At the annual March Against Police Brutality on March 15, 240 out of an estimated 300 attendees were arrested and fined. This year’s March 22 demonstration, marking the one-year anniversary of the 200,000-strong march against tuition hikes, saw more than 200 out of approximately 350 protesters kettled and issued fines of $637. Arrests were made pre-emptively: before protesters could even gather, riot police made targeted arrests, formed kettles, and put a clear end to any possible demonstrating. The escalation of police repression in this city cannot be tolerated by our community at McGill and at large.
The government’s response to dissent has been harsh. On May 17, 2012, the day before Bill 78 was passed, demonstrators marched peacefully for over seven hours in protest of the new law. Bill 78 was quickly drafted by the Parti libéral du Québec in an attempt to control the rising number of people marching in protest of the government. Four days later, the police arrested 518 protesters. Parts of Bill 78 were repealed by the Parti Québécois when they won the provincial election in September 2012, but police are still using the tactic of mass arrest and exorbitant fines under municipal by-law P-6, a similar piece of legislation. The laws created and then undone by the state are autocratic and high-handed.
Police repression of social movements creates an environment of fear. Officers do not protect communities, but instead demonize them and break the bonds people form when marching in solidarity with one another. Rather than creating working mechanisms for society, the state uses laws as tools of oppression. Being at risk of arrest is not a consequence many members of our community can readily face. For people already systematically targeted and structurally discriminated against by the state, facing riot police in the street can come with heavy baggage. This could mean anything from being deported, to being forced to pay considerable fines. Police repression, then, not only creates an environment of fear, but it further prevents those marginalized by the system from taking action.
This attitude is not an isolated event – police forces around the world use similar tactics to control populations and suppress protest. In June 2012, Russian officials raised the maximum fine for unsanctioned protests to the equivalent of around $9,000; the maximum fine for organizing illegal protests was raised to around $32,000. This, too, raised the ire of activists who challenged the constitutionality of the law. But more important is the government’s timing: the change came after a series of protests challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin. Throughout 2011 and 2012, New York City police used tactics of mass arrests against people involved in the Occupy movement. The list of examples of similar tactics goes on forever. Governments are attempting to limit the effectiveness of protest by forcefully defining it on their terms.
The worst result of police repression is the creation of a population that does not challenge power. Our methods are valid but our rights are being egregiously violated. Contesting state repression can be a creative process: only with the forceful stamping out of activism have vibrant social movements been labelled as negative. The state is trying to end a conversation that has begun in the streets; it is trying to stamp out dissent with violence and persecution.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board