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Square Viger in Old Montreal is a frequent refuge for the homeless community. (Jack Neal / McGill Tribune)

Removal of Viger Square homeless encampment by SPVM spurs reaction from Anonymous

a/Montreal/News by

Following the Jan. 7 bulldozing of a homeless encampment in Viger Square, the Service de Police de la ville de Montreal  (SPVM) has responded to subsequent backlash.

In Nov. 2014, Anonymous, a hacker collective, began an initiative called Operation Safe Winter (OpSafeWinter). The initiative’s goal was to protect the homeless community through provision of blankets, clothing, and other cold-weather necessities.

Following the camp’s removal, Anonymous responded to the SPVM by occupying the square, threatening the SPVM with cyber attacks, and encouraging members of the community to help the homeless in any way they could.

A statement released by Anonymous on Jan. 9 demanded that the SPVM and the City of Montreal create a permanent moratorium on the raids of homeless encampments from Dec. 1 to March 1. The statement claimed that Anonymous would continue to occupy Viger Square, protest in the streets of Montreal, and attack the cyber infrastructure of the City of Montreal until its demands were met.

“OpSafeWinter is not about politics,” An Anonymous OpSafeWinter representative wrote in an email to the Tribune. “It’s about winter and homelessness. Just get out there and do something, anything, to help.”

According to SPVM Inspector Vincent Richer, the decision to clear the square was due to health and safety concerns.

“When they talk about ‘dismantling’ the encampment, that’s not what we did,” Richer said. “We took away some rubbish that was there. There were piles of stuff that were abandoned there by different people, and in these piles you have some syringes, old food that had rotted, and some rats, so we [had] to clean it up. I informed [the city workers] that for health reasons, we had to take these things away.”

Anonymous' OpSafeWinter representative disagreed with the SPVM’s description of the removed materials as rubbish.

“Much of the material that was destroyed at Viger Square was cold weather gear we had given those people previously as part of Op Safe Winter Montreal,” the representative stated.

According to Richer, however, this cleaning up is nothing new.

“Every Wednesday morning, city workers go and they pick up the syringes and the things that are abandoned.” Richer said. On Jan. 7, however, the cold weather caused a change of circumstances. “When the workers arrived with their shovels, it was all covered in ice and they couldn’t take it away, so they brought in that payloader.”

Richer also expressed that the SVPM hoped the police intervention would encourage members of the homeless community to seek out shelters for the night, as the temperature was expected to drop severely.

“My hope is that no one would sleep outside at -38 [degrees Celsius],” he said. “There were spaces in shelters, and Old Brewery Mission was working with us so that someone who wanted to sleep inside could sleep inside that night.”

Anonymous declined to comment on its future plans for protests and cyber attacks, stating that “You’ll just have to follow the Twitter, sit back, and watch.”

Richer described Anonymous’ attacks as unfortunate.

“Maybe they felt they have some reasons to attack us, but in that situation, our actions were for the well-being of the people that were there,” he said.

Students’ responses to the situation has been divided.

“I can see both sides to this problem.” U3 Education student Alex Lavkulik said. “Members of the homeless community have the right to be in a public space [….] On the other hand, the police are attempting to protect the wellbeing of the homeless community. They may not have gone about it the right way, but the intention was clearly there [….] I think, overall, there needs to be better communication between the SPVM and the Montreal community.”

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