Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
Saturday, October 21 in Montreal saw a face-off between a shrinking coalition of religious conservative transphobes and a counter-protest in defense of trans youth. TL;DR: trans defenders won.
Called as a Canada-wide day of action by “1 Million March for Children”, with the group “Ensemble pour protéger nos enfants” (hereafter EPPNE; “Together to protect our children”) leading the Montreal event, it was the follow-up to the clashes on September 20th in front of McGill University. That day, an unexpectedly large crowd, mostly composed of Muslim families, with children holding signs reading “I belong to my parents” and shouting transphobic and homophobic insults, confronted an underprepared counter-protest and succeeded in marching through downtown Montreal, leaving trans defenders and their queer and antifascist comrades shaken.
EPPNE called their demonstration in front of 600 Fullum, the address of the Quebec Ministry of Education, to whom they address a series of demands concerning school curriculums that is but a pretext for seemingly limitless transphobia. We recommend checking out Montréal Antifasciste and P!nk bloc for more detailed perspectives on the developing political context, including the impact of war in the Middle East (it turns out the advocates of one genocide can be divided concerning another). This report-back will emphasize the tactical dimension of what we observed on the 21st.
The EPPNE protest was called for 11am, and the counter-protest was announced for 10, with the intention of occupying the area first. Predictably, it was barely past 8am when the dedication of a small group of early arrivals allowed us to claim the street in front of 600 Fullum and relegate the EPPNE organizers, who arrived at 8:15, to a patch of grass between the south side of the building and the bike path running alongside the highway. Dozens of police were already on site, and they cordoned off a segment of the roundabout at the bottom of Fullum with police tape to create a buffer zone between the two groups, informing counter-protesters that crossing the tape would be considered a criminal offense.
If we gathered in front of the offices housing the Ministry of Education, it was not as defenders of the education system, which, as a general rule, seeks to turn children of all genders and sexualities into docile subjects of settler-colonial capitalism, respecters of democratic authority, workers and consumers with the ability to ask questions but not too many. Rather, holding the space where the transphobes planned to be denies them the visibility they crave and demonstrates that we will stand in their way, wherever they may try to organize publicly.
Both sides arrived to a scene that had been covered in antifascist, pro-trans, and pro-Palestine graffiti the night before, with the ministry building, construction machinery and nearby walls bearing tags including “YOUTH LIBER(A)TION [&] TRANS LIBER(A)TION NOW!”, “Dykes for Palestine” and “Fuck transphobes”. Together with the rapid setup of five canopy tents directly in front of 600 Fullum, which would serve as a logistical base camp for the counter-protest and provide us occasional shelter from the rain, it could not have been more clear who controlled the space where the transphobes had intended to gather, or that our fight extends beyond the liberal defense of a tolerant social order.
Our numbers gradually then more quickly swelled as 10am approached. The arrival of a sound truck (a couple powerful speakers strapped to the bed of a pickup) helped to introduce a festive vibe. And newcomers were dispatched to one of two mobile units, color-coded pink and black (people with mobility restrictions or who just preferred to hang out around the base camp could do so).
One note concerning mass media cameras: a CTV News cameraman was spotted wandering the crowd in front of 600 Fullum, filming counter-protesters from close range. Guidelines published in the lead-up to the 21st had encouraged attendees to wear masks and watch out for mass media and livestreamers, but we’re not aware of planning around making sure journalists couldn’t freely explore our infrastructure, in areas where some people would be having private conversations or inevitably removing masks to eat or drink. Comrades took the initiative to confront the CTV crew and physically expel them after they refused a verbal request to leave. While banners and umbrellas can work well against media approaching our hard lines, we need to also be able to repel those who find their way into areas like those for welcoming newcomers. We think a team dedicated to this task is probably the best move going forward.
Around 9:30am, the pink unit moved north on Fullum to begin blocking the street at the top of the block, just south of Sainte-Catherine. They would hold this position, allowing new arrivals of our side to enter and denying entry to transphobes, for the remainder of the action. Because this intersection was the main access point for protesters who were arriving from Papineau metro or from street parking to the north, the pink unit blockade succeeded in turning away numerous anti-trans protesters, who left thinking the EPPNE protest had been cancelled or completely overwhelmed by the counter-protest.
Shortly after 11am, the black unit set off to try to make its way around the police lines protecting the anti-trans protest at the bottom of Fullum. After turning left on Ste-Catherine from Fullum, there was an altercation with a lone fascist wearing a t-shirt reading “Kill All Pedophiles”, who was knocked to the ground. About one-hundred-strong and protected by multiple side banners, the black unit moved two blocks west, then turned south on De Lorimier, before being blocked from turning east on René-Lévesque towards the EPPNE grouping by a line of riot police. For about 45 minutes, they held the intersection of De Lorimier and René-Lévesque, not able to advance closer to the transphobes, but blocking another possible access route from the metro to their gathering point, and blocking the way toward the Gay Village and downtown for any march (national 1MM4C organizers had called for marches at 1pm).
Outnumbered roughly tenfold under pouring rain, gradually being encircled by multiple groups of counter-demonstrators, and their march route to downtown blocked, the EPPNE crowd was visibly demoralized. Some vented their frustrations on their Facebook Lives, telling (and showing) viewers how much better organized our side was and reprimanding theirs for not showing up. One remarked on Whatsapp that their opponents were “only 0.33% of the population. But very smart and evil.” And we can only take that as a compliment.
Close to noon, the black unit met up with a group of reinforcements at the corner of Ste-Catherine and De Lorimier and set off again southward, with a plan. Upon reaching René-Lévesque, one contingent stopped and faced the line of riot police like before, forcing them to stay in place, while the rest of the group, about a hundred people, continued south, then cut east through the gap between two buildings. Despite these movements being slowed by some general confusion, the SPVM appeared completely on their heels for the first time that day, their plans for protecting the anti-trans protest at risk of breaking. Police vans sped around the corner, and a half-dozen riot cops moved in, shouting at the contingent to reverse course, as one made a show of loading his rubber-bullet gun and others brandished pepper spray. This intimidation succeeded in holding the crowd back for long enough that a number more riot cops and bike cops could arrive and form a proper line. Hopefully, these experiences with coordination in the streets will nourish our tactical imagination and help us prepare even better for next time.
The following map shows the final positions of the transphobes, counter-protesters and police:
Shortly thereafter, as the black unit regrouped on De Lorimier, word spread that EPPNE had called the dispersal of their protest, confirming their defeat by not even attempting to march and needing to instruct their attendees on safe routes out of the area.
There was so much going on in different places across the multiple city blocks spanned by the counter-protest on the 21st that it would be impossible to give a comprehensive account in one report-back, though we want to send a specific shout-out to everyone who ensured the delivery of food or served it and to everyone who held banners for hours on end.
While the logic of counter-protest can place us on the defensive, intuition tells us that we can move beyond a purely reactive posture — that we have something to gain — when we get organized on a basis of solidarity and put our faith in each other rather than media, law or the police.
Until next time,
– some anarchists