News  Women fight back against austerity

Police violently disperse "non-mixte" protest

Correction appended April 9.

At 9 p.m. on April 7, over 200 people gathered at Norman Bethune Square to protest provincial austerity measures. The event, organized by the anonymous collective Hyènes en Jupons (Hyenas in Petticoats), was a feminist protest, open only to trans people and those who self-identify as women.

A McGill Women’s Studies minor student who participated in the demonstration explained her view on this decision.

“I think that so long as [a closed demonstration] is done […] so that gender policing doesn’t become a thing – because that would be violent and problematic in its own way – I think that it’s really important and valuable for non-dudes to have spaces to do activism,” she said. “Not only are activists claiming the streets, but women are claiming activist space in the streets.”

A student from Cégep de Saint-Laurent, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed a different opinion, emphasizing the importance of large turnout at demonstrations.

“There are some who think that it’s because white, heterosexual guys can’t really understand the struggle of women […] which isn’t false, but the more [people] we are, the more we’ll make ourselves heard.”

Setting out on Guy and turning west onto Sherbrooke, the demonstration was soon met with a police cordon, ultimately forcing it back down to De Maisonneuve. During the hour that followed, police restricted the crowd to the Concordia area, blocking its passage further east.

A few stand-offs occurred during this time, and a number of protestors were physically assaulted by police as they hurried to surround the group. One woman was knocked roughly to the ground by a running police officer, breaking her glasses.

Despite the heavy police presence, the mood of the demonstration was lively. Protesters chanted feminist slogans: “Crions! Plus fort! Sinon les femmes on nous ignore!” (“Shout! Louder! Otherwise we women are ignored!”) and “À qui la rue? Aux femmes la rue!” (“Whose streets? Women’s streets!”).

Several protesters noted that women are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of austerity measures. Others cited Quebec Minister of Health Gaétan Barrette’s controversial Bill 20, which many doctors and health professionals worry will limit the number of abortions Quebec doctors would be able to perform, as one reason for the demonstration.

Another anonymous protester said, “Austerity affects […] marginalized groups in particular, including trans women, who are certainly one of the most marginalized groups, and who austerity stigmatizes further.”

A contingent from the Muslim Jewish Feminist Alliance at Concordia was also present.

“We are marching because the neoliberal agenda is definitely discriminating against women, and women of Muslim […] and Jewish cultural background in Western societies are struggling to uphold their views and their values, and it’s to denounce this oppression that we’re here tonight,” explained a member of the group. “As a visible minority, as women, we have to denounce [austerity].”

At roughly 10 p.m., riot police began to surround the demonstration, and it was declared illegal. They then proceeded to disperse the gathering, firing stun grenades at the margins of the crowd and using tear gas to clear the Concordia area. By 10:30 p.m., the demonstration had scattered and the riot police had left the scene.

One woman described her experience to The Daily. “I was on the sidewalk, and someone knocked into me with a riot shield […] at a certain point I [was thrown] down,” she said. “One of the police officers, I didn’t see who, grabbed me by my scarf [from behind] and pulled me. I’m not sure how I got out of that situation.”

A U1 McGill student also described scenes of brutality, saying the behaviour of police was “unnecessarily violent.”

“At the very beginning, for some reason, they started running towards us, and just pushed this girl who fell on her head, and literally, she was just standing there. She wasn’t doing anything,” said the student.

The McGill Women’s Studies student said, “I think it’s the most aggressive [police repression] I have seen yet. […] The ratio of police to protesters was exorbitantly different than it has been at other [demonstrations]. [That reflects] the way a women, trans, or femme demo is viewed.”

A previous version of this article stated that the march was open only to those who self-identify as women. In fact, the march was also open to all trans people, not just those who self-identify as women. The Daily regrets the error.