Approximately 400 protesters attempted to disrupt the Strategic Forum on natural resources at the Palais des Congrès in the midst of a blizzard on Friday. The protest gathered in solidarity with Indigenous peoples whose land and communities would be displaced or destroyed by the $80-billion development and resource exploitation initiative that the Quebec government is calling “one of the biggest social and environmental projects in our time.”
The Plan Nord, aggressively promoted under the Liberal government after being announced in May 2011 by former Premier Jean Charest, was rebranded ‘Le Nord pour tous’ by the Parti Québécois (PQ), who replaced the Liberals in September. The plan has been touted as a 25-year economic booster that will create or consolidate 20,000 jobs per year by exploiting the natural resources in the region. Planned activities include digging mines, expanding forestry, and damming rivers.
Residents of the Innu territory of Nitassinan, which comprised much of north-eastern Quebec and Labrador, and activists across Quebec have been protesting the Plan since its inception. In April 2012, a handful of Innu women walked 900 kilometres from Côte-Nord to Montreal to participate in demonstrations outside the Plan Nord job fair on April 20. That demonstration ended with several police and demonstrators being taken to the hospital.
“They’re clear cutting, they’re digging open mine pits where people are still living off the forest, and are threatening the life as we know it of future generations,” Yvan Bombardier, a member of First Nations community organization La Famille, who was present at the protest, told The Daily.
The forum focused on integrating local business and industrial interests in mining, forestry, and natural gas extraction. Friday’s forum, which was followed by the Natural Resources Trade Show, was meant to give participants a chance to discover how the expertise and know-how of the city’s businesses can be channelled to support resource processing, what promotional materials dubbed “an essential driver of our economy.”
The trade show, which brought together companies such as Enbridge, Gaz Métro, and SNC-Lavalin, provided networking opportunities for businesses and individuals interested in becoming part of the government’s large investments in northern Quebec.
The Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) had anticipated the protest and declared it illegal before it set off from Square Victoria, where demonstrators gathered at midday. As the march wended its way toward the Palais, helmeted police flanked the protest on either side. Protesters were informed that they had to walk in the same direction as traffic.
“[The protest] was declared illegal since the itinerary was not given to the authorities before the start of the protest,” SPVM spokesperson Laurent Gingras told The Daily by phone.
Around twenty riot police were deployed at the beginning of the march, joined later by approximately five vans full of police in riot gear. Police on bicycles and vans followed the protest.
“We had officers prepared and forces were ready and responded to the threat. Forces were planned [beforehand],” Gingras said.
Once the march arrived at the Palais, protesters found the doors locked, as police looked on from inside. Demonstrators, many of whom were holding the green and black flags of green anarchists, pounded on the windows and chanted slogans such as “Fuck the Plan Nord,” in French.
“The PQ iteration of the Plan Nord has become even more insidious, even more hypocritical [than the Liberal’s plan],” Hubert Sabino, a protester who was standing behind a banner which read “Anti-Capitalist Convergence,” told The Daily in French.
The protest receded from the Palais several times throughout the afternoon, pushed away by police. Protesters did a loop of several city blocks before returning to the Palais. The protest dispersed at around 2:30 p.m. as police vans filled with riot police chased demonstrators, who were on foot, uphill on University.
Once the protest had scattered, riot police who were driving around the area accosted small groups of people who were walking together on the sidewalk with shouts in French of “It’s over!” and “You must leave the area!”
As the protest was attempting to disrupt the forum, Canada National Railway (CN) suspended their preliminary plans on an 800-kilometre, $5-billion railway line meant to carry minerals north of Sept-Iles, a region in north-eastern Quebec.
The project had been criticized by the Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam community after its inception in October. Chief Georges-Ernest Grégoire said at the time that he had received “no word” from CN officials despite their claims to the contrary.
In a statement released on Friday, Premier Pauline Marois stated that the government was looking at other scenarios for financing northern infrastructure.
“We might eventually find alternative solutions,” she said in French.