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Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/justice/359443/pour-une-commission-d-enquete-publique
As teachers and lecturers of various disciplines and several universities in Quebec, we have, accompanied by solidarity, the Quebec student movement in the most important and longest strike in our history. We have therefore been witness to the biggest wave of police repression in the history of contemporary Quebec, marked by 3387 arrests from February 16th to the 3rd of September, 2012. (this assessment is without doubt partial: see the website of the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality)
Several of these arrests were performed during the circling mass practice for which Montreal Police Department (SPVM) have been criticized by the United Nations’ Council of Human Rights in November 2005, which had even asked to hold a commission of inquiry that never happened. Often these arrests were carried out in a brutal manner, the prison conditions were harsh and they were not permitted to talk to a lawyer or relatives.
That’s not counting the numerous injuries, two eyes lost, teeth broken, fractured skull, broken arms and legs. The Media and the broadcasted videos in cyberspace have also revealed that the police forces seemed animated by a profound contempt for students, which is expressed by the insults, including by way of sexist and homophobic.
Since the G20 Summit in Toronto
The police repression experienced during the G20 summit in Toronto had resulted in around 1200 arrests. In 96% of the cases, the person was declared innocent or the accusations have been dropped (there was therefore more than 1000 arrests for nothing), which was not enough to erase the political and psychological trauma. Several organizations have taken this repression very seriously, hence the numbers report on the subject, including those of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in the House of Commons, the Ontario Ombudsman and the Office of independent review of the police, a civilian agency that can investigate the police and still has no equivalent in Quebec, where it is the police investigating the police, without forgetting the defence associations of fundamental freedoms.
This work of documentation, important in the rule of law, has had several consequences: the Toronto police itself has admitted that the mass arrests posed various problems, and that it would no longer resort to it: that it is important that the police are better informed about fundamental rights of expression and assembly, but also in regard to identity checks, searches and “preventative” arrests.
Following this process, the victims can hope to obtain justice and reparation for the wrongs that they have suffered on the part of the police force. Moreover, the accusations have been brought against the police.
Many questions, few answers
About police repression against the Quebec student movement, several questions call for answers. Explain how it is that the police interventions seemed arbitrary, both about the intervention itself (to intervene or not), at the time of the intervention (before, during, or after the demonstrations), in the manner to intervene (more or less brutally), the type of intervention (charge to disperse, encircle the masses or targeted arrests), the weapons used and the legal justifications evoked (such-and-such rules, and therefore such-and-such violations and accusation)?
Explain how it is that the quite peaceful demonstrations, by the police’s own confession, have been the object of mass arrests by encircling (in Gatineau, Montreal, Quebec)? Explain how dozens of citizens (including journalists of Le Devoir) have been arrested and detained outdoors for long hours outside of the F1 Grand Prix in Montreal, simply for having worn a cloth red square, and without any charges being brought?
Explain how it is that there were accusations under the Anti-Terrorism Act for simple smoke in the Montreal Metro, but not in the case of the attack with automatic weapons that left one dead during the electoral victory speech of Premier Pauline Marois?
Other questions call for answers. The police bodies, have they received political directives from the office of the Premier of Quebec, Ministry of Public Safety, or municipal authorities (Gatineau, Montreal, Quebec)? What police bodies of scout agents have infiltrated into the student movement in general, and in the demonstrations in particular? What was their mandate? Were there agent “instigators”? The Police chiefs and spokesman for the police, do they have the right to publicly encourage the students to not participate in certain demonstrations (such as denouncing the police brutality and the “political profiling”, on March 15th in Montreal)? The police have the right to say “We do not tolerate demonstrations in the streets”, as did the police in Gatineau, in a statement on Twitter?
Were there certain police who wished to express criticism with respect to their leaders, their colleagues, or politicians, but that dare not say publicly for fear of retaliation?
Need of a public commission of inquiry
The liberal government has acted in an unacceptable manner on the subject of police repression. Rather than call the police to calm and have restraint, several members of the cabinet, including premier Jean Charest, have unilaterally denounced the “violence” and “intimidation” of students, while congratulating the police for their excellent work, even after interventions resulted in very serious injuries.
In the spring, two organizations have independently asked to hold a commission of public inquiry to shed some light on the police repression and brutality during the student strike, or Amnesty International and the League of Rights and Freedoms. This last one has even launched a petition on the subject, that collected 11,000 signatures. The Liberal government has not responded.
At the end of May, two special reporters from the UN have criticized the new legal restrictions on the right to protest (law 12 and municipal antimask law ) and the police repression that was the student movement. The Liberal Minister of International Relations, Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, said that the UN should rather focus on the most important crisis in other countries. Diplomatic evasion identical to the 19th of June, in response to criticism expressed against Quebec by the High Commissioner for the United Nations Human Rights.
But this is not because the repression is more brutal in other countries that it should not pay attention to this targeting of youth here. It is for this reason that we call for the establishment – as rapidly as possible – for a commission of public inquiry and independent of all police operations during the student strike of 2012.