An angry man in an animal suit at Montreal's May Day protests. Pictures by Steph Mercier.
On Thursday, news reports stated that 447 people were arrested on May 1st, otherwise known as May Day. Organized by the CLAC, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence of Montreal, the focus of this year’s march was corruption in the city. This isn’t exactly a new topic around here, what with a Quebec corruption inquiry currently underway involving the former Mayor of Montreal and several government officials. Although they were openly defying bylaw P6, which requires protestors to disclose their demonstration route in its entirety, CLAC at least told reporters they would start at City Hall and end the demonstration at Club 357C—the exclusive club known as a shady meeting spot for politicians and construction executives.
This year, the P6 bylaw has been a hot topic. The bylaw was amended last year during the so-called Quebec Maple Spring, when students took to the streets to protest the proposed tuition hike. The purpose of P6 was to regulate demonstrations and force protestors to disclose their protest route in advance, while also prohibiting protestors to wear masks under any circumstance. Anyone who is familiar with Anarchopanda knows all about that. The law also allows police to hand out $637 tickets to any protestors who they deem to be demonstrating illegally.
In light of all this P6 craziness, we headed out to Old Montreal to watch firsthand how police shut down demonstrations.
As we approached City Hall the first thing we noticed was the line-up of media vans with reporters setting up camera’s and doing live broadcasts, there were about five of them waiting around for something to happen. They didn’t have to wait very long.
Some protestors had already arrived on the scene, while two other anti-capitalist groups of around 150 people soon joined from both the East and West side of town.
Soon after, the riot police started to converge on the demonstration. While groups chanted, drummed, mocked the police, and danced, the police began splitting the groups in two and keeping them in a tight radius. The demonstration itself had already been declared illegal, but no one appeared to care. I stood on the inside of the slowly-forming kettle, watching as a young woman yelled and screamed in the face of a riot cop while some other guy in a conical hat danced around another cop.
Outside of the epicentre were many other police, protestors, and bystanders. Things heated up as a group anti-capitalists threw their banner on some cops. Then some other guys rushed the side door of City Hall as officials entered the building. They were soon cut off by police who pushed them away.
While I was keeping an eye on our cameraperson who was throwing herself into the middle of the foray, I watched as a cop pepper sprayed the crowd a few feet away while bottles filled with paint soared through the air and splattered on the ground close by.
It wasn’t long after that the demonstrators began their march. The scene at City Hall had reached a point where the demonstrators could stay and risk complete shut down, or move and be able to hold off the police force a little longer.
It’s not a far walk to Club 357C from City Hall, but by the end of it, the 500 or so demonstrators were getting pretty amped up. Escorted by policemen on horses, the crowds chanted down the street as more people joined the march, and small crowds of tourists walking around the Old Port or having dinner were left wondering what the hell was going on.
Before we knew it, we were caught in the kettle, luckily in the front line near the police. We gave them a quick flash of our media passes and sweet-talked (as in pouted) our way out. Thanks to the shit police received after a recent protest when media personnel were forced to stay in the kettle despite offering up credentials, police seemed to be a little more forgiving, although they gave us a couple of good shoves for good measure.
Soon after, things began to die down. We watched a few other small encounters between the opposing forces but mainly things were growing quiet. Protesters who evaded the kettle wandered off, happy to have missed being charged the $500+ P6 bylaw fine.
It seems as though the police force have really begun to grasp how to handle these situations. They intimidate with numbers and attempt to single out the troublemakers as soon as possible. It’s a big difference from the protests last year that saw thousands of people on the streets each night. Crowd controlling is easier, and the police have been given more free reign in breaking down the demonstrations. This year, the protest was a much smaller than the previous year, but to a spokesperson of CLAC, that didn’t mean much.
Will the P6 law ever be changed? At this point, it doesn’t look very likely. The Montreal city council recently voted to keep the amendments to the controversial bylaw. One Montreal lawyer says the right to protest is protected by the Chart of Rights and Freedoms, while officials insist it’s important for public safety. It’s likely protesting will continue sporadically in the next few months, but whether or not it will actually affect change to the P6 bylaw remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure whether you agree with it or not, P6 seems to be working.
Follow Ken on Twitter: @kjrwall
For more on the recent Montreal protests: