In the midst of plummeting temperatures, the Montreal police used bulldozers on Jan. 7 to clear out belongings from a homeless encampment at Viger Square. The police justified this action by asserting that the encampment posed a public health risk, and that it was too cold for the homeless to sleep outside. They hoped that removing the homeless peoples’ belongings and bringing them to a shelter would encourage the homeless to retrieve their possessions at the shelter and remain indoors for the winter.
While this is not the first time the Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) has cleared out this area, the incident two weeks ago gained particular attention because the hacker group Anonymous recently spoke out against the Montreal police. Anonymous committed to occupying the square until the City of Montreal agreed to enforce a moratorium on raids of homeless encampments from Dec. 1 to March 1. In addition, as a response to the police’s action, which it deemed as “heartless”, Anonymous has threatened to “attack the cyber infrastructure of the City of Montreal and other entities as [they] see fit,” an action Anonymous is known to take in opposition to groups or organizations. So far, the group has executed one distributed denial of service (DDoS) against the SPVM, and has occupied the square for a short period of time.
Anonymous had stated in an interview with one of its members that it would set up a sanctuary for homeless people in Montreal, where it would provide basic comforts such as hot meals. So far, however, there is no evidence that Anonymous has provided any substantial services.
Anonymous’ campaign in Montreal is part of its larger movement, known as Operation Safe Winter, which seeks to “highlight the homeless situation in areas throughout the world.” Highlight it they have, but their actions are not a proactive step towards solving the homeless situation, nor is its particular brand of activism anything more than glorified trolling.
scapegoat, framing the SPVM as heartless and insensitive in order to
sensationalize the incident.
The police have used bulldozers to clear Viger Square on multiple occasions before, but the most recent incident was not publicized until Anonymous targeted the SPVM. On one hand, Anonymous did achieve its goal of highlighting the homeless situation–there was little public outcry regarding the situation at Viger Square until Anonymous brought it to light. On the other hand, Anonymous used the police as a scapegoat, framing the SPVM as heartless and insensitive in order to sensationalize the incident. If Anonymous was going to reprimand anybody, it should have been the city, who is to blame for the lack of adequate resources to keep Montreal’s homeless population out of the cold. The fact that the area has been cleared many times before this incident highlights that there is a broader underlying problem facing the homeless in Montreal. Many homeless continue to return to their camp outdoors instead of seeking refuge in shelters, suggesting that the shelters available in Montreal are either too few, too understaffed, or too unsafe for many to find refuge in. It is the responsibility of the city, not the police, to ensure that there are open and safe shelters for the homeless to go to. Therefore, attacking the police was emblematic of Anonymous’ brand of ‘yellow-journalism’ activism that seeks to point fingers and to antagonistically attack institutions or individuals, rather than promoting conversations about the systemic problem truly at hand.
Anonymous’ disruptive online attacks delegitimize its actions and reinforce its image as a group of ornery internet trolls. Nevertheless, it is admittedly effective at raising awareness and galvanizing the public through its inflammatory discourse. However, Anonymous’ aggressive finger-pointing and attacks do not encourage solutions. There are much more complex financial and structural problems at hand, which will not be addressed if they keep playing the blame game.