We Must Enforce Our Right to Protest!

For a little over a month, the Montréal Police Department (SPVM) began to use the anti- demo by-law adopted last year by the City Council (P-6) to prohibit and prevent the holding of any demonstration whose route has not been previously disclosed or which the police considers inappropriate. As candidly stated by one of its […]

For a little over a month, the Montréal Police Department (SPVM) began to use the anti- demo by-law adopted last year by the City Council (P-6) to prohibit and prevent the holding of any demonstration whose route has not been previously disclosed or which the police considers inappropriate. As candidly stated by one of its spokesperson, Sergeant Jean-Bruno Latour, “there is no such thing as a right to protest” in Canada.

Since March 15, when the annual demo against police brutality was scheduled, at least 900 people —if not more— were arrested and were handed fines of $654 each under these new regulations. The way the SPVM is acting is now clear: well-paid in overtime, their troops conduct a mass arrest at the start of any demo they decree as “illegal” —sometime before it even starts.

Supported and welcomed by some downtown merchants and loudly applauded by the big bourgeoisie and the PQ government, the SPVM behaviour brings us back to the authoritarian regime of the late Jean Drapeau in the 1960s and early 1970s. It also reminds us of the situation that used to happen in the 1920s and 1930s when police routinely dispersed any gathering of “troublemakers,” especially the “Reds” who dared to take to the streets while carrying their flags. All in all, the period during which the bourgeois state has allowed the right to protest has been a quite brief interlude in the history of Montreal.

Many have denounced this “drift” from the SPVM: progressive and democratic organizations such as the “Ligue des Droits et Libertés” correctly noted that the SPVM behaviour and the municipal by-law it relies on are inconsistent with the rights and freedoms recognized in federal and provincial legislation. Philosophy professor Julien Villeneuve, who is well known as the man under the now famous “Anarchopanda” mascot and who is himself a victim of P-6, already challenged its constitutionality in court.

The provisions of P-6 requiring protesters to expose and negotiate their route with the police and prohibiting the wearing of a disguise in any demo whatsoever were adopted by the corrupt “Union Montreal” Party in May 2012. The P-6 law comes in the wake of the infamous Bill 78 —the special law imposed by the Charest government to end the student strike – and contains similar provisions.

At the time of its adoption, the PQ, who was then in the opposition, did not hesitate to describe Bill 78 as “liberticidal,” meaning anti-freedom. Today, the Minister responsible for the Montréal region, the now repentant Jean-François Lisée, is fully supporting by-law P-6 and its systematic enforcement by the SPVM. This is just one more case that adds to the long list of turncoats who adopt a “left” discourse when they are in opposition but are prompt to act as the shabby bourgeois politicians they are once in power.

At the initiative of the Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles (CLAC-Montréal), some 40 community, political and grassroots organizations endorsed a public statement in which they announced they will “not submit to the municipal by-law P-6” and will systematically challenge all tickets that arise from this by-law. The Revolutionary Communist Party gave its support to this statement without any hesitation.

Beyond this basic position, we still have to build our capacity to neutralize the SPVM and its fascistic by-law. Militant networks and grassroots organizations independent from the bourgeois state must organize to impose our own “legality.” We must appeal to the collective intelligence of our movements to develop tactics that will break any encirclement of protesters by the police. Together, there is no doubt that we have the capacity to do so; and sooner than later, the SPVM will pay a high price for their shameful attacks on the people.