Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Dave Kaufman

GET UPDATES FROM Dave Kaufman
 

I'm Not a Quebec Protester, But Police Assaulted Me Anyway

Posted: 05/25/2012 7:54 am

On Tuesday evening, just before midnight, I was assaulted by a police officer. No warning, no explanation, just a swift swing of a nightstick to the back of my leg.

It was on Rene Levesque Boulevard. I was walking west, away from the protest area, near the corner of Sanguinet. I was with one other person. Both of us are freelance journalists, and had been observing the protests from Ste. Catherine Street for about 90 minutes.

About a quarter of the way up the block two younger looking kids ran past us. Ten seconds later, we heard a police car pull up behind us. It stopped and two officers got out, wielding batons. Right away we moved to the edge of the sidewalk, assuming that the officers were about to give chase to the two that had just ran past us. We were mistaken. For reasons I still cannot understand, they charged at us.

"Bouge! Bouge! Bouge!"

Two police officers, both swinging their batons, were charging at us, telling us to run in the same direction we had been walking in. My colleague ran until the end of the block. Once he crossed the street, the officer stopped giving chase. The officer chasing after me threw me into a parked van. I bounced off it and started to run up the block, towards the officer, who had chased my colleague and was holding his ground on the corner.

I knew that as I ran by he was going to hit me with his nightstick. I felt like I was about to run a gauntlet.

As soon as I was parallel to him, he hit me in the back of my calf. I yelped, kept running, and crossed the street to relative safety. Just like that, they were gone. I didn't get a badge, a name, and their faces were a complete blur to me. It happened extremely fast.

There were other points in the evening where we were observing the protests and felt much more susceptible to danger than we had at that moment. It was an unprovoked attack on two innocent people walking on a (at that time of night) completely empty street.

This is Montreal under Bill 78.

I am not a student, I don't wear a red square, and I am not on strike. After four rogue protesters left smoke bombs in the metro, any public support of the "Maple Spring" was as good as dead. Public opinion was at a low, and it looked as if the movement would fizzle out. Then, the provincial government ratified a bill that is likely in violation of rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, like freedom of speech and freedom of association.

There was a peaceful rally on Tuesday afternoon through the streets of Montreal. Over 100,000 people marched, possibly more. There were professionals, retirees, moms and dads, immigrants and "pure laine," and Anglos and Francos. It was one of the single largest acts of civil disobedience in the history of our country.

It's a shame that so much of the rest of Canada doesn't understand that this is now an issue about basic rights in a democracy. There are several factors for this, namely that the people who make the most noise are usually the ones who get heard.

While a broken bank window makes for a great visual for television, it does not tell the
story. Watching some news channels one would get the impression that there are wild packs of roving students causing havoc all over the city. While I'm not everywhere, what I have seen seems more like a disproportionate response by the government to a public exercise in civil disobedience.

The police are not in a favourable position here either. They are overworked, underpaid, and are being asked to enforce a law that has done nothing but make their jobs harder and lives more difficult. That being said, both sides need to be held accountable for their actions. To paraphrase Rodney King, both sides need to find a way to "just get along."

And this is the biggest problem. The movement has degenerated into an "us vs. them"
mentality on both sides, and this leaves a potential for the strife to continue well after the dust from this conflict has settled. Our country has always been renowned for its tolerance and acceptance of differences, be them cultural, religious, or many things in between.

Both Quebec and Canada need to look to the bigger picture. This is not about the
$325 a year raise in tuition anymore. This is about the fundamental rights and freedoms that define Canada. The public response to Bill 78 is democracy in action.

For that Canadians should be embracing Quebec, not shunning it.

Loading Slideshow...
  • The clanging pots of student unrest that have rattled Montreal and Quebec City for several nights are coming noisily to life in other parts of the province. (Text: CP)

  • People took up the percussive protest Thursday night in several towns and cities including Sorel, Longueuil, Chambly, Repentigny, Trois-Rivieres and even in Abitibi -- several hundred kilometres away from the hot spot of Montreal (Text: CP)

  • They were still loudest in Montreal, where a chorus of metallic clanks rang out in neighbourhoods around the city, spilling into the main demonstrations and sounding like aluminum symphonies. (Text: CP)

  • The pots-and-pans protest has its roots in Chile, where people have used it for years as an effective, peaceful tool to express civil disobedience. The noisy cacerolazo tradition actually predates the Pinochet regime in Chile, but has endured there and spread to other countries as a method of showing popular defiance. (Text: CP)

  • Thursday's protest in Montreal was immediately declared illegal by police, who said it violated a municipal bylaw because they hadn't been informed of the route. They allowed it to continue as long as it remained peaceful. (Text: CP)

  • Although there was a massive police presence throughout the evening with the roar of a provincial police helicopter competing with the banging of the pots, there was little if any tension reported between demonstrators and police. (Text: CP)

  • People tapped the pots as they walked, the sounds mingling with shouts and chants. Others leaned out of car windows to bang their pans and one protester smacked a pot right in front of one police officer who looked on indifferently. (Text: CP)

  • Usually the nightly street demonstrations, which have gone on for a month, have a couple of vigorous drummers to speed them along their route. At the very least, someone clangs a cow bell. (Text: CP)

  • But in the last few days, the pots and pans protest -- dubbed the casseroles by observers -- have acted like an alarm clock for the regular evening march, sounding at 8 p.m. on the nose in advance of the march's start. (Text: CP)

  • While thousands, including children, their parents, students and the elderly, packed the streets in support, the Twitterverse exploded with reactions and observations. (Text: CP)

  • "Spotted a man in an Armani suit banging a pot," tweeted Christina Stimpson on one of Thursday's participants. "Feel the love people." (Text: CP)

  • Another man rolled a small barbecue through the streets of Montreal, banging the lid. The joviality was a far cry from late Wednesday when police decided to shut down a largely peaceful evening march after they said projectiles were thrown and criminal acts were committed. (Text: CP)

 

Follow Dave Kaufman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thekaufmanshow

FOLLOW CANADA POLITICS