A Bridge Too Far

A First-Hand Account of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge Occupation

Photo by Corey Pool

After roaring through the streets in the Downtown Core, we gathered to hear the closing speech at the corner of Berri St. and Ste. Catherine St. W.

Since the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante called the march, it was bound to be a little, well, à la Che Guevara.

I didn’t give it much thought, until I saw heaps of people marching east. I then remembered the fliers that some people were handing out an hour earlier, inviting us to block the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.
I decided to take the Metro to get ahead.

At about 3:45 p.m. a group of 500 marchers tried to get on the bridge via Papineau Ave., but the riot police blocked the access. They went under the bridge and tried to make it up de Lorimier Ave., but were again unsuccessful.

I was hanging out in front of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux building, watching the action to the south. I was discouraged. I felt as though I had wasted time… But then, I heard cheering on the bridge. I couldn’t believe it. They had outmaneuvered the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal.

I walked uphill to the forked entrance of the bridge where the second group of 300 protesters blocked the outbound lane. There were a dozen riot police—for the time being. Inbound traffic was still flowing, albeit gently, and some motorists honked, seemingly in support.

More SPVM reinforcements were coming in. It was windy up there, so much so that my eyes were tearing. Soon, there wasn’t any more traffic. I was on the south side of the entrance, with the mainstream media.

There was a Sécurité du Québec officer who had a thick moustache and wore an olive green cap and a long coat. He looked like a high-ranking Soviet official.

Some moments after, I noticed two dozen people in thick olive-green suits, with black helmets shields and batons marching down the bridge. For a second, I thought it was the army.

One of the SPVM riot police ran up to them and asked: “You guys have it from here, right?” The bridge itself was SQ jurisdiction.

As daunting as they appeared, they never saw action. Enough SPVM officers had gathered to form a concave to push the protesters—holding out peace signs—off the road and down the muddy hill. They advanced while beating their shields with their batons, then by jabbing here and there.

The protesters threw a few mud balls in response, which prompted the police to clouds of pepper spray drifted across the line. The riot police charged and charged again until the marchers were pushed back down Dorion St. toward Ste. Catherine St. E.

From then on, it was a cat-and-mouse game until Place Émilie-Gamelin. The riot police remained until the protest thawed. At the end, I noticed one of them taking a photo of five of her colleagues with her smartphone. She dropped it in the snow, picked it up and continued back to their bus, smiling.