoing attempts to restrict freedom of assembly in Quebec.
Her speech, a draft copy of which was obtained by UN Watch, will also express “concern” over similar restrictions in Russia (Russia’s law limiting protest was passed shortly after Bill 78, prompting some to speculate it was modeled on Quebec’s legislation) and “deep concern” over such restrictions in Eritrea.
In diplomatic terms alarm is a far more severe word than concern, making Canada’s restrictions on protest the most troubling to the UN agency.
In a speech running to several pages in length, and highlighting human rights issues in dozens of countries, the situation in Quebec warrants a single, albeit explosive, paragraph.
“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests”.
This expression of alarm will likely lead to Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist of countries which the agency believes are not upholding their international obligations with respect to human rights, a list which includes Syria, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
UN Watch, an organization best known for attacking any criticism of Israel by the UN as anti-Semitic or disproportionate, dedicated most of their release announcing the leaked speech to attacking Pillay’s criticism of Canada in similar terms.
It criticized Pillay for mentioning Canada, but not the situation in China or Cuba, and concluded that “…the UN commissioner is making a big mistake by sending the message that countries that have blots on their system – if indeed the Quebec law is a blot – are even worse than countries where the blot is the system”.
But of course she is sending no such message, and the inference that she is is a convenient fiction. It does not follow that anyone who has the temerity to mention the situation in Canada, or Palestine, is in some way delegitimizing the serious human rights threats faced in any other country.
The speech’s focus on Canada, Russia and Eritrea is in response to recent developments in these countries. It seems more than logical to focus on developing threats to human rights, rather than rehashing criticisms of countries like China, which the UN agency has severely criticized on many occasions in the past.
It is a particularly rich criticism of a speech where attention is paid to human rights situations in over a dozen countries, and Canada occupies only one paragraph.
UN Watch are correct that Canada has a much better reputation on human rights than many other countries, which makes it all the more alarming, and demanding of international attention, that we are now taking such a significant step backwards in our dedication to these rights.
The truth is that many in this country have done their best to bury their head in the sand as the situation in Quebec has descended into what can only be described as repression. Ask anyone if they approve of preventative arrest, profiling people for detention on the basis of a political symbol, mass arrests of peaceful protesters or indiscriminate use of force by police and their answer will be an emphatic no.
But our concern for fellow human beings in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia seems to end at our shores. Call it denial, perhaps we simply can’t accept that such things are happening here in Canada, but the silence in the media and among the population at large has been deafening.
It is no exaggeration to say that the situation in Quebec is the most serious threat to our fundamental rights, as articulated in the Quebec and Canadian Charter, and the International Declaration of Human Rights, that we have seen in decades.
That is why the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, has taken the unprecedented step of condemning Bill 78. It’s why over six hundred lawyers in full robes took to the streets of Montreal to protest the situation, a first in Quebec history.
It’s time to take our heads out of the sand and give them a stiff shake. Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [sic] to do nothing”, and right now there are an awful lot of good men and women doing nothing.
Our rights are not ironclad, they depend on our vigilance against even seemingly minor assaults. In this case we should be able to find common cause across partisan or ideological lines. This is not a left-right issue, but an assault on freedoms we all hold dear.
With her criticism, and Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist, Ms. Pillay has shone a light on our situation. What’s happening in Quebec is now the talk of the international community, Jean Charest our international embarrassment.
We need to take a stand, and send a message to the authoritarian-minded among our leaders that any erosion of our rights will be met with stiff resistance.
Pundits on the right love to invoke the sacrifices of our soldiers. Well, our soldiers died in two world wars for the rights and freedoms we enjoy, and which we have chosen to codify in our Constitution. Many also died defending these rights at other times in our history, such as during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, or the red scare of the 1950s.
Our rights were not granted, they were taken. Fought for over generations. They come to us drenched in the blood of our forebears who laid down their lives for them. A moments inattention and decades of blood, sweat and tears can be taken from us, without our noticing our neck is slit until we turn our head.
“To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” goes the famous line from In Flanders Fields. Will we be the generation which allows that torch to fall? Our brave youth are in the streets of Quebec every night, paying the price to stand against an unjust law. They need our help.
If there was any doubt in our minds that what is going on in Quebec is a grave threat to our most basic liberties, the attention of the UN should serve as a wake up call.
The question is, what are we going to do about it?
A poster by the Montreal band Mise en Demeure was on the news as the police found it in Amir Khadir’s home whilst they were looking for incriminating evidence after they arrested Dr. Khadir’s 19 years old daughter Yalda Machouf-Khadir.
Yalda faces various major charges; however she was released on bail until her court appearance later in July. This event took place not long after Dr. Khadir, the Québec Solidaire MNA himself was arrested at student protests in Quebec City and was fined under the Highway Safety Code.
The Mise en Demeure poster was taken in by the police and caused media frenzy over the implications of a politician owning such provocative work; which lead to Le Journal de Montreal and Le Journal de Québec printing such unrestrained headlines as: “KHADIR ARMED,” and “CHAREST DEAD.”
Now, I fully understand that newspapers need to sell, a fact that is certainly getting harder and harder with so much online competition; however at some point outrageous headlines like those are just going to lose readers’ trust; because, well, the comic depiction of Khadir and Charest in the poster are just too trivial to be taken seriously.
To be frank Mise en Demeure didn’t seem to put much thought into their poster, because this work does not refer to revolution and liberty, but it has a clear message of anarchy, promoting a lawless society. Whether this comment on society is deliberate or stems from ignorance of the artist, I shall not venture a guess.
The original painting is full of energy and movement, achieved by loose style brush strokes and use of vivid colours. Delacroix is painting the classical idea of democracy whilst portraying the tenacity and bravery of ordinary French people coming together to regain their rights. Delacroix said: “If I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.”
Liberty herself certainly resembles classical figures of ancient Greece, half nude, and also in profile which was a technique used to depict important people well into the Roman times. So we can agree that Liberty is the dominant figure and the message she is conveying is that of freedom from tyranny, leading the way to equality. What is important to notice is that Liberty is above all the rubble, wounded and the dead, leading France into a peaceful, just and fair future.
Now have a look at the Mise en Demeure poster with Bananarchiste wearing an Anarchy symbol on his Banana costume, shouting back waving a black flag. The tricolor flag Liberty held represented the values of the revolution which were equality, classlessness and unity which is being lost to an angry banana leading the way to chaos and disorder.
Charest’s figure in the poster is an interesting one. In the Delacroix’s painting that particular lifeless man represents the cruelty embarked on the revolutionaries by the royal troops who would shoot protesters and then drag them onto the street in order to send a message to the rest, hence his shirt being dishevelled. What are we supposed to take from the martyrdom of Charest in the poster? Isn’t he supposed to be the bad guy? Is he representing the death of democracy?
Amir Khadir in the poster is being represented by the well-dressed, middle-class man wearing a top hat, holding a gun. Isn’t that an indictment of our politicians as rich liberals who might give us a hand if it suited their agenda?
What started as genuine protests against unfair hikes, and undemocratic passing of the Bill 78, is now being usurped by a few individuals who do not believe in the system altogether and have yet to propose a better alternative; and the danger leering over the horizon is the loss of support from ordinary people just like the occupy movement.
I take a small pleasure in the fact that whoever made the Mise en Demeure poster forgot to change the tricolor flag on top of Notre Dame in the far right corner, so important in showing unity of the people and predicting a democratic future in Delacroix’s painting.