The 14th annual March Against Police Brutality was declared unlawful shortly after beginning yesterday evening, as police used mass arrests to quell the demonstration in Montreal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood.
The Montreal Police Department (SPVM) arrested 100 protestors. Seventeen were charged with criminal offences, while 83 were apprehended for violating municipal bylaws, detained for three to four hours, given a ticket, and then released at random locations across the city. Police began making mass arrests of protestors and journalists – for participating in an unlawful protest – around an hour after the march began.
“We declared the protest illegal after some protestors started shooting fireworks at police,” said Sergeant Ian LafreniÃ¨re, media relations supervisor for the SPVM. “Two times, before any arrests were made, we read a statement in English and in French saying that the protest was illegal and that people had to leave.”
The Montreal police would not confirm the number of officers deployed to manage the march, but there appeared to be well over 100. The SPVM also used at least a dozen undercover police officers who posed as protestors, wearing black scarves, goggles, and large winter jackets to conceal body armour. These officers made a number of individual arrests and were involved in a brief fight about 15 minutes into the march, when they were identified as undercover police officers by a group of demonstrators.
Unlike last year’s march, in which protestors caused over $200,000 in property damage, demonstrators did little harm to the mostly residential area. Aside from tipping over mailboxes, dragging garbage cans into the street, and throwing paint, the only major incident occurred when protestors set a dumpster on fire on St. Germain Street.
“The outcome was generally a positive one,” LafreniÃ¨re said. “No one was injured on either side, and the total amount of damage was not nearly as bad as it was last year. I would have preferred a peaceful protest, but that might be dreaming.”
Protest declared unlawful
Approximately 900 people attended the march, which began just after 5:30 p.m. near the Pie-IX metro station at Olympic Stadium. The crowd made their way southeast on Boulevard Pie-IX and into a residential area along Ontario Street, though the marchers changed direction repeatedly, presumably in order to disorient police.
The Collective Opposed to Police Brutality, the Montreal group who planned the event, refused to inform the police of the protest route before the demonstration began. According to the SPVM, there are approximately 1,500 protests in Montreal every year, and the March Against Police Brutality is the only one in which organizers refuse to inform the police of their demonstration route beforehand.
“[Most protest groups] want to make sure that we close streets, and they want to make sure that no one gets injured,” LafreniÃ¨re said. “This is the same problem we have every year [with the Collective], though. They don’t want to share the route – they say that legally they don’t have any obligation to do so.”
Police declared the protest an unlawful assembly at 6:05 p.m. after demonstrators clashed with riot police at the corner of Ontario Street and Valois Avenue. Protestors threw paint bombs and food at officers with riot shields and shot fireworks at those on horseback. Riot police responded by shooting offenders with a paintball gun in an attempt to mark them for future arrest.
Moments later a similar confrontation occurred at Raymond-Prefontaine Park as police executed a pincer manoeuvre that split the protest into two groups. Police charged demonstrators from both ends of Hochelaga Street, scattering demonstrators into separate groups and leading many involved to abandon the protest.
Police began making mass arrests moments later, as the larger protest group headed up Prefontaine Street and clashed with officers who had blocked off the road near the Prefontaine metro station. Riot police charged the crowd after protestors hurled objects at them. The police then detained dozens of people on city buses.
Demonstrators invoke Villanueva
The march coincided with the International Day Against Police Brutality as well as a coroner’s inquest into the fatal shooting of Fredy Villanueva by a Montreal police officer in August 2008. Protestors could be heard chanting “Lapointe, murderer” early in the march, in reference to the police officer who killed Villanueva.
“We need to take back our streets,” said Sara, a protestor who declined to provide her last name. “[The police] get away with too much … [we need to] show them that they can’t get away with whatever they want.”
Others had less principled reasons for attending the event.
“I just want to see things get fucked up,” said Renaud, a protestor who also declined to provide his last name. “Fuck the police.”
Protestors began gathering around 4:45 p.m. and were supervised by at least 50 riot police. Many demonstrators carried signs with slogans such as “60 dead since 1987. Disarm the Montreal police.” and “Justice and truth for all the victims.”
According to the Montreal Gazette, police stopped metro service to the Pie-IX station on the city’s green line around 5 p.m. in an attempt to delay the arrival of more protesters. At least four protestors were arrested as the march began when they were discovered to have the ingredients for a Molotov cocktail.