About 200 students participated in blocking the entrances of buildings located at 600 and 700 de la Gauchetière this morning, beginning at 7:30 a.m. The blockade lasted until about 8:45 a.m., when riot police dispersed students blocking the main entrance to 600 de la Gauchetière using CS spray gas.
The students handed out pamphlets outlining the goal of the action – called ‘Block the flow: cette fois-ci mettons-les chaos!’ – throughout the duration of the blockade. The action was intended to block access to the head office of the National Bank of Canada, housed at 600 de la Gauchetière.
“Our presence here rests on much more than the struggle for accessible education. The objective? To disrupt the flows of capital that govern too much of our society while continually impeding equity and social justice,” the pamphlet states.
According to the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, one male protestor, aged 23, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer during the police intervention, and one student had a sprained ankle after falling while running from police.
SPVM media relations agent Daniel Lacoursière told media later that a woman inside the National Bank had fainted and hit her head, however, paramedics from Urgence Santé were unable to reach her due to students blocking the doors.
“That’s why we had to remove quickly the persons in front [of the National Bank],” he said.
The action is part of the third week of economic disruptions protesting tuition hikes, called for by CLASSE, the temporary coalition of the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ).
A political science student from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), who would not give his name and participated in the blockade, said a mix of university and CEGEP students organized the action autonomously.
Groups of between ten and thirty students stood with their arms linked at all entrances allowing people within the building to exit and refusing entrance to everyone.
Isolated altercations occurred when people attempted to push through students. According to eyewitness account, one altercation occurred between a man and a female student blocking the main entrance to 700 de la Gauchetière.
A separate altercation occurred at the Viger metro entrance to the National Bank. After attempting to push past students linking arms, a man grabbed the back of a helmet worn by a female student. He pulled down on her head before releasing his grip as the student screamed.
“That is not necessary,” said another student addressing the man. The man spoke with a different student for around 15 minutes after the incident.
“It’s a political action,” said one student who would not give his name. “It’s a question of politics but they want to make it personal: ‘I want to enter.’”
A man who attempted to enter the building addressed the students. “This is not how democracy functions,” he said in French.
At 8:30 a.m., the manager of the building read a statement in French over an SPVM loudspeaker stating that the blockage would no longer be tolerated. A police commandant also read a statement in French immediately afterwards asking people to move away from the building’s entrances.
According to Lacoursière, since the buildings were located on private property, once the owner states they no longer tolerate an action, the police take over by giving out eviction notices and removing demonstrators.
The initial warning was not given in English. When asked why the first warning was not translated into English, Lacoursière said in French that “if a demonstrator speaks only English – we’re in Quebec. The official language we use is French.”
“The people who were there knew what was happening. The people who I spoke with and engaged with spoke French. If you are a unilingual Anglophone you can turn and ask, ‘What did he say?’” he continued in French.
A second warning, announced in both languages, declared the action to be illegal at 8:40 a.m. Around 250 spectators had gathered outside the buildings, and police asked the crowd to move away from the entrance.
Police on bicycles approached students at the bank’s main entrance from two sides, however, students resisted police efforts to surround and disperse them. Some students remained at the entrance while others surrounded police officers.
At 8:42, about thirty riot police appeared. To cheers from some onlookers and boos from fellow students, students were sprayed with CS gas and pushed westward on de la Gauchetière. Riot police then charged the street, first to the west and then back eastward. The demonstration was almost entirely dispersed by 9:10 a.m.
National Bank employee Marc André Wolf, spoke to The Daily while waiting to enter the building after students were dispersed.
“We understand the mindset,” he said in French. “I work for the bank, but that’s not to say that I’m the bank. There’s two different things. What the bank does with loans, bursaries, whatever – they don’t concern me. I’m here to work [and] pay my rent.”