Setting "New Standards"
for Police Repression
International Socialist Review, June/July 2001
Although the full bill has yet to be tallied, people estimate
that the Canadian government spent upward of $100 million on security
for the summit, including 6,000 police, 1,200 army personnel,
copious amounts of tear gas, and a brand new set of water cannons
bought specially for the summit meetings. Sorete du Quebec lSQ)
inspector Robert Peoti, who was especially proud of the water
cannons, told the Montreal Gazette, "we saw what they could
do and we were impressed. They've proven so far to be very effective
in dispersing crowds of protesters who refuse to move."'
The perimeter fence alone cost $1 million. Cathy Austin, an assembly
line worker from Canada who attended the demonstrations, pointed
out: I was disgusted as a Canadian by what I saw. You could pay
for a lot of breakfast programs and textbooks with the money they've
spent on security. For protesters, the cost was more severe. Over
the course of several days, 463 people were arrested. Dozens suffered
injuries ranging from reactions to tear gas to wounds from plastic
bullets. One man required an emergency tracheotomy after police
shot him in the throat at close range with a plastic bullet. Recent
reports suggest that he may never speak again due to the injury.
Another demonstrator suffered from a broken orbital bone from
rubber bullets. Human rights observers from the Ligue des Droits
et Libertes (League for Rights and Freedom) who saw police use
a stun gun on one protester noted, "He was Iying in the street
and posed no threat." They also condemned police for directly
gassing people who were trying to help other injured protesters.
One legal observer reported police shooting gas at peaceful demonstrators
who were just sitting on the ground. They also were aiming the
canisters directly at people. It's deplorable. We've seen this
before and it can kill."
The Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU) has demanded
a public inquiry into the behavior of police, including their
excessive use of force and the health risks associated with tear
gas. Arthur Sandborn, president of the CNTU's Central Council
of Metropolitan Montreal, explained, "I was in Northern Ireland
in 1998 when the Orange Order tried to march through Drumcree.
I was a monitor behind British police lines and they used less
plastic bullets in a week than the SQ and RCMP [Royal Canadian
Mounted Police] in two days."
Even a Quebec government-appointed panel had to admit that
police used "abusive" amounts of tear gas on protesters.
The combined security forces reported using 4,709 canisters of
tear gas and 822 plastic bullets. In fact, authorities used tear
gas with such abandon that they had to order more from the United
States during the weekend protests.
The police combined mass teargassing with a program of targeted
repression against key militants and organizing centers. In an
outrageous act of brutal censorship, security forces raided a
popular, Web-based independent media center called CMAQ. Even
though the center had been largely open throughout the demonstrations,
police in full riot gear entered through the top floor of the
two-story structure and proceeded to charge down the staircase
firing rubber bullets. One man was seriously injured as a result
and spent days in critical condition in an area hospital.
The day before, Jaggi Singh-a leader of the Anti-Capitalist
Convergence (CLAC), which organized many of the direct-action
demonstrations-was virtually kidnapped by police dressed as demonstrators.
Singh was grabbed off a side street where he was having a conversation
with fellow activists and thrown into jail where he was held without
bail for 17 days. He was denied bail at his first hearing, where
authorities charged Singh with participating in a riot, weapons
possession, and violating the terms of his parole from a past
The charges were ludicrous. The "weapon" Singh supposedly
commandeered was a giant wooden catapult constructed to fling
stuffed animals across the perimeter fence to make fun of "Fortress
Quebec." Even though the people who financed, made, and used
the catapult at the demonstration-a group who wore pots on their
heads and called themselves the "medieval cluster"-claimed
total responsibility for the catapult, a judge refused to grant
Singh bail at his first hearing. The farcical proceedings were
only highlighted by the fact that on Singh's prior arrest he had
been charged with assault for yelling so loudly into a megaphone
that he supposedly damaged a cop's eardrum.
Those arrested faced a different kind of brutality. Many were
forced to sit on buses for up to 10 hours with no food, water,
or access to a bathroom. More than 200 protesters were taken to
a prison with only two showers, where they were forced to strip
naked in public and wash off the tear gas. After protesters were
"decontaminated," many were forced to share cells with
one single bed for five people. Chip East, a New York-based photographer
on assignment in Quebec for Time magazine, described conditions
in Orsainville prison:
This prison is disgusting I was made to walk barefoot through
two inches of water back and forth from an interrogation roam
six times. It reeked of urine and there were bits of food floating
in the water.. I've spent time in Third World countries and in
war zones where conditions were better
In fact, East had recently returned from the Middle East.
The Montreal Gazette reported that "East was arrested inside
the security perimeter, despite the $10,000 of camera equipment
wrapped around his neck and his accreditation from a number of
news organizations in plain view, East was kept in solitary confinement,
and charged with numerous crimes. Public Security Minister Serge
Menard gave the entire security team a big pat on the back:
We have shown that we are a very democratic country. I think
we have established new standards in Quebec of the way democratic
police must conduct themselves in such circumstances.