Thursday night’s anti-police brutality protest turned ugly when demonstrators and police clashed in the streets of downtown Montreal. Around 2,000 protesters turned out for the demonstration, gathering at the Berri-UQAM metro station at 5 p.m. before marching through the downtown area.
Some demonstrators wore red squares around their right eyes in solidarity with CEGEP student Francis Grenier, whose right eye was injured last week when hit with a flash grenade thrown by a police officer.
The anti-police brutality demonstration, organized by the Collectif opposé à la brutalité policière (COBP), was marred by small groups of protestors who took part in acts of sporadic violence. Projectiles were hurled at store windows and police vehicles along Ste. Catherine, after riot police stopped the march in front of McGill’s Strathcona Music building and demonstrators diverted to Ste. Catherine.
The violence was widely condemned by other demonstrators, however, who responded to most instances of vandalism by booing. After a masked man unsuccessfully tried to force open an ATM machine with a garbage can, he was surrounded by the crowd.
At 6:30 p.m., riot police scattered the crowd into several smaller groups by detonating flash grenades and repeatedly charging demonstrators. A standoff occurred between a splinter group of demonstrators and police on the corner of Drummond and Ste. Catherine at 7 p.m.
The group, which consisted mostly of bystanders, was later pushed up Ste. Catherine. A parked police car was smashed and overturned along the way by demonstrators wearing masks.
Shortly after 7 p.m., roughly 200 demonstrators, most of them masked, flooded down the McTavish steps on to McGill’s lower campus. The crowd made its way past the Redpath Museum, while one demonstrator stood atop its steps and led a chant, in French, of “Whose streets? Our streets!”
The crowd passed through the Y-intersection, moving towards Burnside Hall. When the group tried to exit campus onto University, police turned them back.
Riot police appeared next to the eastern wall of Burnside. One protestor threw what appeared to be a rock at the officers, who did not respond. Blocked from University, the crowd made for the Roddick Gates and exited campus on Sherbrooke.
Around 200 demonstrators regrouped in Place Émilie-Gamelin. Rows of riot police stood along Ste. Catherine between the metro station and St. Hubert. Police used pepper spray on demonstrators on at least two different occasions in the square to move the crowd away from police lines.
At least four police officers arrested Jake Impellizeri at 7:56 p.m. on Ste. Catherine. As he was handcuffed, Impellizeri claimed that he did “nothing wrong” and was about to head home.
His friend, William Karshaw, stood by and watched the arrest.
“We were just standing, just like everyone else just watching. I guess he didn’t get a chance to get out of the way fast enough, and he was thrown to the ground and arrested,” Karshaw said. “We weren’t doing anything wrong…we were moving out of the way.”
At around 8:15 p.m., more demonstrators arrived at the square, bringing the crowd up to 400 people. The centre of the demonstration – and primary site of interactions with riot police – shifted to the intersection of Berri and Maisonneuve in the northwest corner of the square. Seven officers on horseback held the intersection.
Around twenty minutes later, between 100 and 150 people were kettled and arrested outside the National Archives and Library of Quebec. The demonstrators were encircled after riot police charged the crowd. Lines of police officers, vehicles, and ambulances, blocked off the area so that no one could get in or out.
Riot police charged south down Berri and west on Maisonneuve, further dispersing demonstrators. 100 demonstrators remained in the northwest corner of the square until 9:06 p.m., at which time riot police charged again, pushing demonstrators out of the square. The demonstration dissolved a short time later.
At around 9:30 p.m., the demonstrators arrested outside the National Archives were read their rights in English and French. According to a police officer on the scene, a mass arrest could take up to two hours to process. Each demonstrator was accompanied by two officers to be frisked, their bags searched, and loaded onto STM buses to go to a detention centre.
The officer said that there was no resistance from demonstrators. One demonstrator was led out of the group to an ambulance by two officers. In total, the police reported that over 226 people were arrested, and seven officers injured.
—with files from Eric Andrew-Gee