As part of the International Day Against Police Brutality, Montreal began its annual anti-brutality demonstration on Tuesday at 5 p.m. outside Place des Arts metro station.
Organized by the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COPB) in conjunction with other groups, the demonstration marched east along Maisonneuve and onto St. Laurent. Demonstrators chanted “No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!” and “Who’s street? Our street!” as they walked. They made it as far as St. Denis and Mari-Anne before police, clad in riot gear – some mounted on horses, some with dogs – moved in on demonstrators and cordoned off the block.
Two helicopters observed the demonstration’s progress while police cars, police mounted on bikes and horses, and on foot shadowed the march, observing from parallel streets.
“It was amazing how much manpower, energy and time just for this manifestation…it was a spirit-breaking game,” said Ray Corkum, a demonstrator who was arrested along with 258 other people.
Sarita Ahooja, a friend of COPB’s and an activist with No One is Illegal Montreal, said arrests began before the demonstration. Six friends of the COPB were arrested en route to the demonstration in lieu of their protest signs.
“Because of our political beliefs, because of what we think, we are criminalized,” Ahooja said.
“It’s important to show that people do oppose and disagree with the culture of impunity that reigns – not only in the City of Montreal but throughout Canada – when it comes to police abuses,” Ahooja added. “Whether it be the daily injustices of racial profiling, social profiling, an attack against poor people, marginalized people, [or] political profiling.”
Montreal-based journalist and activist Stefan Christoff spoke about the issues that underly police brutality.
“I don’t think you can really address police brutality without understanding the systems that create it,” he said pointing to the Conservative government cutting social programs and then handing out corporate tax breaks. He identified police as being the “enforcing arm” of the socioeconomic context created by such policies.
“No one else is really allowed to pull a knife or a gun or a taser on anybody but the police, and most of the time they’re not pulling it out for some radically peaceful reason, right?” said Joshua, a participant in the demonstration. “They’re corporate policy enforcers. They’re there to protect the profits of other people, other companies.”
“[It’s] an economic reality that undermines the basic dignity, and also the sustenance, of so many people in our society,” added Christoff. “We can’t disconnect issues.”
Since 1987, 43 people have been killed by police in Montreal. This is one of the primary issues regarding police brutality that must be adressed stated Christoff.
“The police have not been held to proper account for these killings,” he said. “The only reason that there is some cosmetic moves to talk about the issue is because demonstrations happen like this every year, because people are speaking out.”
“No matter how many cops you put on the street, no matter how many times you beat people down, no matter how many times you prevent them from protesting, there will always be someone to call out the truth and fight to defend what’s right and what’s just,” stated Ahooja.
Joshua marched with demonstrators he identified as being part of the black bloc – a label attributed to those who wear all black and conceal their identities.
“They were making rocks and stuff like that. I got to see them smash the Gap store,” he said. “If everybody took on the responsibility of being violent, to a certain degree, we would be able to be a lot more effective. We wouldn’t have violence be stereotyped by the lowest common denominator in the protest.”
According to Corkum, police were prompted to cordon the demonstration when a woman was hit over the head with a wine bottle. He said that, although he was uncertain of the exact circumstances, he believed the woman was among the demonstrators.
Corkum also said that the police initially cited an attack on a police officer as the reason for intervention, revealing the “false pretense” behind the police’s decision to end the demonstration.
“So be a cop, do your job, isolate those problems and allow the rest of us to demonstrate as it is our right to do,” he said. “It seems the only idea they have is to just shut everything down.”
As they cordoned off blocks police hit their batons against their shields as they advanced to blockade demonstrators in the street. Police detonated a “stun” which Corkum explained makes a lot of noise and smoke, and is meant to startle.
“They all just kind of ran at you, and that made people run out to the sides and have a certain amount of people in the centre cornered. And they continued to do that three or four times, further cornering people in the centre,” said a demonstrator who wished to remain anonymous after being released from the cordon. “There’s nowhere to go. So the people who end up getting arrested are just those who get stuck there.”
“The way we were detained, the length of time was a demoralizing experience,” said Corkum.
A group of around 20 people escaped the cordon through an apartment building lobby. The cordon detained both demonstrators, residents, shoppers in the adjacent buildings. One demonstrator called out to a woman who stood on her balcony directly over the cordon, “Call the police!”
—With files from Henry Gass