Montreal activists say a United Nations human rights committee report deservedly singles out Montreal police for large-scale arrests of protesters at demonstrations. And city officials and police can stop feigning shock.
"Montreal police are aggrieved when people go out to protest without their permission," says local activist Jaggi Singh. "People don’t need their permission to protest."
The report, released Nov. 2 by the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, notes close to 2,000 protesters have been arrested by Montreal police since 1999, more than in any other Canadian city. For instance, police arrested 243 protesters en masse at an anti-World Trade Organization demo in 2003, but 18 months later every charge was dropped. A "vast majority" of protesters see charges dropped or are found not guilty, Singh says.
"The State party should ensure that the right of persons to peacefully participate in social protests is respected, and ensure that only those committing criminal offences during demonstrations are arrested," the report says. "The Committee also invites the State party to conduct an inquiry into the practices of the Montreal police forces during demonstrations, and wishes to receive more detail about the practical implementation of article 63 of the Criminal Code relating to unlawful assembly."
Singh, a member of Anti-Capitalist Convergence (Convergence des luttes anti-capitalistes, or CLAC), says the UN complaint was initiated by local group Ligue des droits et libertés, but he was "indirectly involved" last year, providing the UN with an "activist arrest and trial calendar" documenting mass arrests and court cases. Singh says mass arrests began in Montreal around 1996.
At press time, Montreal police spokesperson Pierre-Paul Pichette was not available for comment. "To arrest just the one person throwing the rock is easier said than done," Pichette told the Montreal Gazette. Georges Bossé, the city’s executive committee member responsible for public safety, was reportedly furious that provincial Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis didn’t notify him of the UN complaints.
Singh says protesters have complained to city hall for at least five years.
"The report validates what protesters have been saying about these protests, that these mass arrests are essentially a tactic by Montreal police to prevent by fear the involvement of young people who take to the streets in protest," he says.