On the evening of Wednesday March 15, more than a hundred people gathered at Place Valois, despite a snowstorm, to participate in Montreal’s annual March against Police Brutality.
The march was organized as part of the International Day Against Police Brutality by the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP), an organization formed in 1995 in response to arrests following a demonstration against Human Life International (HLI).
The theme of this year’s march was gentrification, highlighting the struggles of those marginalized by the influx of luxury businesses and households into low-income neighborhoods. As such, the protest began in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, a community currently undergoing gentrification.
In one of the opening speeches, made at Place Valois, an anonymous organizer denounced the systemic oppression which has historically been perpetrated by police forces, specifically as related to racism and colonialism.
“Year after year, we ask ourselves the same question,” said the organizer. “Who protects us from the police? […] This question arises when the suffering at the hands of the SPVM is considered acceptable by the media […] Who protects us from the police? Let us think about the [Indigenous] women […] who have disappeared, who were violated by police officers. Think of the families who are defenceless against the system, that have worked five hundred years against unending colonization […] Who protects us from the police? I ask this question every day, as we see police abuses of all kinds. […] Who protects us from the police? […] We can count only on [….] ourselves, our communities, our neighbourhoods, and our solidarity to protect ourselves.”
Once the introductory speeches had been delivered, the protest began. Participants marched briskly along Ontario street, moving west towards the Quartier des Spectacles. They held banners denouncing police brutality, capitalism, and racism, and shouted slogans exuberantly as they walked.
The protesters were escorted by the Service de police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM), who followed the march closely, but did not initially intervene. This continued for roughly two hours, until the march reached downtown Montreal, whereupon a small subsection of the demonstrators began smashing the windows of stores and of a nearby police car. A few fireworks were also thrown at the SPVM officers who, by this point, had begun to surround the march.
As the tension palpably increased, many protesters took this opportunity to leave the scene. Meanwhile, the remainder of the group proceeded back eastward along Ste. Catherine, closely followed by dozens of police officers in full riot gear.
At the junction of St. Urbain and Ste. Catherine, the SPVM surrounded the now smaller march, kettling several different groups of people. Eventually, however, all of those kettled either pushed their way out or were released. No arrests were made, and no fines were imposed, although some protestersí backpacks were taken by the police as evidence. Small groups of protesters continued walking for a short period of time, but after the confrontation at St. Urbain the protest was effectively dispersed.
Racism and police brutality
The 2016 March ended with no police interventions or arrests, unlike previous years where multiple fines were imposed.
“Last year it went really well and we were all very surprised about that,” said a participant volunteering as a medic who asked to remain anonymous when speaking to The Daily. “But […] it’s hard to tell what to expect from [the police]. I think that there’s been a lot of newer people getting involved, […] I think this march has a reputation, and I think that people […] know and expect it to be a lot more intense than usual.”
The medic, a member of Resist Trump and the Far Right, also highlighted how marginalized populations ñ primarily Black and Indigenous people ñ are subject to disproportionate levels of police brutality.
“This march […] really matters to me because I’ve personally been a victim of police harassment and certain bad experiences with police,î they explained. ìBut I also think that […] what’s going on […] in regard to the police and the Indigenous people in Canada is […] absolutely something that needs to be talked about more. […] There is police brutality in Canada, it’s not just in the United States and people of colour are the ones [who] suffer the most from it. So I think that needs to be addressed more.”