[Hpn] Montreal: Police crackdown begins

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sat, 10 Feb 2001 18:18:21 -0700


Friday 9 February 2001

Police crackdown begins


On Rue St. Jean in Quebec City on Sunday, three young people were arrested
by two plainclothes officers of the Surete Municipale. Their apparent crime?
Handing out pamphlets denouncing threats to our freedom of speech and the
unprecedented attack on civil liberties represented by the 5-kilometre
security perimetre being set up for the Summit of the Americas this April.

The Quebec police and Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier hastened to apologize and
explain away the "error" after the affair hit the city's newspapers. In no
way, they said, did they intend to limit the three young activists' right to
freedom of expression. The two officers simply misunderstood a municipal

You'll have to excuse my skepticism. The incident is one small part of an
escalating pattern of intimidation and harassment of activists planning to
demonstrate opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is to
be the subject of closed-door negotiations at the Quebec City summit.

In any case, the pamphlet affair is far from isolated. On Jan. 23, Quebec
police officers confronted members of the coalition Operation Quebec Prin-
temps 2001 while they were passing out the very same pamphlet in the city's
Place d'Youville. In a bizarre bit of legal reasoning, the officers told the
activists that any group of people numbering more than two would be subject
to arrest for unlawful assembly.

CSIS Making Rounds 

This paper broke the news Jan. 18 that Canadian Security Intelligence
Service agents have been paying visits to activists caught up in the MUC
police's mass arrests of demonstrators at the G20 meeting outside the
Sheraton hotel last October. Though they have yet to be convicted of any
crime (most of the 50 arrested are awaiting trial on the catch-all charge of
unlawful assembly, which is being challenged as unconstitutional by lawyer
Julius Grey), CSIS obviously considers their activism to be a security
threat. Indeed, it said as much in a report on the anti-globalization
movement released last summer. In this case, the spy agency refused to
confirm or deny the visits, but I've spoken to one activist who
tape-recorded his interview with the two agents who visited him at his

The RCMP is getting into the act. Social-justice organizations such as
Development and Peace (an arm of the Catholic church) and Alternatives
(funded by the Canadian International Development Agency) have reported
visits by RCMP officers asking what they were planning for the summit. Also
paid a call was Robert Jasmin, president of the Association pour la Taxation
des Transactions Financieres, who told La Presse he sees the visits as an
attempt to discourage political activity around the summit.

Call me naive. But I'm still disheartened every time I see our police and
security forces so willing to perform political repression at the behest of
the federal and provincial governments.

Learned Nothing 

The Chretien government has obviously not learned a thing from the long and
politically embarrassing inquiry into RCMP abuses during the Asia Pacific
Economic Co-operation forum in Vancouver just over three years ago. But
isn't there some officer down the chain of command who is willing to stand
up and say, "This is wrong. This contravenes the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms. This goes against everything that taking an oath to uphold the
laws of our land stands for." Indeed, is there no one in Jean Chretien's
cabinet or caucus with the courage to inform him that Quebec City is not
Qatar, the fundamentalist police state which will host the next meeting of
the World Trade Organization?

The Comite Populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which produced the pamphlets the
Quebec City police find so objectionable, is a 25-year-old group that
advocates on behalf of the homeless and for social housing, activity that in
the eyes of authorities now apparently constitutes a threat to national
security. Many of the group's clients live inside the summit security
perimetre and will find themselves displaced by the Chretien government's de
facto imposition of martial law. Thus, last Sunday, about two dozen members
of the group were staging street-theatre scenes in groups of three, each
with their own homemade "security perimetres," and distributing the famous

"It's very, very ironic," said Comite spokesman Nicolas Lefebvre Legault.
"The pamphlet talks about the right to demonstrate, freedom of expression
and the freedom of movement. The fact that they were arrested for
distributing this pamphlet tells us that we're not completely paranoid in
talking about attacks on civil liberties."

-    Lyle Stewart is a Montreal writer. His E-mail is

Copyright  2001 CanWest Interactive and The Montreal Gazette Group Inc., A
division of Southam Publications, a CanWest Company.

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