Content warning: violence, police brutality
On Monday May 1, several hundred people gathered in Phillips Square to participate in a May Day protest through Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. This year’s demonstration was the tenth annual May Day march organized by the Convergence des Luttes Anticapitalistes (CLAC), a Montreal group committed to opposing capitalism through direct action.
Unlike other demonstrations held concurrently around the city, including a large union march in Côte-des-Neiges, the CLAC’s event was explicitly anti-capitalist. Most prominently, the Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR) and Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) were in attendance, and handed out red flags symbolic of the communist movement.
Contingents from across Montreal and Quebec assembled to hear speeches from organizers prior to the march at 6PM. One speech addressed the intersections of capitalism, imperialism, and racism:
“People from the global south have paid the highest price of global capitalisms and imperialisms expansion, falling victim to not just the occupation in Iraq, not just the occupation of Palestine, not just what’s happening in occupied Kurdistan, not what’s happening in Yemen, and also now Syria.”
“When [immigrants] come here they’re met with racism and xenophobia to ensure that migrants and immigrants remain exploited simply for the needs of capital,” continued the above organizer. “Today, immigrant workers are not only just fighting for their dignity but they’re fighting against an entire system that pins them unfortunately with the greatest burden and social cost for capital’s interest for continued profit and for continued destruction of this planet.”
“Today, immigrant workers are not only just fighting for their dignity but they’re fighting against an entire system that pins them unfortunately with the greatest burden and social cost for capital’s interest for continued profit and for continued destruction of this planet.”
McGill Against Austerity (MAA) was one of the many groups to participate in this year’s march, with a contingent of approximately a dozen students. The Daily spoke to a member of MAA who chose to remain anonymous.
“Being an economics student, I see how capitalism is made to look attractive, and I […] read a lot of other scholarship that really disagrees,” she said. “I feel that especially right now in the current [political climate] with […] head of states being right-wing, nationalist, and the rise of religious intolerance.”
“Where I come from, May Day is a recognized formal holiday. […] People openly talk about the history of May Day in the newspaper,” she continued, explaining that she referred to her Bangladeshi heritage. “I found it very surprising that Canada has a very different labour day and it’s not May Day. Even in America it’s called loyalty day which is weird. […] I find it strange that North America is so uncomfortable with the actual history of May Day. And that’s kind of another reason why I [am here] today: […] because I feel very strongly about workers’ rights and I feel it absurd that North America tries to distract people from a significant point in history.”
Another member of MAA who participated in the march, Kyle Shaw, spoke to The Daily about the event’s heavy police presence.
“As always, [the police presence] is excessive, but it’s sort of in the nature of these demonstrations,” said Shaw. “That’s because fascism doesn’t quite conflict [with] or contradict capitalism as thoroughly as communism or other anti-capitalist ideologies. May Day demonstrations are always the first to get cracked down on and the most brutally, let’s say relative to fascist demonstrations which often get protected by the police, whether here in Montreal or across the United States.”
“May Day demonstrations are always the first to get cracked down on and the most brutally, let’s say relative to fascist demonstrations which often get protected by the police, whether here in Montreal or across the United States.”
At around 6:30 p.m., the PCR set off flares to mark the start of the march. They initially led the crowd east along Saint Catherine Street, before circling back towards the downtown core chanting anti-capitalist slogans and flanked by dozens of police officers.
As the crowd made its way through the Golden Square Mile, the Daily interviewed Nathan McDonell, a member of Rojava Solidarity Montreal.
“We’re here because we want to change the world and we’re inspired by […] the Kurdish movement in the Middle East and in particular the social revolution happening in Rojava which is in the northern part of Syria,” said McDonell. “It’s an incredible society based on direct democracy, ethnic harmony, women’s empowerment, and going beyond the state and capitalism, and it’s an example for all of us to be inspired by. It’s in such a delicate situation […] surrounded by the Syrian civil war, [Turkish attacks], ISIS […] so it really needs our international solidarity [and] it’s important for us to be here to show that.”
Another member of Rojava Solidarity Montreal, wishing to remain anonymous, also emphasized the importance of mobilizing support internationally.
“I am originally Kurdish from east Turkey,” he said. “The people who are here, they are the voice of the people right now under the occupation of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. […] I believe it is a very important issue, bringing their voices to the world. I see these people around here, and it’s making me so happy as a [Kurdish] individual and Canadian second.”
Confrontation with the police
Roughly half an hour into the march, a brief confrontation occurred between police officers and a small subsection of protesters. The crowd had been moving west along René-Lévesque Boulevard when they encountered a cordon of police officers from the Sureté du Québec (SQ) in full riot gear, who appear to have been guarding a TD bank building. A few protesters began throwing projectiles at the police, consisting mainly of smoke bombs and rocks. In response, a group of officers attacked the individuals involved with batons and tear gas, arresting at least one person and violently dispersing the rest.
An anonymous protester who was injured in the incident described their experience in a message to The Daily.
“The cops charged on us and started hitting people with their batons,” they wrote. “I was hit several times and a bone in my arm was fractured. One of my comrades was hit on the head. They pushed us very hard, a lot of people were thrown to the ground and almost trampled in the commotion. As I was trying to get away, a cop tripped me up and I fell onto a staircase.”
“The cops charged on us and started hitting people with their batons […] I was hit several times and a bone in my arm was fractured. One of my comrades was hit on the head. They pushed us very hard, a lot of people were thrown to the ground and almost trampled in the commotion.”
Following the confrontation, the protest was temporarily scattered into several small parties, most of which eventually regrouped on McGill College Avenue. They were soon joined by another large group of CLAC supporters that had assembled at the Frontenac metro station, and had marched downtown from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The demonstration then continued without further incident, counting close to a thousand members.
Last year’s May Day was dispersed after a police station window on Saint Catherine street was smashed. The police used stun guns and copious amounts of tear gas in response, violently scattering the crowd. This year, police cordons were preemptively set up whenever the march approached a police station, but the march consistently changed course to avoid them, and no major stand-offs took place.
Indeed, apart from the altercation on René-Lévesque, police intervention was considered relatively minimal this year. Protesters marched for approximately two and a half hours despite heavy rain, before entering the metro at Place des Arts and dispersing peacefully after some exuberant cheering inside the station.
May Day as a McGill issue
Connor Spencer, VP External of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), and a member of MAA, spoke with The Daily about the importance of May Day and its relevance to McGill students.
“The austerity measures that the province is facing right now specifically target bodies that are already in precarious positions and makes profit off of them,” said Spencer. “So, today being May Day, […] this is kind of a day to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish but also look forward in the future at what we still have to accomplish. The biggest one of which is fighting the austerity measures that the police are complicit in.”
“This is kind of a day to reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish but also look forward in the future at what we still have to accomplish. The biggest one of which is fighting the austerity measures that the police are complicit in.”
“It’s a McGill issue as well,” Spencer continued. “It’s so often that we think we live in this bubble that separates us from the rest of Quebec, when the things that these people are protesting right now and that we’re on the street protesting is something that affects McGill students directly.”