The Montréal police have a problem with democracy that the new progressive city council should address.
Last Thursday I was arrested for shouting “shame; free Palestine” at the large annual pro-Israel demonstration. Three officers on bikes blocked me from walking on the sidewalk of Boulevard René Lévesque and yelling “shame, free Palestine” at people with Israeli flags on the street. After being threatened with arrest for expressing my opinion in motion, I joined a small counter-demonstration called by the Action Antifasciste Montréal (though most of the counter-demonstrators were Jewish anti-Zionist Neturei Karta). Standing just behind a row of police officers at the edge of Square Dorchester, I restarted shouting for about five minutes at which point a cop told me to move further into the park. When I refused to be muzzled again I was handcuffed, searched, put in the back of a police van and given a ticket for having continued or repeated an act that a police officer said to cease doing (“En ayant continué ou répété un acte interdit après avoir reçu l`ordre d’un agent de la paix de cesser cet acte.”).
After a half hour the police drove me a few blocks away and said if I returned to the protest site they would arrest me and take me to a detention centre. I was given a $150 fine, which I will contest. In fact, I hope to sue the police for breaching my Charter right to peacefully protest.
Of course, this incident of police overreach — in a peaceful political situation — is a relatively trivial example of the SPVM’s hostility towards protests called by student and radical left groups (Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes, Parti communiste révolutionnaire, Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière, etc.) Police repression is so common that when leaving the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec around 8:30 p.m. two Fridays ago and seeing multiple cop cars speeding down de Bleury with sirens blazing, my first thought was what demonstration would be taking place at that hour. Then I remembered seeing an announcement for a protest against the French government’s dispersal of a 10-year-old anti-capitalist environmental squat. Subsequently I discovered about a hundred mostly students marching festively along Saint Denis towards UQAM.
On my way home I passed dozens of riot cops sitting in police buses and vans. There may have been as many police as protesters! (One cop said hi to which I asked if we knew each other. In a response that seemed less than friendly he said he recognized me from previous demonstrations.)
The cost to the city was probably a thousand, maybe over ten thousand, dollars in overtime to have these cops sit around for a few hours. But, in this case at least SPVM decision makers only trampled on taxpayers rights. The Montréal police regularly undermine the democratic rights of the student and radical left. A 2005 United Nations report condemned the SPVM’s mass arrest tactics for encroaching on the right to “peacefully participate in social protests.” Six years later it came to light that the SPVM created a unit called “GAMMA” (Guet des activités des mouvements marginaux et anarchistes or surveillance of marginal and anarchist groups’ activities). During the student strike, between February 16 and September 3 2012, 3,509 demonstrators were arrested in Montréal. In Spring 2015 the SPVM fiercely repressed student-led anti-austerity mobilizations.
The city is currently facing eight class-action lawsuits totalling $20 million for mass arrests during the 2012 student strike. It already settled out of court with a student strike activist over the SPVM politically profiling her.
City council controls the police budget ($650 million) and oversees its operations. Projet Montréal (the progressive party that has a majority on council) needs to address the SPVM’s cavalier and costly attitude towards democratic rights.