Kissing a Police Baton
Busted Teeth, Far-Right at Concordia’s Doorstep, Antifascists Mobilize
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to get out of bed that morning. Had I known I’d get a facial makeover, courtesy of the Montreal police, I would have indulged myself.
I even felt a cold coming along and desperately wanted to sleep in. But hey, when you tell your fellow editors you’re going to cover an event, you gotta come through. I took some cold meds, got some toast in me and made my way downtown.
On March 25, the Resist Trump & the Far-Right Network of Montreal had planned activist workshops. They revolved around organizing against the rise of xenophobia and racism in Canada and the U.S. at Concordia’s Hall building.
The Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens and the Soldiers of Odin, two well-known far-right groups, worried that the anti-racist activists gathering at Concordia were organizing “terrorist workshops.” As illustrated on their Facebook event banner, anarchists and ISIS supposedly work hand-in-hand to bring “death to the West.”
The anti-racist workshops were scheduled for 10 a.m., so the CCCC and Soldiers of Odin said they would show at 9:45 a.m. to disrupt the proceedings. In response, the anti-fascists sent a call-out to gather at 9 a.m. for a counter-protest.
Police presence was hefty before most people showed up. There were at least a dozen squad cars, police vans, and a couple of those minibuses used to transport the riot squad parked around the Hall building. Some officers were paired-up and patrolling De Maisonneuve Blvd. on foot.
Anti-racist protesters began to trickle in at their set meeting time. Most were clad in black, wearing hoodies and bandanas to hide their faces.
Dean of Students Andrew Woodall seemingly drew the short straw and was the official Concordia University observer—a hall monitor, if you will. Both of us were skeptical anything was going to happen.
Montreal activist and organizer Jaggi Singh, on the other hand, was fairly certain the far-right would show their faces.
I was feeling pretty cold, so I got some tea at Hinnawi Bros on the corner of Mackay St. and De Maisonneuve. As soon as I walked in, five riot cops came in behind me. What a scene: big dudes in riot gear, sans shield and helmet, walking through an art-filled, brick wall café.
“Bonjour, madame. Bonjour, monsieur,” one officer said, greeting the staff.
They came in for a washroom break. A couple ogled at the extensive list of bagel sandwich options, written on a chalkboard wall. One got an americano.
Come 9:45 a.m., the far-right was nowhere to be seen. Neither was any other media, for that matter.
I took a stroll down De Maisonneuve to the Guy-Concordia metro exit on Guy St. I figured these people wouldn’t know the layout of Concordia’s tunnel system and would possibly gather at that exit. I went down the escalators and through the tunnel heading back, going full-circle to the Hall building.
At 9:52 a.m., there seemed to be a ruckus just outside Hall. People said some guy pulled-up and tried to whack anti-racist activists with a hockey stick, which had a Canadian flag tied to it.
I still can’t believe I missed such an absurd scene.
At 9:57 a.m., protesters began to yell at a man across the street. They said he was far-right. He wore black combat boots, over-sized jeans with hanging red suspenders, a worn-out leather jacket with spikes, and had a baldish head with hair just a few millimetres too long to make him an official skinhead. He lit a cigarette and hung out in front of the Webster Library for a bit.
“Dégage d’ici, osti d’racist,” protesters yelled.
He gestured dismissively and walked towards the corner of Bishop St. and De Maisonneuve.
Protesters bolted after him. Naturally, I followed to get some shots.
Some protesters ran straight to the corner, but I cut through to the sidewalk to avoid traffic. Then I ran down the library’s columns. I heard some yelling behind me. I turned around and saw riot police shoving protesters near the bike path.
I pointed my camera and took a series of photos. Protesters and riot police were closing in a lot faster than I expected. I put my camera down to get a better sense of my surroundings.
If we do have souls, mine left my body for a moment.
I found myself on the ground at 9:59 a.m. right after kissing a police baton. I thought I lost all my front teeth. I tasted blood and felt fragments of teeth moving around in my mouth. I spat some out. I was in disbelief.
I looked up and saw a row of riot police. One of them yelled at me to move.
“Vous m’avez péter les dents,” I said, mouth-bloodied, sitting on the ground.
“Vas-t’en de l’autre côté de la rue!” she replied with a crackling voice, seemingly unsure of herself after looking at me.
I got up and waded through the protesters like some drunken dude on Saint-Paddy’s Day. A couple of them escorted me to the sidewalk.
“How are your nerves? Are you in pain?” one asked.
“Nah, I’m fine,” I said, playing it off. The adrenaline must have been rushing through me, because I can’t recall the feeling of any physical pain.
“Did you swallow any teeth?”
“I don’t think so…”
“You need to rinse out your mouth. You need to go to the hospital.”
They brought me inside to a washroom. I rinsed my mouth out with saline, stuffed my mouth with gauze and headed back out to see what was going on.
The anti-racist protest moved to the corner of Mackay St. and De Maisonneuve. A line of riot police was blocking the path down Mackay. You could see a group of people with Quebec flags surrounded by police down the street in front of the McDonald’s on Mackay and Ste. Catherine St.
“Go home you fucking racists. You fake bikers,” Singh shouted through a megaphone.
The Soldiers of Odin are known to go on neighbourhood patrols in their black jackets with the Viking emblem on the back.
“Go to Valhalla!”
I wanted to stay as long as possible, but at some point, my conscience kicked in and said it was time to go to the hospital.
“If we do have souls, mine left my body for a moment,” — Our photo editor, Brian Lapuz
I checked in at the emergency room of the Montreal General Hospital and got fast tracked to see a doctor because I had loose teeth.
“So, tell me, what’s going on? There’s a protest downtown?” Dr. Yang asked.
“MhmmhmHmmhmhm,” I said.
He brought me the trash bin from the corner of the room. I spat out the gauze. I gave him the exclusive rundown of the events of the morning. He inspected my teeth. He left the room. I put gauze in my mouth. He came back in.
“So, hold on. Could I take another look?”
He brought me the trash bin from the corner of the room. I spat out the gauze. He put on some nitrile gloves and confirmed that I had loose teeth at the top. He left the room. I put gauze in my mouth. He came back in.
“Sorry, I know this is weird, but could I take another look? Okay… actually, never mind.”
Montreal General had emergency dentists on call, but I had to wait. Call it luck. The nearest hospital happened to have exactly what I needed.
In the meantime, I realized I was cold and shivering because my socks were wet.
It was slushy out that day, and I had worn running shoes instead of boots. Clearly, it was a poor choice. My editor-in-chief brought some socks, but I was still shivering, so I sent Miriam Lafontaine, The Link’s current affairs editor, on a quest.
“Can you go steal a blanket, or something?” I asked her.
She came back with a bed-wetting pad and carefully laid it on my legs.
“Does it smell like piss?”
“It doesn’t smell like piss,” she replied.
I recognized one of the protesters in the emergency room. His name is Oliver Smith-Jones. He had an arm sling and was visibly shaken.
He told me his version of what happened after I left. Apparently, protesters hooked through the EV building in an attempt to confront the far-right in front of the McDonald’s. Instead, they got caught up with the riot police at the Mackay exit of the EV. That’s where he said the police brutalized him. At some point he was on the ground and felt pressure on his back from a boot or a knee.
“I wasn’t all there. I was being hit so much in such a small amount of time,” Smith-Jones recalled. “I didn’t see that it was happening to me. I felt like I was out of… my… body. I was seeing things happen, like the snow, the tire of a car…”
They cuffed him, took him to a squad car, then to another squad car. Then slapped him with a $642 fine for taking part in a brawl.
Smith-Jones’ right hand was swollen, almost doubling the size of his other hand. Following the X-ray, he learned that he had fractured two metacarpals.
I had an X-ray done, as well. The doctors wanted to be sure I hadn’t swallowed any teeth bits.
When the dentists arrived, they brought me to a clinic. By clinic, I mean a large room with at least two-dozen dental operating booths, arranged like an open office space for dentists.
They did their own X-ray and gave me the lowdown.
I had two loose teeth and one serious chip. Luckily it was just under the pulp of the incisor. Despite that, the nerve may die due to the trauma and may require a root canal. Ten years down the line, the ligament holding the tooth in place might disintegrate and lead to the tooth fusing with my skull, or tooth ankylosis, they said. This will complicate any attempts of extraction, should it be needed.
For two weeks, I have to wear temporary braces: a simple rigid wire, anchored by white-filling material. A soft food diet is also recommended.
By the time I got home, it was late afternoon.
I crashed on my couch shamelessly for five hours. I was doing exactly what I should have been doing that Saturday morning: sleeping.