Kettled and Ticketed Under P-6

May Day Protesters Find Themselves Swiftly Downtrodden and Dispersed

  • Photo Alex Bailey

The dark irony between police officers, who demand libre négo [with the state], suppressing the right to freedom of assembly of workers and students who oppose austerity–on International Workers’ Day–is poignant in the extreme.

On Friday, throughout the world, city police authorities forcibly dispersed protesters and Montreal was no different. Most protesting peacefully, some went to lengths to face off with the police.

Habs shirts, political ignorance and a complete absence of ripped jeans-clad youths characterised my walk downtown towards the protest. As I entered the square where the protesters amassed, sports fans, sorority queens and the well-dressed middle-aged excused themselves, wearing smirks and glares of disapproval.

After a number of short speeches, which largely espoused anti-capitalist sentiments, at Phillips Square around 7 p.m., a group of protestors attempted to march north to de Maisonneuve Blvd.

Isabelle Lévesque Photographie

The anger in their eyes was palpable, as they realized that the police had closed the route. Recognising they outnumbered the police forces by a 4:1 ratio, they attempted to break the line.

Red and black flags flailed amongst the limbs, bicycles and batons as the melee turned into a battle of who had the most gas to extinguish. As several cops desperately shot pepper spray, it appeared their line would break. One protester fought back with a fire extinguisher.

Reinforcements soon arrived, using their bikes as weapons as they held them aloft so to create a pathetic mimic of the shock and awe of mounted police.

Photo Alex Bailey

Gathering themselves the protestors took the only northward street available for the purposes of marching, and they strode whilst chanting anti-capitalist democratic slogans.

Several groups coordinated their march to meet the larger group and the masses swelled with the flag bearers of the Black Bloc anarchists, in addition to a marching band and a Concordia led student group.

As the protest went full circle, we stopped for around three minutes as the percussion marching band excited the crowd, eventually proceeding alongside the march.

The police looked rather scared at the sheer number of protesters that they now faced, not to apologize for them, but they looked particularly ill at ease from inside their shell suits. I grew up my whole life with white 30- or 40-something men, so I find them very easy to read.

And here came the real dispersal. The police, in characteristic acrimony, fired tear gas canisters and forced us to run into the Eaton Centre. I threw up in a fountain outside McGill en route.

And here came the real dispersal. The police, in characteristic acrimony, fired tear gas canisters and forced us to run into the Eaton Centre. I threw up in a fountain outside McGill en route.

Forced into McGill metro by police advancing from both sides, presumably to kettle, I hopped over the turnstile and tried to find a way out from the platform.

I was out; the protest had been split into a myriad of smaller groups. Back at Phillips Square the police were applying the finishing touches to their work, retaking the place where the protest had originated in a darkly symbolic act.

One man was arrested in particularly violent fashion for failing to leave quick enough. Police swarmed on him and he took several batons to the head as he was held down on the floor by several courageous men.

Isabelle Lévesque Photographie

Another cop looked on as he laid siege to an anarchist flag post with his knee. He grimaced in orgasmic pleasure as he ripped the flag from the wood, clenching it in his fist as a victory souvenir.

In a separate incident, I was hit in the head by a cop’s bike as he tried to prevent me from making a video of another arrest where the police used disproportionate force.

Pedestrians got caught in the crossfire, tears gushed, frowns contorted. One bourgeois-looking fellow cried, “Shame on you,” at the top of his lungs as police flushed the remaining groups out into the margins of René Lévesque Blvd.

Other citizens stopped to clap and jeer the police for their efforts, who jogged along Maisonneuve like robot pawns delivering themselves dutifully to the abattoir, as they filed into line to be redeployed elsewhere.

Isabelle Lévesque Photographie

I eventually found Michelle, the Editor in Chief of The Link Newspaper and we followed a larger group. Suddenly the police enveloped us from both sides again. I tried to get out “J’étais pas avec les manifestants; je suis un journaliste,” but I was met with a big nudge in the elbow with the phallic thing the cop brandished. He let a couple out who were next to me. But then again I was wearing ripped dungarees, and they looked rather smart.

And here we were. In the kettle. Some protestors attempted to appeal to the greater reason of the police, attempting to educate them I guess. One cop was not interested in my rhetoric, a few others listened intently as I explained how the anti-austerity student movement is interlinked with their own protest movement which demands negotiation to the pension cuts they face.

I explained to the cops that judges at the municipal court level had, in February, thrown out nearly 2,000 fines which had accumulated under article 2.1 of the bylaw. Judge Randall Richmond, who presided over the case, stated that the trivialisation of what constituted a violation of the law was staggering and that the vague wording of parts of P-6 rendered it a flawed concept.

Essentially, P-6 is equivalent to a parking ticket, and it requires an officer to be a witness to the alleged offence. Therefore, how can one prove that each demonstrator violated the law. I myself for instance, did not.

The riot police who had been circling us were replaced with terrified young recruits who relieved the battle-hardened cops that clearly had more important work to do suppressing the right to assembly elsewhere.

Isabelle Lévesque Photographie

The new chaps were more sympathetic. They were our own age. I explained how we, agemates from what could be similar backgrounds, were simply being manipulated into antagonistic opposing forces. They are [some of] the states agents of the perpetuation of a neoliberal agenda, I accused as the boredom of the kettle set in. Some smiled knowingly, others stressed they were simply doing their job.

Plain clothes police, jolly and makeup clad, arrived to ask if there were any minors before reading how we had violated P-6. We were held whilst the police set up P-6 ticketing points from inside city buses. It was my turn and a cop chose to hold me tightly as he escorted me towards his colleague. I asked him if this was his dream job. He held me tighter. It was kind of homoerotic.

After some confusion over my UK address, I got my ticket and made it out. It read:

c. P-6, article 6. Description of offence “En ayant omis de se conformer immédiatement à l’ordre d’un agent de la paix de quitter les lieux d’une assemblée, d’un défilé ou d’un attroupement, tenu en violation du présent règlement.”

Minimum sentence $500+$140 costs.

I bumped into activist Jaggi Singh afterwards, and he assured me no one would be getting fined in actuality.

I just wonder why the police continue to enforce P-6 if not merely for flagrant repression, as they waste thousands in fees to uphold it in court. Perhaps politicians simply don’t want to take a monumental decision to repeal the law, which was amended in 2012 during the Maple Spring so to crack down on the widespread protests.

Either way, I’ll certainly be appealing and I hope my scattered account of events illustrate just how difficult it is to protest in downtown Montreal, caught in the middle of a minority of confrontational protesters, and a majority of police keen to crackdown.

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