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I Watched the Montreal Cops Invade a Protester-Occupied University Building

A night of rage, tension, chanting, and violence.

by Mattha Busby
Apr 9 2015, 8:45pm

The cops marching through UQAM behind a spray-painted message. All photos by Willie Wilson.

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

On Wednesday night, I arrived at l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) shortly before the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) invaded UQAM's J.-A.-DeSève pavilion as student journalists took over my Twitter feed with their protest coverage.

Earlier there had been reports of fighting between students who wanted to go to class and protesters favoring a boycott, and the university had obtained an injunction to stop protesters from blocking building entrances.

Between 300 and 500 UQAM students had taken control of the J.-A.-DeSève pavilion UQAM building on Ste. Catherine St. and Sanguinet, creating a party atmosphere with an underbelly of tension. Throughout Wednesday evening, more and more students congregated and eventually turned the building into a fortress as a steel drum provided the rhythm for the erection of barricades.

When I got there, the police, looking more akin to a military force, were gradually converging en masse on the building from all four corners.

The doors to the pavilion were wide open, and after my friend and I circled on our bicycles we decided to investigate for ourselves as anti-austerity protesters buzzed within the building that they had been holding for three days.

Police walking toward UQAM

Brandishing crowd-dispersal weapons and other artifacts in their militarized arsenal, the SPVM have spent much of the past 24 hours suppressing student activists who were picketing classrooms at UQAM.

Inside the pavilion, "Occupe" was emblazoned in red on a corridor wall, and a giant flag reading Lutter c'est oser vaincre, or "Fighting is to dare to overcome," was draped over the stairs. Photographers were shooting clandestinely after the mostly masked inhabitants had implored journalists to leave, and grassroots political groups set up recruitment points in front of a truly anarchic backdrop.

Windows had been smashed, barricades blocked almost every artery, graffiti adorned many walls, and the floors were scattered with candy that had no doubt been liberated from vending machines.

There was a palpable sense of both nervousness and stubbornness, which will most likely live on in Quebec students after last night. There was undoubtedly a lot of unnecessary damage. It was carnage; this was an expression of rage toward provincial governmental policy.

Percussion instruments created a wall of sound after Dead Prez had filled the airwaves, and some students moved to the music. Others acted in some sort of loose formation to brace themselves for the SPVM's entrance as they strode through the building as its rightful owners.

Police lined up outside in advance of their clash with the students.

The scene reached a fever pitch around 11:30 PM, when a garrison of SPVM officers in riot gear stormed the J.-A.-DeSève pavilion. They clunked their batons against their metal shields, poised to protect themselves from the unarmed students as they sprinted into the building in an almost farcical fashion amid the fumes of several tear gas canisters. I had excused myself shortly beforehand, feeling an impending sense of doom and tear gas.

Immediately after storming the building, police flushed a large group of around 100 protesters out with the haste, efficiency, and competency of a reasonably priced toilet plunger.

Not too many students were left inside when the SPVM stormed the building—breaking a large window to avoid the barricade, which proved impregnable. Most had left via the back entrance to stage a spur-of-the-moment protest.

Shouting slogans like, "A nous la rue" ("The street is ours" and "This is what democracy looks like," and various anti-austerity chants, the protestors' demands were obvious.

Huddled in groups of dozens, the SPVM sent a forward team to take aim and fire tear gas canisters from the tip of their formation. Then, as a ubiquitous cloud enveloped the fleeing protesters, who ran from Ste. Catherine St. until Rue Beaudry into the Gay Village, the police—banging their batons on their shields and firing several noise grenades—charged towards the scattered mass of sputtering students. They chased students down several side streets to ensure their dispersal.

As the police trudged back towards UQAM's campus, they swiftly joined the effort to sweep through the no longer student-occupied building, a building which had previously resembled a festival with a spirit of both anarchic chaos and a genuinely positive, peaceful atmosphere.

Follow Mattha Busby on Twitter.