Protesters avoid police crackdown during march against police brutality

No arrests after an unusually calm protest

Braving a bitingly cold wind, hundreds of Montrealers protested in an unusually peaceful annual March Against Police Brutality on March 15.

Around 5 p.m., a crowd of protesters gathered outside Parc metro station by the corner of Hutchinson St. and Ogilvy Ave. There was heavy police presence surrounding the meeting point, including bike cops, police cruisers, and riot vans.

Among the protesters were an assortment of leftist Montreal groups, such as the local chapter of the International Workers of the World, the Defund the Police Coalition and the First People’s Justice Centre of Montreal. 

Before the crowd marched, a few speeches (in French and English) were given through a megaphone that struggled to reach beyond the edge of the crowd.

“The foundation of all police institutions was to eradicate all Indigenous people and take away the land from Indigneous communities,” said Amy Edward, a Kanien’keha:ka member of the Defund the Police Coalition. “This is a clear act of genocide, and it continues to exist today.”

No arrests were made at the characteristically quiet protest. Photo Gabriel Guindi

For the 25th edition of the march, the organizers chose “abolish the police” as a central theme for the demonstration. The slogan, which garnered mainstream attention after the wave of protests in the U.S. last year, was a popular one among protesters. Despite sentiments supporting significant defunding or abolition of the police likely at an all time high, attendance seemed fairly similar to last year’s, which had occurred prior to the catalytic murder of George Floyd. 

“Obviously we can’t wake up tomorrow and, like, say bye to the police, but we need to be working towards that,” said John Nathaniel Gertler, who attended the march. While calls to abolish or at least defund the SPVM have grown over the past year, the city firmly opposed meaningful reform by increasing the police budget last November.

“The police suck and it’s just crazy how much power they hold right now, especially with COVID, with this pandemic, with the lockdown, with curfew, with everything!” said protestor Ourania Nima. The opposition to policing the pandemic was echoed in a pamphlet distributed by COBP at the protest, which included a critique of the government’s handling of the pandemic. 

This year’s theme was “abolish the police” in alignment with the mainstream attention gained by the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer. Photo Gabriel Guindi

The annual march typically faces strong repression by the SPVM and usually ends in violence and chaos. However, for a second year in a row, the protest managed to end without significant police crackdown or any overtly aggressive crowd control. Police stated they observed illegal behaviour which was seemingly limited to some fireworks and flares being lit, and one particular incident involving a physical altercation between a protester and a police officer in riot gear.

Just before the march turned north onto St-Laurent Blvd., a person holding a large cardboard sign saying “ACAB 1312” ran up to a riot police officer and whacked his helmet with the sign. Police ripped the sign away and shoved the protester. Others gathered around the protester to confront the police. The protestor got up in their face before being shoved back again, when another individual in the crowd pulled her to safety. 

Shortly after, police issued a warning through their loudspeaker that they observed illegal behavior. No additional warnings followed and the protest was not declared illegal. No arrests were made.

Once the crowd reached the Jarry metro station around 7 p.m. a quick announcement was made on a megaphone signaling the end of the protest. The bulk of the protesters streamed into the metro, leaving behind a few stragglers on the street and a large amount of police circling the block. 

With files from Parker Sherry.