Sunday’s C.R.A.P. demo

Par P.A. Sévigny le 19 mars 2009

rjg09-1503-Demo10.jpgLast Sunday afternoon, only minutes after they began to gather in front of the Mount Royal Metro station, Montreal’s CRAP (La Coalition contre la Repression et les Abus  Policiers ) lost no time as they began  to pick their annual fight with city’s police. Only weeks after pro-Gaza mobs took over the city’s streets on several occasions during the latest Arab-Israeli conflict, hundreds of Montreal police had to spend most of the day playing cat and mouse with hard core gangs of self-described anarchists who were doing their best to tear their way through the streets of the downtown core. While no one was seriously injured, early estimates report well over $200 000 of damage was done to both public and private property. At the end of the day, police made 39 criminal code arrests for assault, vandalism and assorted weapons charges. Another 189 municipal tickets for illegal assembly were issued to various people.

 “Why did the city allow this to happen in the first place?” asked one paint-splattered policeman. “This isn’t free expression…this is nothing but a bunch of a—holes breaking up the city.”

rjg09-1503-Demo09BW.jpgThe trouble started shortly after the STM (Société des Transports de Montréal) closed down the city’s orange line to prevent the mob from using the metro as an escape route. While only a few hundred protesters were milling about in the Mount Royal metro station, police dressed in riot gear formed a line across the street to prevent the protesters from going east into the Plateau district. Even as CRAP organizers continued to maintain the demonstration was supposed to be a protest against police brutality, several members of the mob were doing their best to provoke the police and cause an incident. The police remained silent and continued to maintain their discipline while their faceguards were being covered with spittle as people screamed filthy epithets only inches away from their face. As usual, female officers were singled out for the most abusive language but they held their place as did everybody else along the line. For such a spontaneous demonstration, more than a few observers weren’t surprised to see a box full of fruit and vegetables suddenly appear on the street only twenty feet away from the police. While protestors in the front lines provided a convenient screen, others behind them began to throw garbage along with a few rocks and bottles at the police. Tomatoes followed by rocks and bottles began to fly through the air but, apart from a few shots of pepper spray to encourage the more vociferous core to keep their distance, the police didn’t budge and the crowd began to move west towards St. Denis Street. As the crowd headed south, experienced observers began to notice more and more people coming out of the side-streets to join the march as it made its way towards Sherbrooke. There were no police in sight and some journalists in the crowd said the stores along St. Denis Street could be in for a bad afternoon, giving rise to a serious class action lawsuit against the city of Montreal. Luckily, nothing happened but many of the marchers were turning their ‘hoodies’ inside out to confuse police observers and photographers while others were rooting through garbage cans looking for bottles and other suitable missiles to throw at the police. 

While turning his own jacket inside out, ‘Joe’ said he was having a great time. After earlier pelting the police with tomatoes in front of the Mount Royal Metro station, he tried to beat up an old man who was peddling Marxist pamphlets before joining the crowd heading down St. Denis Street. In Montreal’s contemporary fractured street French, he told The Métropolitain he had nothing better to do and he liked the action “when things get hot”. When asked what he did for a living, he said he was a cook in Father Emmett ‘Pops’ John’s youth shelter on Ontario Street.

Once the crowd hit Sherbrooke and St. Denis, another police line formed blocking the way down St. Denis where the crowd could have done some real damage. While there was no direct confrontation, someone tossed some ‘thunderflash’ fireworks at the police after which they fired the single plastic bullet which fractured a pane of glass in a door frame only five feet away from where The Métropolitain was standing. While everybody was kept busy at the intersection, more than a few gangs broke away from the crowd to make their way across St. Louis Square towards St. Lawrence and Sherbrooke where they re-grouped. That’s when the trouble began to get serious. While there was no critical mass of rioters, separate gangs began to tear their way down Sherbrooke Street towards McGill while doing as much damage as possible. Beer bottles began to fly, pedestrians were jostled, man-handled and pushed out of the way while Styrofoam coffee cups full of paint were being tossed against the police. While bins full of garbage were being set on fire, beer bottles tossed against plate glass windows were usually ineffective until some of the protest’s hard core developed the city’s newest low-tech offensive weapon. Usually, an empty 1.5 liter bottle of beer isn’t worth much more than .20 cents at the corner store until a few guys piss in it, fill it, cap it and toss it through a tinted plate glass window at which point the bottle is worth a few thousand dollars in property damage. As if Québec’s UQàM hasn’t got enough problems, the ‘people’s university received all the mob’s attention as ‘loaded’ bottles were tossed through more than a few of the multi-storied building’s plate-glass windows. 

A police helicopter kept the whole downtown core under observation but the hard core was moving too fast for the police to organize any coherent action to prevent further damage. It soon became a case of ‘hit and run’ as police and firemen were forced to stop and deal with one mess as the instigators were sending each other text messages to meet up at another location for more trouble. Police kept playing cat and mouse all day until the instigators finally made a mistake and began to regroup around the intersection at Bleury and Ste. Catherine Street where there were few alleys, a massive fenced off construction site and no exits. Lines of police in riot gear formed up across every possible exit and it wasn’t long before they moved in to arrest everybody in sight.

As he watched the police began to round up all the people they arrested around the intersection, senior citizen Robert Côté wasn’t impressed. 

“It’s hard to believe how the city can permit this kind of thing to happen year after year,” he said. “This never used to happen in my day. Now it happens all the time and the rest of the country thinks we’re crazy. No wonder this place is such a mess.”

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