March 24, 2013–A disturbing trend of police violence and denial of fundamental rights of political expression has deepened in Quebec since the election of the Parti québécois government last September. Enclosed are four news reports and commentaries that document the gravity and extent of the trend.
Recent protests in Montreal and Quebec City were shut down by police before they started and police conducted mass arrests. The protests targeted were opposing the government’s three per cent annual rise in post-secondary tuition fees and, ironically, police violence.
The police actions have cast a pall over the right to protest in the province and are prompting serious discussion and planning about fighting back, some of which is reported in the enclosed.
The government’s decision to ignore student demands for a tuition fee freeze followed a “summit meeting” on post-secondary education that it hosted on February 25, 26. As it became clear that the outcome of that event was pre-ordained, the radical wing of the Quebec student movement decided to boycott attendance. You can read about the summit and the student decision in an article by Richard Fidler.
All of this is unfolding against the backdrop of the provincial government-convened Charbonneau Commission public hearings on the deepgoing corruption that has pervaded the construction industry in Quebec and the three levels of government–federal, provincial and municipal–that regulate its operations.
Among the recent revelations at the Commission is the extent to which the capitalist political parties receive funding from the industry in exchange for favorable decisions. “The testimonies were quite clear about the parties receiving illegal monies,” a spokesman for Elections Quebec told CBC Radio yesterday. The election body says it will issue orders for parties to return funding that was obtained illegally. In a smooth public relations gesture, the Liberal Party and Parti québécois (provincial parties both) say they will cooperate with such an order.
Police swiftly stop anniversary protest in Montreal; 200-plus detained, ticketed
MONTREAL – A march to mark an anniversary in Quebec’s protest movement was swiftly broken up Friday by a police force that has shown increasing strictness in applying municipal bylaws.
Several hundred protesters had gathered to mark the event on a cold, grey afternoon — which was a far cry from a year earlier when, on a scorching summer-like day, tens of thousands of students staged a huge and memorable march.
The police response was also different this March 22. Officers quickly jumped in to break up the event, detaining more than 200 people and ticketing them for municipal infractions such as marching against traffic.
Several groups of protesters were also subjected to kettles, the controversial crowd-control tactic in which people are penned into a confined space.
“The right to free speech exists and people have the right to protest,” said police Sgt. Jean-Bruno Latour. “But every demonstration must happen in an orderly way, with respect for all citizens.”
Several bystanders complained that they were kettled simply for being near the protesters. Those in the kettle included a number of journalists, as well as the unofficial mascot of Montreal’s protest movement: a man in a panda costume, now locally famous as “Anarchopanda.”
There are still frequent protests against the three-per-cent-a-year tuition hikes imposed by the new Parti Quebecois government. However, the size and intensity of the demonstrations is nowhere near the events of last year — when a number of faculties were shut down while students fought a plan to nearly double tuition.
The biggest protests were held on the 22nd of each month, with the one in March being perhaps the most memorable.
Police have recently begun signalling recently a declining tolerance for the protests, and a willingness to move in faster to break them up. Last week, for instance, officers stopped the city’s annual anti-police brutality march just as it was getting underway.
Last year, police routinely faced accusations of overzealousness from protesters — but in most cases the marches were at least underway, and police invariably intervened after a few tossed objects were seen flying out from the crowd.
Friday’s protest organizers issued a statement dencouncing what they called increasingly systemic repression. They called it unacceptable that police are now dispersing crowds even before they start protesting.
“Hundreds of images and testimonials to police brutality, as well as cruel and degrading treatment of people who’ve been arrested, are now circulating on social media,” said Stephanie Turcot, one spokeswoman for the group. “It’s time to start being concerned about it, and to stop it.”
‘There is no right to protest’: Montreal police deny Charter rights
“This is approaching absurdist comedy,” tweeted Montreal Gazette reporter Christopher Curtis Friday night, trapped in a police kettle from which Montreal’s finest inexplicably refused to release him as his deadline approached.
“Did they really, actually arrest Anarchopanda????” replied well known Québécoise pundit Josée Legault.
Curtis never replied, no doubt caught up in extricating himself from police custody, so allow me to do so now: yes Josée, they really, actually did. Just call him Arrestopanda. At night’s end the tally ran something like this: one panda, several rabbits, a few dozen journos and almost three hundred dull normals cuffed, processed and slapped with $654 fines. This after being held for hours in the cold kettles Montreal police formed around them.
An obscene over-reaction regardless of circumstance, kettling has been ruled illegal by England’s High Court. In Toronto, the senior police commander who ordered protesters kettled at the 2010 G20 summit has been charged with discreditable conduct and unlawful use of authority. The Toronto Police Service have committed to never use the tactic again after an independent review found it to be unlawful. Kettling is a particularly disturbing tactic because it only works on peaceful protesters who offer little resistance, making it insidiously offensive to the concept of free speech and free assembly.
But, some would argue, once those damn kids started with the breaking of the windows and the throwing of the snowballs, what choice did the police have?
Sorry Dorothy, but we’re not in Kansas anymore. The question of whether you can justify arresting hundreds of people because one or two did something objectionable is sooooo 2012.
Friday night, before the protest had even begun, and without so much as a hurtful word to serve as pretext, Montreal police descended on a crowd of protesters who were, without exception, peaceful and arrested the lot of them.
I don’t go in for a lot of the alarmist stuff you see on Twitter and Facebook. I think Stephen Harper sucks, and I hate what he’s done to our country, but I don’t think he’s a dictator or a fascist. I’ve always hated the SSPVM chant (the addition of an extra “s” to the name of Montreal’s police service alluding to the Nazi SS) and I think such hyperbole often obscures, rather than illuminates, important issues.
So it’s not for nothing that I tell you I woke this morning genuinely afraid. For the first time in my life I am afraid of what can happen to me, and to my friends and neighbors and strangers, if we exercise inalienable rights that we cannot, must not, forfeit. This is not hyperbole, it is fact, and the fact is that the world looks a great deal darker today.
How else to process the preventative arrest of 294 law abiding citizens for the sole crime of attempting to express their political views in a constitutionally guaranteed fashion? Worse, this is the third time Montreal police have moved in to preemptively arrest a protest in its entirety in the space of one week, this lovely new staple of police tactics having been trotted out at the annual anti-police brutality march on the 15th and again to pre-empt a student protest on Tuesday, when 45 people were arrested.
Last night’s shameful spectacle came courtesy of Municipal By-Law P-6, the little known municipal counterpart to the universally denounced, and now repealed, Bill 78/ Law 12. The municipal bylaw shares the requirement that protests must submit their route for approval by the police 24 hours in advance. Among other goodies, it also allows Montreal’s Executive Committee to prohibit any peaceful assembly indefinitely, at their discretion and without notice. It should be noted that this almost certainly unconstitutional bylaw was passed by a municipal government with all the credibility and moral authority of a turnip.
At last night’s demonstration the police declared the protest illegal before it began for failing to provide a route and ordered protesters to disperse. However, they waited only seconds between giving that order and kettling protesters, giving them no chance to comply.
But don’t worry, say the police, they aren’t infringing on anyone’s right to protest, because no such right exists.
“Starting with the last three demonstrations, we have been intervening faster,” Sergeant Jean-Bruno Latour, a spokesperson for the SPVM, told La Presse. “We do not want to hold citizens who wish to go to downtown Montreal hostage. The Charter [of rights and freedoms] protects the right to freedom of expression, but there is no right to protest.” [Translated from French]
This rather jaw-dropping statement raised the ire of Véronique Robert, a criminal lawyer in Montreal. Her scathing rebuttal on the website of weekly newspaper Voir titled “Fear the police, not the protests” [the original of that article is enclosed below–ed.] is a delicious take down of this absurd position, and if you read French I recommend reading it in its entirety. Here’s a taste:
“This screwball assertion by an officer with the Montreal Police is scary, alarming and frightening, and leads to two conclusions: first, our police urgently need more law classes as part of their training. Second, things are not at all well in Quebec right now, and that frightens me.” [Translated]
Robert goes on to patiently explain that peaceful assembly and protest is an integral part of freedom of expression, without which the right cannot exist. She points out that not only is our right to protest clearly and explicitly protected by our Charter, it is also protected by every document dealing with the protection of fundamental rights in the world, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In 2005, the UN Human Rights Commission criticized, as it did again last year, mass arrests taking place in Montreal in the context of the last student strike, calling mass arrests by their very nature a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The commission called for a public inquiry into police actions, and questioned the article in the criminal code prohibiting illegal assembly.
“The state must ensure that the right to peacefully participate in a protest is respected, and that only those who have committed a criminal infraction during a protest are arrested.” [Translated]
Robert concludes as follows:
“When the young, and the even younger, receive $614 [sic] tickets for participating in a public assembly, be afraid. When protest movements are bullied from the moment they are formed, be afraid. When the police detain citizens en masse for no reason, be afraid. When police conflate interrogation with arbitrary arrest for exercising a constitutional right, be afraid.
What should actually scare us, in Montreal, is the police and their totalitarian declarations. What we should fear is the state and our mode of governance. Not protesters.” [Translated]
Strong words, but necessary ones. Robert is no wild-eyed radical, she’s a criminal defence attorney, and is articulating a position shared by the vast majority of her colleagues. P-6 has been denounced by the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, and a march of lawyers against Law 12 last year drew over six hundred into the streets.
Right now, in Montreal, the very right to protest, that most fundamental right to freedom of expression, is under assault. If we give in, and stay home for fear of these preposterous tickets, we will have lost not just the battle but the war itself. Indeed, the worst part about these tactics is that they work. I know many friends who will no longer go to protests for fear of arrest and a ticket they cannot afford. What a sad state of affairs when the police bully and intimidate citizens out of exercising their right to criticize the government. So go to the demos, go to all the demos, and prove you will not let fear and intimidation win out. If you get a ticket, contest it. The legal resources to ensure you succeed are freely available.
When our police force denies that we have any right to peacefully express our dissent, there is no recourse but to fight tooth and nail to protect our rights. This is far too important an issue to let slide.
Robert and I both expect legal challenges to this law, which will hopefully be struck down, but in the meanwhile I think it’s time we made municipal bylaw P-6 an election issue.
Montreal has a municipal election coming up in November. With the implosion of the ruling Union Montreal party after revelations of widespread corruption, revelations which also tarnished the reputation of opposition party Vision Montreal, the election is more uncertain than any in my memory.
Over the next year any number of politicians will be asking for your vote. Any time they do, make a habit of telling them that you will only vote for a party which commits to repeal bylaw P-6. This is for all the marbles folks, our right to freedom of expression is not negotiable.
The PQ campaigned heavily on a promise to repeal the wildly unpopular Law 12, and now it’s time to finish what they started. The repeal of Law 12 is a Pyrrhic victory if bylaw P-6 remains in force.
I’ll close with an oldie but a goodie: If you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention.
Cops jump on anti-brutality march early
By Christopher Curtis, The Gazette, March 15, 2013
MONTREAL — Montreal’s annual anti-brutality march instantly descended into chaos Friday as riot cops snatched protesters from the crowd before the demonstration even began.
The notoriously combative event saw police chase hundreds of protesters through a crowd of bystanders downtown, occasionally hurling CS gas bombs in an attempt to splinter the group. After a few skirmishes saw two officers hospitalized, the riot squad surrounded demonstrators on Ste. Catherine St. E. and began making mass arrests.
Two groups were corralled against a wall near the Berri UQAM métro station, with police kicking and striking those who wouldn’t move fast enough. In the end, about 250 people were handcuffed and taken away by the busload.
The majority of those arrested will be ticketed for blocking traffic. Two will face assault charges, one person was detained for carrying incendiary devices and another for uttering threats. One protester was hospitalized.
Police have come to expect violence at the protest (only two of the 18 annual demonstrations have ended without incident). “This year, we began arresting people before the protest as a preventive measure,” said Laurent Gingras of the Montreal police. “We used a little-known article of the law that allows us to temporarily detain people if we believe they’ll start trouble. The few people we arrested before the protest were released a few hours later once they were no longer deemed a threat.”
The atmosphere was tense from the outset, with columns of armoured and mounted police forming a tight perimeter around protesters before the march could ever get underway. Small platoons of officers would sporadically walk through the crowd, pinning demonstrators against an office building, searching their bags and dragging them away as they screamed in anger.
Only minutes after it was scheduled to begin, police took to their megaphones to declare the protest illegal. Demonstrators never provided the city with a parade route for the march, a violation of a controversial municipal bylaw passed in the wake of the 2012 student protests.
At least one of the arrests turned violent, with a witness telling The Gazette he saw a police officer get kicked in the face, badly injuring him. From that point on, the riot squad continuously charged through the crowd, presumably to keep it from banding together.
Police managed to split the crowd in half when they chased it into a group of Sûreté du Québec officers who quickly emerged from an underground parking garage — a manoeuvre that frightened and confused the marchers.
“This was just dumb, incredibly dumb,” said Shawn Austin, a 23-year-old university student. “We were never given a chance to prove we can be peaceful. We’re not out here to say all cops are bad. We’re out here to make the point the police brutality is unacceptable and I think tonight, the police made that point for us.”
Austin was eventually trapped in a police kettle, arrested and fined for violating the city’s traffic bylaws. He said he came to the march because he saw many of his friends beaten by police during the many clashes that occurred during the last year’s student protests.
Last year’s police brutality protest ended with about 200 arrests, department store windows smashed and one police car was overturned by demonstrators. Several patrol cars were damaged with bricks, but no widespread acts of vandalism were reported on Friday.
A number of bystanders were caught in the crossfire, with many seen coughing and wiping tear gas out of their eyes on the corner of Peel St. and Ste. Catherine Sts. Unlike previous years, no speeches or testimonials were given at the march because protesters were dispersed just as the event began.
Short-lived student protest in Quebec City results in three arrests
QUEBEC CITY— Quebec City police arrested three people during a student protest Thursday night that was broken up within minutes. About 40 protesters had just left the Quebec legislature when they were told the demonstration would be declared illegal if they did not reveal their planned route.
Unlike the Montreal police, who declared student protests illegal but allow them to continue until vandalism ensues, the Quebec City police intervened right away. Protesters had marched only about 50 metres before they were surrounded by police cars and officers.
The protesters were hoping to march against the Quebec government’s plan to hike university tuition by three per cent a year.
After the arrest, Quebec City police spokesperson André Turcotte said the officers applied the law to the letter. “We don’t stop people from protesting, but there’s a municipal bylaw that’s there, that requires people to advise us of the itinerary of the protest,” Turcotte said. “In these conditions, we’re ready to collaborate and escort the marches, like we always have when we have received routes.”
Turcotte didn’t want to compare the reaction of Quebec City police to those in Montreal, who normally tolerate illegal demonstrations so long as they remain peaceful. “Each situation is unique,” he said. “I can’t tell you that tomorrow night, if the same thing happens, we’ll react in the same way.”
Some protesters suggested that their small number certainly prompted police officers to rapidly block their route. Morgane Mary-Pouliot, a student at Cégep de Sainte-Foy, said that before leaving, the protesters decided to vote at each street corner to decide which direction they would go in.
“We were a three times smaller than them, so it’s certain that this played a role,” she said. “Maybe if we were double the size, that might have changed something, but it was very strategic. They were preparing to intercept us since 8 p.m.”
Mary-Pouliot said she was surprised by the speed of the intervention by police. “It was only 45 seconds we were in the street, maybe less,” she said. “They were all placed, they knew we wouldn’t necessarily give them an itinerary.”
Jordan Grenier-Gauthier, a student at Cégep Lévis-Lauzon, said he was insulted by the lack of tolerance by police. “Personally, I was insulted and I told the police that it made no sense to arrive here with clubs and ‘guns’ when us, we’re not armed, we’re not doing anything,” he said.
Grenier-Gauthier said the municipal bylaw, adopted last year by Quebec City around the same time as special legislation limiting the right to protest throughout Quebec, was “stupid.”
Caroline Tétreault, also a student at Lévis-Lauzon, said the students still hoped to express their disapproval to the government, even if the Parti Québécois cancelled the tuition increases that the previous Liberal government put in place that prompted the student crisis last spring. She said that indexation, proposed by premier Pauline Marois, is unacceptable.
“I saw this as an affront, this increase of three per cent,” she said. “Especially since they carried the red square with us. I don’t expect to have free tuition, but a freeze, I thought it was that.”
A protest in Montreal on Thursday night ended with smashed business windows, dozens of arrests and calls for a police crackdown by the business community.
Avoir peur de la police, pas des manifs
Véronique Robert, Voir, 23 mars 2013
Ce matin, dans La Presse, on pouvait lire ceci:
«Depuis les trois dernières manifestations, nous intervenons plus rapidement, a confirmé le sergent Jean-Bruno Latour, porte-parole du SPVM. Il ne faut pas prendre en otage les citoyens qui veulent venir au centre-ville de Montréal. Le Charte [des droits et libertés] protège le droit d’expression, mais il n’y pas de droit de manifestation»
Cette assertion aussi hurluberlue qu’affolante, alarmante, effrayante d’un policier du Service de police de la ville de Montréal mène à deux constats: Le premier, les policiers devraient impérativement suivre plus de cours de droit dans le cadre de leur formation. Le second, ça ne va pas du tout au Québec actuellement, et ça fait peur.
La Charte canadienne des droits et libertés, qui est le document de protection des droits fondamentaux régissant les rapports entre l’État et les individus, protège clairement le droit de manifester.
Protection, donc, de la liberté de conscience, de pensée, de croyance, d’opinion et d’expression. Protection, en sus, de la liberté de réunion pacifique et de la liberté d’association. Une association, et une réunion pacifique, sont entre autres des modes de transmission de cette expression.
Ces droits garantis par la Charte sont aussi garantis dans tous les documents de protection des droits fondamentaux au monde. Oui, oui, au monde.
La Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme, qui n’a pas force de loi mais qui demeure une magnifique déclaration de principe à laquelle le Canada a adhéré en 1948 énonce ceci :
«Article 19 : Tout individu a le droit à la liberté d’opinion et d’expression, ce qui implique le droit de ne pas être inquiété pour ses opinions et celui de chercher, de recevoir, et de répandre, sans considérations de frontières, les informations et les idées par quelque moyen d’expression que ce soit».
Le Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques, dont le Canada est signataire, énonce non seulement le droit à la liberté d’expression, mais aussi les limites légales des restrictions à ce droit :
1. Nul ne peut être inquiété pour ses opinions.
2. Toute personne a droit à la liberté d’expression; ce droit comprend la liberté de rechercher, de recevoir et de répandre des informations et des idées de toute espèce, sans considération de frontières, sous une forme orale, écrite, imprimée ou artistique, ou par tout autre moyen de son choix.
3. L’exercice des libertés prévues au paragraphe 2 du présent article comporte des devoirs spéciaux et des responsabilités spéciales. Il peut en conséquence être soumis à certaines restrictions qui doivent toutefois être expressément fixées par la loi et qui sont nécessaires:
a) Au respect des droits ou de la réputation d’autrui;
b) A la sauvegarde de la sécurité nationale, de l’ordre public, de la santé ou de la moralité publiques.
Une loi, un règlement d’un État signataire, peut donc restreindre le droit à l’expression et le droit à la réunion pacifique, pour autant que la restriction soit nécessaire pour assurer la sécurité de la nation.
Ce type de restriction est d’usage, et normal, dans une société libre et démocratique. Au Canada, une telle restriction prend place à l’article premier de la Charte. L’exemple le plus facile à comprendre est celui de la propagande haineuse. La liberté d’expression, oui, mais pas au point de protéger le droit à l’expression de la haine publique dangereuse. C’est ainsi que les dispositions qui criminalisent la propagande haineuse sont des restrictions raisonnables au droit à la liberté d’expression.
Il est évident que la participation active à une émeute ne fait l’objet d’aucune protection constitutionnelle. Il en va autrement de la participation à une manifestation.
Mais pour revenir au Pacte civil, le Comité des droits de l’homme de l’ONU s’est inquiété, en 2005, des arrestations de masse au Canada, plus particulièrement au Québec, plus particulièrement à Montréal, arrestations de masse qui, par définition, violent le droit à la liberté d’expression.
Le Comité a entre autres émis le constat suivant :
L’état partie devrait veiller à ce que le droit de chacun de participer pacifiquement à des manifestation de protestation sociale soit respecté et à ce que seuls ceux qui ont commis des infractions pénales au cours d’une manifestation soient arrêtés.
Le Comité des droits de l’homme a, du même souffle, recommandé que le Canada mène une enquête publique sur les interventions de la police de Montréal pendant les manifestations et demandé à recevoir des informations sur l’article 63 du Code criminel qui prohibe l’attroupement illégal.
C’était il y a huit ans. Rien n’a changé. Pire, tout s’est envenimé.
Quand des policiers viennent dire sans gêne sur la place publique que le droit de manifester n’est pas un droit fondamental, il y a vraiment de quoi s’inquiéter alors inquiétons-nous. (Et manifestons?)
Le Règlement P-6 de la ville de Montréal (Règlement sur la prévention des troubles de la paix, de la sécurité et de l’ordre publics, et sur l’utilisation du domaine public ) doit faire l’objet d’une contestation devant les tribunaux, certes, puisque l’obligation de donner l’itinéraire d’une manifestation à l’avance, tout comme l’interdiction de se déguiser ou de se protéger le visage lors d’une manifestation doivent être étudiés juridiquement. Mais c’est surtout, dans le contexte actuel, l’application de ce règlement, et son interprétation, par le SPVM, qui doit faire l’objet d’une contestation.
Les organismes de défense des droits, dont la Ligue des droits et libertés, s’opposent à ce règlement. L’Association des juristes progressistesen demande l’abrogation immédiate. Le Barreau du Québec a aussi pris position contre cette mesure excessive qu’est le Règlement P.-6.
Que des jeunes, et des moins jeunes, reçoivent des contraventions de 614 dollars pour avoir participé à des assemblées publiques fait peur. Que des mouvements de protestation soient brimés dès lors qu’ils se forment fait peur. Que des policiers détiennent massivement des citoyens pour rien fait peur. Qu’on confonde interpepolicière et arrestation arbitraire pour avoir exercé un droit constitutionnel fait peur.
Ce qui fait peur, à Montréal, actuellement, c’est la police avec ses déclarations totalitaires. Ce qui fait peur c’est l’État et son mode de gouvernance. Pas les manifestants.
 Le texte du rapport est ici : Lire aussi à ce sujet DUPUIS-DÉRI, Francis, «Broyer du noir : manifestations et répression policière au Québec», Les ateliers de l’éthique, v.1. no. 1, printemps 2006.