Government leaders, police chief denounce sacking of city hall
Published Tuesday, August 19, 2014 11:32AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 20, 2014 7:21AM EDT
Public figures throughout Quebec are standing up to denounce the ransacking of Montreal city hall by firefighters and their supporters.
Union leaders, provincial politicians, and the chief of Montreal's police force say the actions of union workers upset over contract negotiations and proposed reforms to pensions were unacceptable.
On Monday evening hundreds of firefighters stormed city hall, rushing past security guards and charging into council chambers as councillors were about to begin a session.
The protesters pelted councillors with water, stood on desks with raised banners, and chased Mayor Denis Coderre from room to room.
Councillor Karie Boivin-Roy was hit on the hand by a water glass as she fled council chambers.
Bunch of savages
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre called the protesters "a bunch of savages" and said he wants to know who was responsible.
"I want results. Period," he said.
He has met with the chiefs of police and the fire department, as well as the city manager, and demanded a full investigation. He also expects to get results quickly.
Coderre said he expected people would be suspended -- at a minimum.
"We have enough picture and video to know who was there. All the options are on the table, even to lay off people for their behaviour," said Coderre.
Coderre admitted he was angry about the protest, but said it went beyond an attack against his person and became an attack against the public.
"This is an attack on democracy. This is not an attack on Denis Coderre, this is an attack on our institution," said Coderre.
Councillor Marvin Rotrand was disgusted by the protest and said the demonstrators were thugs.
"The whole tone was, it was like a mob in here, we don't care about democracy, this isn't a negotiation, we're thugs basically and we're going to impose what we want," Rotrand said.
Councillor Lionel Perez said protesters forgot that elected representatives are chosen by citizens.
"We may have disagreements on any number of policy issues but violence and intimidation is not the way to go," said Perez.
"Mayor Coderre has indicated he will not succumb to intimidation... He will defend Montrealers."
Throughout police officers stood by, turning their backs as masked protesters plastered the exterior walls of the building with stickers.
On Tuesday morning Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau said that lack of action by police was "inexplicable."
He said that the provincial government would not be intimidated by acts of violence, and that democratic institutions should be protected from the assaults, intimidation, breaking and entering and other criminal acts committed by union workers and supporters Monday evening.
Moreau demanded Montreal's Police Chief Marc Parent step up and explain why police officers stood by as firefighters ran wild.
Police Chief 'disappointed'
Hours later Parent did that, saying he did not approve of what happened and promising the violent protest and police inaction would be investigated.
"I'm very disappointed in the events of last night," said Parent.
"I cannot help but notice that there were shortcomings in the security at the city hall. Of course, video surveillance at the city hall have been recovered. And members of the city hall and some elected representatives have already been met last night and we will keep going in our investigation for the future about what happened yesterday."
Parent also said that officers made a mistake allowing protesters to enter the building.
"Outside you were able to feel the tension and also the atmosphere. So we should have changed our strategy to let people in, because we let 250 people get in and then it’s very hard when they are inside, it’s very hard to push them out after they are in," said Parent.
However Parent said despite what happened, he believes most police officers do good work.
"What we saw yesterday, it is not, let me say, generalized with the majority of our police officers. And we cannot say also that all the police officers last night did a bad job."
Police forces across Quebec joined the chorus of condemnation, with the Quebec Municipal Police Federation (FPMQ) issuing a statement to that effect.
That group staged a peaceful protest on Tuesday morning in Chateauguay, outside the offices of Minister Moreau.
Meanwhile a union chief representing other police forces across Quebec stressed that his own forces would make their voices heard in a different fashion. "We think there's a way to send out our message without breaking anything. For us it's really important so what happened yesterday is not the way we work," said Denis Cote of the Quebec Federation of Municipal Police Officers.
Those sentiments were echoed by another union chief: “In no way does the CSN support, or approve of yesterday’s actions,” said CSN Vice President. Francine Levesque.
Union retracts 'call to war' statement
Hours before the protest Marc Ranger, spokesperson for the umbrella group representing all unions involved in the Bill 3 dispute, said that union members had to be careful not to lose public support, saying unions "need to be careful the way we choose to make this battle, not to lose public support.
After seeing video of the mess left after firefighters trashed city hall, Ranger said the protest was too much.
He also retracted a comment he made last week saying the unions were ready to go to war.
"When I said last week that we would put more pressure on the government that is not what I meant," said Ranger.
Firefighter union chief appeals for calm
Later Tuesday afternoon Ronald Martin, President of the Montreal Firefighters Association, issued a press release appealing for calm and denouncing “a few ugly incidents.”
The union chief also asked union members to remain calm while a parliamentary commission starts its work on Wednesday. The firefighters will table their brief on Thursday.
Martin also blasted elected officials for “tossing fuel on the fire.”