Sixty-nine arrested in overnight riots; celebs take sides
Published Sunday, May 20, 2012 1:16PM EDT
MONTREAL - Police have arrested 69 demonstrators who participated in protests that began Saturday evening.
The arrests included 33 who were rounded up en masse, while the other 36 were arrested individually. Nine of those arrested will face criminal charges, including for assault against police, armed assault against police and one for arson. Police said that they uncovered a knapsack containing Molotov cocktails.
The protest was declared illegal at 9 p.m. for three reasons, according to Montreal police rep Yannick Ouimet; organizers failed to provide an itinerary of the protest, some involved tossed projectiles and the demonstrators marched against traffic on Ste. Catherine St.
Police tolerated the march, the 26th consecutive evening protest in Montreal, for several hours. Some protesters eventually smashed windows on police cars and city buses, others set fires at St. Denis and Ontario and erected barriers with construction material nearby.
At least three fires were lit by demonstrators after about 11:45 p.m. Saturday night.
"Many warnings were given to the protestors on the street last night but Montreal police let the protest go for a few hours after it was declared illegal," said Simon Delorme of the Montreal police.
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay appeared shaken when asked to address the riot at a special ceremony to celebrate the birthday of Montreal Sunday.
"If the citizens are taken hostage and business retailers are saying, ‘we're losing money,' and people from outside of Montreal and throughout the world are asking, ‘should we go to Montreal, is it going to be safe?'" asked Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
Saint-Bock Bar incident
In one altercation, police sprayed people on a terrace outside the Saint-Bock bar on St. Denis. The customers then rapidly fled, some ran, panic-stricken into the bar.
Some complained that the police response was unprovoked, but a video shot by a CTV Montreal cameraman (see videoplayer to the right) shows that officers responded after one was struck by a flying chair.
In the video, an officer standing at the bottom of a staircase appears to either be losing his balance or possibly avoiding projectiles as he staggers a few times. An individual on the terrace, wearing a long black-sleeved shirt, is then seen lofting a plastic chair, which squarely hits the same officer.
The police officers then moved forward toward the bar patrons spraying what is believed to be pepper-spray on those present, all of whom quickly dispersed.
A police official told CTV Montreal Saturday that they are investigating the incident to closely examine the events in sequence.
Martin Guimont, owner of the bar, complained bitterly about the events, which he said cost him $1,000 after patrons left with their bills unpaid.
"They decided to arrest people that were on the terrace and on the side of the terrace. So all the customers on the terrace are protesting, because they saw what they think is unjustified," said bar manager Nicolas Paquet.
"In my eyes, the police were violent and rough with the customers. All that for only one guy?" he continued.
Arcade Fire, Michael Moore, Xavier Dolan support protests
In New York, members of the Montreal-based rock band Arcade Fire wore the movement's iconic red squares during an appearance with The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live. Jagger wore a red shirt, but no red square.
Win Butler and fellow Arcade Fire members Régine Chassagne, Will Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury, Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld all sported the red patch that has come to symbolize the tuition hike opposition. Chassagne's was customized to incorporate a peace symbol.
A day earlier, players in Quebec's film industry, including filmmaker Xavier Dolan, were sporting them at the Cannes Film Festival.
Filmmaker Michael Moore also issued a statement in support of the movement over Twitter.
The computer collective known as Anonymous, believed previously responsible for taking down several websites, reiterated its intention to continue its attempts to oppose the tuition hikes through DDOS attacks, which are a massive number of requests designed to overwhelm a website.
Legal clinic plans to challenge Bill 78
One legal clinic has spoken out against the Bill 78 and plans to file a legal challenge against the legislation this week in Superior Court.
Marc-Antoine Cloutier of the Juripop Legal Clinic said that the law is too vague and might invite selective enforcement.
Cloutier said organizers cannot be blamed if their followers do not comply with instructions and that it's not necessarily even clear when a gathering becomes a political protest.
"How do you know if the organizers are getting their way or not?" he asked. "Who decides if the 50 people that show up are protesting or merely taking a walk? " he asked.
"The police say they will enforce the law with discretion. What does that mean? It leaves so much power to the police that it becomes confusing," said Cloutier, who said his group has received 170,000 endorsements on a petition opposing the law.
The CLASSE student group, which has been working with the lawyers from Juripop, once again denounced the law Sunday through its spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
"The law is leading a large segment of the population to support us, even if they don't agree with the student movement," he said.
Nadeau-Dubois acknowledged that the public is getting tired of the conflict but that the new legislation will not settle things down.
"It will not calm things. Once people realize that the law is a flop and has only provoked more protests, they will react more negatively," he said. "The law breaks a bond of trust between a generation and Quebec's democratic institutions. It's a scar that will take a long time to heal."
Scenes from the riot
The scenes in Montreal unfolded during a tense late-night march that, on several occasions, saw riot police use tear gas and protesters throw bottles and rocks.
Student protesters were joined by others spilling out of bars and clubs.
Together, they built the fires and cheered as the flames lit up the streets and sent plumes of black smoke billowing into the night sky.
A young woman, kneeling and handcuffed with some others who had been arrested and penned on a sidewalk patio, summed up the bizarre scene.
"I'm drunk! I've been on a patio all evening!" she told police, in an exchange caught on the live broadcast of Concordia University Television.
Some bystanders accused police of using excessive force on a crowd whose members were mostly peaceful. Riot police charged protesters and repeatedly warned that they would be incarcerated throughout the weekend unless they dispersed.
Montreal police spokesman Const. Yannick Ouimet said 69 arrests were made, including nine people who were charged with criminal offences -- five with armed aggression against police, three with assaulting police, and one with arson.
Ouimet said the rest were charged with bylaw infractions punishable by fines.
He also noted that officers recovered a bag containing several Molotov cocktails before they could be used.
Two police officers suffered minor injuries from projectiles and Ouimet said that one protester also suffered a minor injury while being arrested.
He said the property damage included two police cruisers that had their windshields smashed.
Police had declared the protest illegal from the outset and Ouimet said the growing crowd ignored repeated warnings to disperse.
"I think it was told about 50 times to people to leave the protest since it was illegal and that we were going to get out their and disperse the people and make some arrests and people still remain on site," he said early Sunday.
Just one day earlier the Quebec government passed emergency legislation designed to end the months of unrest.
Montreal police said they were still trying to figure out how to use Bill 78 without heightening tensions.
"We don't want to cause a commotion, we want to prevent one," spokesman Ian Lafreniere said Saturday afternoon.
But the new law appeared only to embolden protesters.
The chants from marchers were mostly directed at Premier Jean Charest and the police rather than the tuition hikes that first prompted the nightly marches.
At the same time, protesters were already finding creative ways around the controversial legislation.
In an attempt to avoid hefty fines, one prominent student group took down its web page Saturday that listed all upcoming protests. Another anonymous web page with listings quickly popped up in its place -- with a note discouraging people from attending.
The disclaimer is meant to evade new rules applying to protest organizers, who must provide an itinerary for demonstrations and could be held responsible for any violence.
The website also accepts submissions for future protests and suggests using a software that blocks a sender's digital trail.
In another online manoeuvre, the website for the Quebec Liberal party and the province's Education Ministry were down for most of Saturday in an apparent cyber attack.
While no one claimed responsibility, the hacker group Anonymous has taken an interest. The group wrote on Twitter that Bill 78 "must die" and later issued a video denouncing the law.
Bill 78 lays out strict regulations governing demonstrations of over 50 people, including having to give eight hours' notice for details such as the protest route, the duration and the time at which they're being held.
Failure to comply could bring stiff fines for the organizers, but the law could be difficult to enforce.
Protests like Saturday's have begun in the same downtown square at 8:30 p.m. every night for nearly a month. There's no clear organizer, and the protest routes have been determined by the marchers on a street by street basis.
Still, the law says student associations that don't encourage their members to comply with the law could face punishment. Fines range between $7,000 and $35,000 for student leaders and between $25,000 and $125,000 for student unions or student federations.
The City of Montreal also adopted a new bylaw Friday that threatens protesters who wear masks with heavy fines. Lafreniere said it gives police "another tool" to deal with the demonstrations. But it failed to deter dozens of protesters from wearing masks Saturday night, and police chose not to try to enforce the new law.
After facing heavy criticism from legal experts and civil liberties groups, the Quebec government took steps Saturday to defend Bill 78 by taking out full page ads in the local newspapers.
The headline read, "For the sake of democracy and citizenship."
An opinion poll released Saturday suggested the majority of Quebecers support the new measures. The survey, however, was taken before the specifics of the legislation were known.
With files from The Canadian Press