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Benoît Marsan, Graduate student in History at Université de Sherbrooke March 26, 2013
Original French textL
My graduate research has focused on the Communist Party of Canada and on Montreal’s unemployed during the Great Depression. As I was getting to the end of uncovering my sources at the same time as Bill 78 was tabled, I was hearing outrage from several people in my surroundings about the situation and their comments on the unprecedented media discourse, the justifications for police interventions and the event coverage in the mass media, the likes of which had never been seen in Quebec. However, following my reading of some archival documents, I had a slight feeling of déjà vu…
PHOTO CAPTION: Student demonstration on March 22 2012. Photo credit: Pascal Scallon-Chouinard
In tandem with the economic depression that has lingered since 2008, marking one of the most severe crises of capitalism since the 30s, social movements of contestation have sprung up here and elsewhere (Occupy, the Arab Spring, the Indignados, Idle No More, the general strikes in Portugal, Greece and Spain, etc.). The student mobilization of the spring of 2012 marks the greatest movement in opposition to austerity measures in North America since the beginning of the current crisis. Within the context of such exacerbated social tension, there’s a greater scale of repression and profiling in order to maintain the status quo. The notion here is not to claim that the current situation is historically analogous to the Great Depression. It’s obvious that a good number of contextual elements diverge from one period to another (the scale of effect of the crisis on institutions, state intervention, the unemployment rate, the international context, the strength of the international labour movement, the rise of fascism, etc.). Yet it’s possible to draw certain parallels. Like historian Ian McKay claims, periods of economic and social crisis radically alter the understanding of social relations. The liberal hegemony is thus questioned more broadly than solely by more or less marginal groups and movements. It is within this context of crisis that the Maple Spring’s police interventions can be more closely compared to those of the 30s. Repression is used to maintain “social peace” at any cost as soon as those in power feel threatened, no matter if the threat is real or imagined.
Between 1930 and 1935 in Quebec, the police and media mainly stigmatized the unemployed, the “reds” and immigrant workers. Despite a difference in scale and repercussions in many respects, 2012’s student mobilization experienced the same phenomenon of stigmatization of its principal stakeholders. This time around, it targeted students, “red squares”, “black blocs” and other “instigators”.
March 15th, International Day Against Police Brutality, had its own special developments this year following the repression exerted throughout the student strike and pursuant Maple Spring protests. In light of the numerous protests and demonstrations of the past year, this recent event was the site of a gargantuan police deployment and ended with the mass arrest of around 300 people. It therefore seems relevant to compare this new wave of repression with certain lesser known events in Quebec’s history, that is the repression upon the movement of unemployed citizens in Montreal throughout the Great Depression. Coincidentally, March 2013 marks the 80th anniversary of the period’s most dramatic event, during which an unemployed man was killed by the cops during an unemployment protest.
A case of police impunity at the heart of the crisis in the 1930s
On March 6th 1933, unemployed worker Nick Zynchuck was gunned down by a bullet in the back shot by police office Joseph Zappa, in front of 3962 St-Dominique in Montreal, just as 2 000 citizens and neighbourhood residents attempted to prevent the eviction of the Wlostizozsk couple from their apartment. In 1933, at the peak of the crisis, thousands of renters were threatened with being kicked out onto the street. According to city councillor Jos Schubert, representing the municipal district of St-Louis, this context is responsible for the reaction on the part of Montreal’s working class to the Wlostizozsk eviction and to the death of Nick Zynchick.
Josée Legault March 27, 2013
Something is rotten in the realm of fundamental freedoms in Quebec.
Even abroad, many weeks were spent quibbling over a restaurant owner’s “freedom of expression” because the Office québécoise de la langue française (OQLF) would have reproached him his use of Italian words such as “pasta” in his menu, whereas the original complaint had been made about the English in his “English-Italian” menu that didn’t have one word of French.
However, when the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) decides to nip protests in the bud and, in so doing, to deliberately prevent citizens from exercising their fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, the government assents.
We can’t make head or tail of it.
One can’t help but notice that since the tabling of the Marceau budget – with few exceptions -, the government’s only “left” is its own gauche yoke of ill-advised political decisions.
It remains to be seen how far it will go to keep on alienating itself from the support it needs nonetheless from its allies and traditional constituents. Que sera, sera, as the song goes.
That it stands firmly behind an abuse of power that consists of aborting protests under the pretext that these do not respect a municipal bylaw otherwise contested in court and highly criticized, namely by the Barreau du Québec [the Quebec Bar Association], crowns this whole situation in a quite spectacular manner.
Anonymous March 25, 2012
Original French Text: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B2Sot5om4RWyWmI1S1plZXBRMGM/edit
1- The right to protest exists! The Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms, both documents that protect the fundamental rights governening relations between the state and individuals, guarantee the right to protest as it pertains to freedom of conscience, thought, belief, opinion and expression. These Charters also protect the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, which are the ways in which this form of expression manifests itself.
2- Police everywhere, trust nowhere! Transmitting the itinerary of a protest to the police implies a process of negotiation between the protest organizers and the police. However, it often happens – and this increases in step with the escalation of police repression – that the relationship of trust inherent in this negotiation is found lacking.
3- Why legitimize a negotiation process from which we will clearly emerge on the losing end? The refusal to submit an itinerary is a strategic choice, insofar as experience has shown us that the police will try to impose a route that would undermine the impact of the protest by preventing it from, for example, directing the procession through an important commercial artery or in front of a highly symbolic place, yet one that interferes too much with public order according to “officials”. Without an agreement, the police can even refuse to authorize the protest. Not submitting an itinerary is tantamount to refusing to acknowledge a process of negotiation with the state from which we will leave the loser.
August 27, 2012
Original French text: http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/2012/08/la-classe-denonce-la-repression-sur-le-campus-de-ludem/
This Monday, August 27, 2012, CLASSE denounces the rampant violence and police on the University of Montreal campus. Tens of thousands of students, notably at UQAM and UdeM (University of Montreal), refrained from going to their classes today in accordance with decisions made by their democratic assemblies. The application of these mandates was difficult at the University of Montreal, where the school administration applied Law 12, which restricts people’s freedoms of assembly, expression and association.
CLASSE takes this opportunity to remind people that the atmosphere on campuses was calm before the administration forced students back to class. Since the start of this conflict, the government has been pushing responsibility onto the police forces and university administrators. In the end, the students have withstood the blows, the fines and the cheap shots, while few elected officials have lent an ear to students to make their demands heard. “Thus, thousands of students have a good reason to want to continue this strike and repression has never been and will never be an acceptable solution,” says Jeanne Reynolds, co-spokesperson of CLASSE.
July 6 2012
Original French text: http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/353985/une-coalition-s-active-a-recenser-les-victimes-du-conflit-etudiant
A coalition has started compiling a list of victims of acts of political repression since the start of the student strike in mid-February.
The Ligue des droits et libertés (League of Rights and Freedoms), the legal committee of CLASSE (Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante / Broad Coalition of the Association for Student Union Solidarity), as well as the Association des juristes progressistes (Association of progressive lawyers) will collect testimony from persons who suffered police intimidation or brutality, or reprisals because they wore a red square.
Launched yesterday, the gathering of testimony will continue until August 13, even though CLASSE “foresees that the student conflict will last beyond this date set by the special law for the resumption of classes”.
The coalition is calling for all those who were “victims” or “witnesses” of “any police action, violent speech or physical act of violence, arrest, ‘kettling’, body search, search of personal effects, handcuffing, being photographed, questioning about your status or political opinions, detention […], being given a ticket for an infraction, enforcement of article 31 of the criminal code, a criminal charge or other [incident]” to provide their testimony on the web site of the Ligue des droits et libertés.
Those who received “directives” or who “were subject to reprisals or received disciplinary warnings in their workplace” because of their wearing the red square, as well as those who were restricted from access to public or private property, or who were denied service for that reason are also invited to share their stories.