“Fighting Against Austerity Will Be Feminist and Transinclusive or It Won’t Be a Fight”
Non-mixed Protest Draws Hundreds, Dispersed Within an Hour
A heavy police presence and a game of snakes and ladders characterized Tuesday night’s women and trans people-only protest against austerity measures, as one protester put it.
About 200 women huddled at Norman Bethune square on the northeast corner of Maisonneuve Boulevard and Guy Street at 9 p.m. On the opposites sides of both streets were taut lines of police officers, some with bikes, others in riot gear. This was before the protest started.
The non-mixed nature of the protest was meant to give women a space to denounce budget cuts and shifts in investment that are said to by-and-large affect them more than men, without being spoken for by men.
Female protesters present said men often dominate space in demonstrations by taking over megaphones, leading the pack and by their use of force. Sexual assaults and harassment in militant circles were also denounced Tuesday.
The crowd of hundreds of female protesters “snaked” up and down, contained within Sherbrooke, Guy, Ste. Catherine and Bishop Streets. At every corner, police lines left the group no choice but to circle the block or retreat.
Then, an hour later, two loud bangs and an arrest ended it.
The strikes and tear gas were meant to disperse a crowd being led down Mackay Street by officers in riot gear moments after Montreal police declared the protest unlawful, following bylaw P-6.
The arrest was made on Simpson Street above Sherbrooke. The protester hit an officer, according to a statement on the Service de police de la ville de Montréal media phone line.
Another person was ticketed under the P-6 bylaw because they did not “obey” officers’ demands.
Tess McCrea, a Concordia biology student, saw the apprehension on the assault charge from her Simpson Street apartment.
“A woman, I think it was a woman, was on the ground, and two or three cops were holding her down,” she said over the phone, adding that it looked like a bicycle was being used to immobilize her.
McCrea said she could hear the protester shouting, “ J’peux pas respirer! ”
Meanwhile, about 15 women were confronting a group of 25 police officers, who dispersed them. They then led the arrested protester inside a cruiser.
Later, Ikram Belbahri, who was just leaving a bar, said she was attacked by several officers and pushed with one of their bikes.
“I didn’t have nothing to do with the manifestation, nothing at all, I was just walking to the subway,” she said, tearfully. Another shoved her with his helmet. Officers were giving her conflicting orders—to cross the street; to not cross.
She said she feels police profiled her because she was a young woman, like those protesting.
The non-mixed protest was, among other things, a response to austerity cuts by the provincial Liberal government. Advocates say the measures disproportionately affect women, who make up much of public sector employment.
“It’s not just cuts; the government is investing more into oil, energy, development—employment sectors that are mainly occupied by men,” Stéphanie, a women’s studies student at Concordia who wished to withhold her last name, said at the protest. She held a pink sign that read, “ La lutte sera féministe & transinclusive ou ne sera pas. ”
Gabriella Kinté, a former UQAM student, said the non-mixed gathering was an opportunity for a different protest dynamic.
“Cis-men typically take up more space in these protests, so this is an opportunity to create a safe space and for us to decide how it goes,” she said.
“Cis-men typically take up more space in these protests, so this is an opportunity to create a safe space and for us to decide how it goes,” Gabriella Kinté, a former UQAM student, said.
Stéphanie also noted that men were often the ones to yell slogans during protests.
The slogans chanted at the demonstration were varied. One went “ Crions plus fort sinon, les femmes, on nous ignore. ”
At times, women were dancing, clapping and howling. While the arrest was being made, a woman drifted through the crowd, playing a ballad on her saxophone.
Police were overheard chanting their own slogans. “If you don’t want to hurt, back off!” one woman reported police saying, on Twitter.
At the protest’s start, The Link overheard a male officer in riot gear (two single-file lines followed the demo on either side of the street) say, “ Mon vagin, ça m’appartient, ” apparently mocking protesters to his colleagues.
One man was present at the beginning of the protest. He called himself a croque-mitaine , for not respecting organizers wishes, but would not divulge his name. Perched atop a bench at Norman Bethune square, he told The Link the movement “becomes close to the sexism it is denouncing.”
He said he thinks the movement against austerity was stronger “united.”
Four women wearing scarves confronted the man about his presence. Sitting upright, he said he was in a public space. A woman swept past him, handing him a printout denouncing instances of sexual assault and sexism in militants circles, “for you to educate yourself,” she said.
When The Link caught up with her, Élisa, an UQAM student, said it was important for women to be given the chance to condemn policies that affect them. But also to do so in a space where they didn’t feel repressed by an overwhelmingly male presence.
The demonstration was part of a string of events held for “feminists against austerity” until the end of April.