Protest First Aid

Playing Safe with the Riot Cops

  • Photo Riley Sparks

Getting hit with pepper spray or tear gas is a miserable experience. But it won’t kill you.

Follow The Link’s advice and, as The Gazette’s Karen Seidman put it, you’ll be back to disrupting the lives of Quebecers faster than you can say ‘fair share.’

Pepper Spray

It would be a small miracle if you’ve managed to get through the past few months of student protests without being pepper sprayed. The city is covered in such a thick layer of the stuff that on most days you could probably season a pretty decent jambalaya just by opening your kitchen window.

This nasty, vaguely-lime-scented chemical is dispensed from family-sized canisters that look like fire extinguishers. It causes an intense burning feeling anywhere it touches, and is particularly unpleasant if sprayed in your eyes.

First of all, don’t panic. Being pepper-sprayed sucks, but try to remember that the feeling is only temporary. Resist the urge to rub your eyes–this will only make it worse. Pouring water on your face is also a bad idea. Pepper spray isn’t water soluble, so this will only spread the pain.

Blinking will flush the spray out. A solution of 50 per cent Maalox—which you can buy at any pharmacy—and 50 per cent water will also help. Get a friend to pour it on your face and into your eyes. Milk is also supposed to help, but on a hot summer day will leave you smelling pretty nasty. Alternatively, carry a pair of swim goggles. You’ll look ridiculous, but it should help cut the effects of the spray.

Also – don’t wear your contacts to a protest. They’ll trap pepper spray and make it even worse.

Tear Gas

Usually dispensed from canisters that are thrown or fired into a crowd—and less often sprayed out of the muzzle of a gun—this stuff looks pretty scary. Tear gas will make your eyes and nose burn and cause you to start crying and producing all kinds of snot, so don’t bring a date to the protest.

But again, like pepper spray, it’s temporary. You’ll be miserable for about 20 minutes, and then you’ll be okay.

Tear gas is also fairly easy to avoid—just stay away from the big, white cloud.

Carry a handkerchief or scarf soaked in vinegar or lemon juice to tie over your mouth and nose. This will reduce the effects of the gas, but only for a few minutes. A gas mask is the best defence, but if you can afford one of those, why are you out protesting a $325/year increase in the first place?

Do not pick up tear gas canisters or try to throw them back at the police. Even if The Link condoned this kind of behaviour, we’d still tell you it was a bad idea—the canisters are extremely hot and will cause serious burns.

The best way to combat the gas is to hold your breath and run away. Once you’re out of the area, washing your face and eyes with water or a Maalox and water solution will also help.


Milk makes the bones strong.

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