The crime: littering

I’d like to report a crime. It happened during the Anti-Police Brutality March in Montreal last Tuesday.

I’m not talking about breaking windows or anything so violent. Instead I’m talking about a crime that is a dire insult to the people of this city. The crime is littering. In particular, horseshit. Horseshit left on the ground in the brand-spanking new Quartier des Spectacles.

While no one can be certain just who’s responsible for leaving this mess, a good guess would be the horses ridden by some members of the Montreal Police Riot Squad. Since horses can’t be held responsible for cleaning up their own mess, it falls to their human companions to pick up after them.

So why did these cops miss so obvious a responsibility? Were their riot helmets on too tight? Maybe they were worried because their commanders had issued an unprecedented statement warning people to stay away from the QDS. Surely upon witnessing the rather calm scene at the beginning of the march they must have realized that the warning was just an elaborate PR stunt by their bosses to minimize the amount of people who might, by accident, see some of the signs condemning the SPVM for brutality and start to question the force.

The culprits? Montreal cops on horseback

So how could they have missed such an obvious infraction? Maybe they were preoccupied with the preventative arrests happening just down the street and hoping that they would get away with it like they did during the anti-Charest budget demo. What was their ruse again? Oh yeah, arrest people for breaking a municipal bylaw. Wait, isn’t littering also a municipal bylaw? So I guess that’s not the reason they missed the mess.

Sign of the times? Protest placard at the march

Maybe they were thinking about how the march would end and whether or not they’d get an excuse to round up a couple of hundred protesters as they have done several times before. If so, would the mainstream media take the bait? Would they justify the arrests based on windows broken by a few? Would suggestions that the damage was caused by agent provocateurs that came from behind police lines and disappeared again behind those same lines be relegated to activist websites and the twenty-sixth comment from the top under a quite biased CTV article on the event? Well, duh. That’s pretty much a given, so why worry about that when there are turds to be removed from the ground?

So maybe they just didn’t care. After all, when they get away with beating, killing and arresting people for no good reason, what’s a little littering? Or maybe it’s intentional. What better way to show the protesters and the city just who’s in charge than by letting their horses discharge in public and do nothing about it.

Either way, I’d like to report a crime, I’m just not sure who to report it to.

Photos by Jason C. McLean

The anti-police brutality march was held yesterday in Montreal as it has been for the past fourteen years and just as they have for the past fourteen years, Montreal’s media reported on it, focusing mainly on violence on the part of the protesters.

This year, though, something was different. Amidst all the coverage of 100 arrests, protesters burning wood and such, there has been some mention in the press of police infiltrators into the protest. Now, agent provocateurs in protest crowds are nothing new, in fact they’re probably not a new occurrence in anti-police brutality marches also. What’s new is that we’re hearing about it.

While most media is still toeing the line when it comes to coverage of this protest, at least a few sources mentioned the fact that some undercover cops were chased away by protesters while others acknowledged complaints of the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP) that police sabotaged their march by arresting their communications coordinator right off the bat.

I saw a report on TVA today that kept mentioning troublemakers dressed all in black. One wonders if these are the troublemakers they were referring to:

Are these the troublemakers dressed in black? Undercover cops arrest a protester (photo La Presse)

Ever since a group of police agent provocateurs were outed on YouTube during the protests at Montebello a few years ago, there has been more media interest in agent provocateurs and police involvement in making a protest look disorganized and violent. Now, it’s starting to rub off on the anti-police brutality coverage.

There’s even a video of the cops being routed out by the crowd:

* Well, the video seems to be down – “Terms of use violation” my ass but you can watch an (unembeddable) report on the video from LCN here. Good enough for the news, but not YouTube, that’s a first!

Another thing we’re getting now is police statements defending their actions. Namely, their claim that they declared this protest illegal after receiving a projectile. It’s interesting that the cops can declare something that is against them illegal when they are supposed to, in theory, be enforcing the laws rather than making them up.

After last year’s much more public daytime demonstration where 200 people were arrested and protesters, including musicians and quite a few others who aren’t your typical black block types, were teargassed, much more critical attention is being paid to how police handle this event. Still, I happened upon little tidbits of info that should have been given wider coverage.

The side of protests people usually get to see (photo La Presse)

I found this McGill Daily article that mentions how journalists were rounded up as well and that cops shut the metro’s green line down just before 5pm to prevent more protesters from showing up. They cite the Gazette for this last piece of important info and when I went to the Gazette site to verify it, it stumbled upon this article. The writing itself isn’t so biased, but the comments are.

You can’t, at this point, add additional comments and those that are there all speak from a knee-jerk reactionary anti-protester, pro-cop perspective. I tried finding some that disagreed but couldn’t. I did, however, find quite a few comments that were deleted by the moderator. Is the Gazette playing favorites?

True, a closer look is needed by the press in a lot of areas, but the anti-police brutality march is one subject where journalists need to be extra vigilant. Where else would the cops have more of a vested interest in making protesters look bad than a march specifically designed to show the side of the police that their PR department doesn’t want people to see?

One can only hope that the picture becomes clearer and marches like these help to curb police brutality. The fact that some critical coverage is emerging is a good thing. The fact that it took so long, well, that’s just brutal.

The other day, I saw a person stop someone else on the street and say a very strange thing with the purpose of relaying a very strange message to this stranger: “You’d better walk your bike, there’s a cop.”

Normally, on Prince Arthur this wouldn’t be an issue.   The cobblestone street that is a pedestrian walkway between St-Laurent Boulevard and Carré St-Louis has seen its fair share of cyclists over the years and its fair share of police as well.

While you’re technically not allowed to ride a bike or drive a car on this street (except to exit or enter an underground parking garage), not all cyclists know this fact.   It is after all a street and a wide enough one with enough space for two-wheeled and two-footed (and even some four-footed) travelers to co-exist.   No one seems to mind if this small rule is broken and if a cop sees it, they usually just tell the offending cyclist to dismount, they do and all is good.

This is one of those small nuisance laws that up until recently wasn’t a big deal.   Kind of like crossing St-Laurent Boulevard or any other north-south one-way street in the middle of the block when traffic is stopped at a light to the south of you and the nearest cross-street cars could turn onto the main drag from is to your north.   Jaywalking?   Technically yes.   A problem ?   No, not really.

Unfortunately, things seem to have changed.   It started around when the story surfaced in the media of the $420 fine issued to Bela Kosoian, the 38-year-old student and mother of two, for not holding onto the rubber handrail while descending an escalator in a Laval metro station.   She was fumbling for change in her pocket and didn’t understand what the metro cops (Montreal police are the security in our metro system).

Next came the rumors that people were being fined for jaywalking downtown.   Then the story I heard of the woman getting a ticket because her little kid was riding her bike on the sidewalk en route to the bike path.   Now, there’s a cop on Prince Arthur out looking for cyclists to give tickets to.

This ticket anything approach to policing, while not officially announced as such, looks, sounds and smells like a cash grab by the city implemented through a quota system imposed on the police.   Yves Francoeur, the president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood even admitted to a quota system being in place when it comes to parking tickets.

This is the same person who was quoted as saying that “as police officers, repression is our job. We don’t need a community relations officer for a director, we need a general. Let’s keep in mind that the police force is, after all, a paramilitary body.”   This is also the same force that tried to make insulting a police officer a ticketable offense and sent in the riot squad to evict a squat before it officially opened under the pretext of just meeting to talk.

In light of this, the recent disclosure about the quota system and Francoeur’s opposition to it may be more of a PR move in a labour dispute than a genuine concern for citizens affected.   However, it still gives confirmation of what many people have suspected for a long time: that Montreal Police are being used to make money for city bureaucrats.

Don’t get me wrong, if some guy jaywalks during flowing rush hour traffic and risks causing an accident, I have no problem with him getting a ticket, just as I hope there are police to deal with murder, rape, theft, assault and other serious crimes.   When it comes to the small, inconsequential stuff, though, give me a break.

The cops serving the rich isn’t new, but actually generating profit for them takes it to a whole new level. Policing shouldn’t be about using all the laws available to make a buck for the city, just as city bureaucrats should realize that, at least in theory, the citizens are their bosses and not their clients.   At least, for the time being, we can rely on our fellow citizens to warn us against for-profit policing on the horizon like those people who warned the cyclists on Prince Arthur.

Pointe-St-Charles and for that matter a good chunk of southwest Montréal has been undergoing gentrification for the past few years.   New condo projects have been springing up along the Lachine Canal, essentially cutting off the waterfront from the neighbourhoods that border it.

One project sought to change the hyper-capitalist trend sweeping the area and turn an abandoned candle factory into an autonomous social centre for the community by squatting it.   It lasted less than 24 hours. Yesterday afternoon, Montreal Police, at the request of the building owner who plans to turn the space into condos, sent in the riot squad, tear gas and all, to forcibly evict everyone from the premises.

The centre was supposed to house six autonomous projects: a showbar to shine the spotlight on underground artists, an itinerant cinema, a library, a place for socio-political workshops, the “velo-libre” bicycle repair project which hoped to have its own fleet of bikes on the streets to rival Mayor Tremblay’s capitalist-modeled Bixi program and the “tube digestif” which is a collective kitchen, a food recuperation project (think dumpster-diving) and an urban fermaculture project rolled into one, complete with compost toilets.

While many squats are a place to live for those who can’t afford to pay rents, this one was different.   A small select group of people were supposed to live on-site, but only with the intention of keeping the squat going by having a presence there 24/7.   The main goal of the ASC was to offer a non-capitalist space for the community to congregate.

The centre was supposed to open officially tonight at 8pm.   It was inaugurated yesterday evening with an action that brought out over 500 supporters and saw artistic interventions happening outside of the ASC.   These supporters along with the over 70 community and cultural groups lent their voices in solidarity were supposed to be key to the project’s success because of where the endeavor stood legally.

While squats are common and tolerated by authorities all across Europe, North America and Montreal in particular are a different story.   In fact, this city has clamped down on squats, regardless of media coverage they have received.   Generally, though, they last considerably longer than the ASC did.

The idea for the ASC originated in 2007 and was developed over the course of two years.   Last summer, the group behind it hosted Réclame ta Pointe, a series of performances and workshops that was well-received by the residents of Pointe-St-Charles and other Montrealers.   They had also done quite a bit of work in the community, fostering support for the project.

Despite all of this planning and community support, the eviction was quick.   Police had made plans to peacefully meet with organizers in front of the occupied building on the corner of St-Patrick and Atwater at 3pm yesterday but instead stormed the gate, cut the locks and when the people who had come out to meet them rushed back inside and locked the door, the cops sent “snipers” to the roof of the building who, according to witnesses, fired tear gas through the open windows and then closed them.

The people outside, many of them families enjoying the sun, eating and playing music, joined a growing protest against the police action.   They were soon joined by people from the inside, including young children who had been exposed to police tear gas.   A small group broke off and tried to occupy an alternate building but after police followed them there and they discovered it was uninhabitable at the moment, they left.

Now the groups and people who supported the ASC have a new role to play, forwarding the press release, spreading the word and contacting the media.   The next stage is a protest in front of the South West Borough Council meeting (815 Bel Air, near Lionel-Groulx metro) this coming Tuesday, June 2nd, at 6pm.

According to the ASC’s website, “the Social Center project continues. The struggle continues. We will not be squashed by what has happened today. On the contrary: our will to put into practice our dreams for a society free of authoritarian relationships, based on principles of autonomy, mutual aid and respect, is only reinforced.”