From No Borders Media (Facebook)
Over one-hundred protesters gathered in east-end Montreal earlier today, to express opposition to the government-imposed pandemic curfew as well as to highlight measures to combat the pandemic rooted in solidarity and support for the most marginalized of society. The demonstration, which successfully marched through the streets of Hochelaga, emphasized the cruel negative impacts of the curfew and related police harassment on the homeless, sex workers, drug users, undocumented workers and others.
The demo organizers — an ad- hoc group called Pas de solution policière à la crise sanitaire / No police solution to a health crisis — emphasized that the protest was in favour of COVID-19 mitigation measures, but rejected the curfew as authoritarian and detrimental to an effective pandemic response. The organizers also made a point of rejecting the involvement and presence of anyone associated with far-right, anti-science, conspiracy theorists, highlighting instead a social justice-rooted pro-science approach to the pandemic (exemplified by one sign at the protest reading: “pro-science, pro-mask, pro-vaccine, anti-curfew”).
There was a large police presence at the demo, including riot police in full gear who were deployed despite the demonstration being family-friendly and respecting health measures. Protest organizers provided masks to participants, and protesters practiced physical distancing. Still, at the beginning of the demonstration at Place Valois, riot police wrongly detained one man for allegedly not wearing a mask; the man was not part of the demonstration, and was clearly in distress while waiting for a friend in the public square. Masks are not required outdoors in Quebec during the pandemic, unless participating in a demonstration, which is an irony for many protesters who prefer masks at demos anyways. Another man was improperly detained by riot police for not wearing his mask properly (it was briefly under his nose), and was not given a chance to correct it before being marched away by an entourage of riot cops.
These two detentions (and likely resulting tickets at the cost of several hundred dollars) were just more examples of the structural inability of the Montreal police to exercise the “discretion” and “good judgement” that Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, Quebec Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault and Quebec Premier François Legault naively think they do. During the pandemic, Montreal police have ticketed homeless persons for alleged health violations, and during the curfew they have asked to illegally search essential workers, as well as rejecting clear documentation from other essential workers that they can travel to-and-from work and issuing $1000+ tickets. The riot police also evicted a homeless camp in Hochelaga (Campement Notre-Dame) back in December. There are likely many more cases of police abuse during the curfew, and the pandemic in general, that have yet to emerge. The structural police abuses highlight again the necessity to Defund The Police — particularly a police force that has normalized showing up to social protests in full riot gear — and instead allocate resources and funding to health, education and social services.
Despite the police actions, today’s demonstration was successful. In conjunction with public statements by Montreal organizations in opposition to the curfew, and a press conference to denounce the curfew this past Monday by several community organizations, the protest was a modest first step towards taking up more public space — as a movement that is for social justice and pro-science — to oppose authoritarian measures like the curfew while promoting solidarity-based solutions to mitigating the pandemic. It’s a positive step away from the far-right, anti-science conspiracy theorists who are oblivious to social justice and solidarity, and perhaps a small step towards future strategic curfew defiance, if the curfew is extended later into February.