Montrealers caught downtown near Berri Square and Place des Arts Saturday afternoon were witness to violent clashes between police and protesters during the 12th annual International Day Against Police Brutality.
Despite mass arrests, property destruction, and incidents of police brutality, organizers said the event was successful overall.
“There have been mass arrests at this event in past years, but people aren’t afraid to come out in big numbers to denounce the brutality,” said Francois Du Canal, a member of le Collectif opposé à la brutalité policière (COBP).
About 300 protesters assembled at Berri Square, including a troop of dancing clowns and a 10-piece anarchist marching band. Approximately 100 police officers were already stationed around the square by the start. Officers filming the crowd refused to reveal to journalists why they were filming, prompting a protester to grab the camera and throw it to the ground.
Members of Stella, a sex workers’ rights organization and one of the 22 organizations endorsing the march, spoke to the crowd at the start of the protest.
“Sex workers are criminals in Canadian law. Police harass sex workers who can’t get legal protection from abuse because they are constantly evading the law,” said Jenn Clamen, a member of Stella.
As the crowd wound through the streets towards Place-des-Arts, a Sûreté de Québec helicopter followed the protest from above – which Du Canal pointed to as one of many police intimidation tactics.
“They struck protesters with batons, performed illegal searches in the metro before the march, filmed the crowd, used pepper spray, intimidated the crowd with rubber bullet guns and…and made arrests in civilian clothes,” Du Canal said.
Marching down Maisonneuve, protesters with covered faces smashed signs and windows of commercial stores including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Bell Canada. Police, passersby, and other marchers were forced to dodge hurled snowballs, ice, rocks, and wooden sticks.
Participants paintbombed police cruisers and vans and firebombed a car. When a handful of rioters smashed in the window of a police van, 30 police in riot gear descended from vans and rushed the crowd.
At about 4:30 the police announced that the demonstration was illegal and ordered the crowd to disperse. Within seconds, officers in riot gear charged the march from Ste. Catherine and forced the demonstrators up St. Denis, cornering dozens of marchers.
Police pushed and shoved them in the ribs with batons.
Damon Van Der Linde, a former editor of Concordia’s The Link, was arbitrarily arrested and assaulted by a police officer.
“When getting put into the group, I was hit in the ribs a bunch of times,” Van Der Linde said, adding that he had not been protesting when he was arrested.
“I was just standing on the corner when I was rounded up. I just happened to be there,” he added.
Many were put in police vans, detained, searched, and then let go. Others were charged with unlawful assembly and “failure to move.”
“It’s mostly the same people being arrested,” said Montreal police media relations officer Olivier Lapointe. “Some people arrive ready for war.”
COBP organizers said that 42 people have been killed by the Montreal Police in the past 21 years. In December, 38-year old Quilem Registre died several days after being tasered six times by police following a drunk driving infringement. In 2005, Mohammad Annad Bennis was killed by police officers. No officer has been formally charged for his death.
Other incidents include police assaulting three women at a march for last year’s International Women’s Day, and police inciting violence and using batons at August’s Security and Prosperity Partnership Summit in Montebello.
– with files from Jesara Sinclair, The Link (CUP)