Commentary  Big Brother is Watching

After the May Day anti-capitalist march on May 1, 2011 took a violent turn, the Montreal Police (SPVM) made public the existence of a police task force to surveil anarchists and other “marginal” political groups. The project was given the orwellian title “Guet des activités des movements marginaux et anarchistes” (Surveillance of marginal and anarchist groups’ activities) – or GAMMA. While the SPVM announced that project GAMMA was launched as a response to the May 1st demonstration, Jacques Robinette, an assistant Montreal police chief and head of special investigations told the Gazette that the project has been in existence since January.

L’Association pour une solidaritée syndical étudiante (ASSÉ), a leftist province-wide student lobbying group, and the Coalition Against Repression and Police Brutality have already filed complaints against project GAMMA to the Quebec Human Rights Commission for their alleged involvement in four student arrests. Out of the four students arrested, three of them were ASSÉ executives.

The task force lacks any clear motive and leaves open a broad category of groups who can be subject to increased discrimination from the police. Francis Dupuis-Déri, a UQAM professor of political science, told The Daily in an interview that “It is not really clear what [GAMMA] is – we don’t know anything, there’s no mandate. Nothing is clear and that is part of the problem.”

The SPVM, in a press release, explained that the project’s purpose is “to investigate the demonstrators who committed crimes.” Six police officers were injured after the May Day riot, and those who have committed crimes should be prosecuted. We do not oppose investigating criminal activity. Our concern is that the SPVM is openly targeting specific political groups because of their beliefs or affiliations and unjustly labeling them as threats to society.

By specifically targeting anarchist and so-called “marginal” groups, project GAMMA stands in direct violation of section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which states that “every person has a full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on political convictions.” By specifically monitoring groups involved with political protests, and, thus, by potentially instilling fear in such groups, project GAMMA also threatens the fundamental human right of freedom of peaceful assembly, as laid out in section 2 of the Canadian Constitution.

While anarchism, a label which encompasses a legitimate and diverse spectrum of political beliefs, sets itself against authority and the state, there is nothing in its ideology that necessarily marks its adherents as violent. Many anarchists, just like members of any other political group, are non-violent.

Even more concerning is the use of the word “marginal” in project GAMMA’s name, leaving open to police interpretation whom they are targeting. The SPVM’s mandate is to uphold peace and order without discrimination or preference. Projects like GAMMA make it too easy for police abuse of power to go under the radar, taking subterfuge under the vague labels of “anarchist” and “marginal.”

Police could use this task force to target political dissidents and protestors. Students involved in protests this year should be aware of GAMMA’s implications, but shouldn’t be afraid to exercise their freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly.

Everyone has a right to publicly voice their opinions and beliefs, regardless of what they are. Political ideologies, so long as they are not violent, must be given the full power of freedom of speech and the full protection of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. GAMMA is a project that threatens this fundamental freedom, and could have a chilling effect on those who wish to advocate for a different vision of society.