Montreal Food Revolt Spills Into Courtroom

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 8 Dec 1997 09:52:07 -0800 (PST)


FWD from a-infos news service 21-8-97
From: Bernard Cooper <bernard@infobahnos.com>

MTL'S RESTAURANT ACTION billed "the unthinkable" by media

-Injustice system speaks of "leaders", "violence" and "professional
agitators," imprisons activists & begins laying charges.
-On Friday, two of the 108 arrested refuse draconian release conditions
and remain in prison.
-Trials for Yves Manseau and Alexandre Popovic, the
two political prisoners,  set for December 16 and 18.

Last Wednesday's food-grab action in Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel is
making waves. When some 120 poor Montrealers decided that hunger and
poverty was too much, that charity was too condescending, and then
proceeded to pillage an expensive buffet restaurant, the authorities
clamped down massively. The police's dirty campaign to make us look
violentand led by "professional agitators" is so far proving rather flimsy.

Since Wednesday night: who was released when:Late on Wednesday Dec 3
comrades that had not been arrested, as well as
friends and relatives, came down to police headquarters where the 108
arrested were being interrogated and processed. Around 10 pm, three
minors were released. Then some of the 35 or so women were
let free. They were greeted by a solidarity vigil that was some
40-strong at midnight. The vigil did a lot to keep morale high, as the men and
women still  imprisoned next door in Bonsecours prison found out about our
presence. Despite our being told otherwise by the police, most of the
prisoners were not released
in time to catch the last metro (subway) around midnight.

By 5 am Thursday morning, 104 had been released. 48 of the 105 adults had
no accusations against them as of yet. The others were indiscriminately
charged with robbery, mischief, and conspiracy to rob (complot pour vol).
They are to reappear in court in early February 1998. No release conditions
were imposed on these people. This was not the case with the remaining
four. Jean-Francois Delisle, Yves Manseau, Alexandre Popovic and Luc
Brisebois were singled out, either because of previous entanglements with
the law, or because the authorities needed to finger "leaders".

By Thursday noon, the four were brought before a judge, and only one of
them (Delisle) agreed to the following release conditions: along with
notifying the court of any change of address, they had to stay away from
the community centre that houses the Comite des sans emploi de Montreal
centre (Committee of the unemployed, the organizers of the action) for the
duration of the judicial process; to not communicate with any of the other
three accused; to not organize or participate in any action.

The remaining three prisoners refused these harsh and unusual release
conditions that amount to punishment before even a trial let alone a
conviction. The prisoners were then taken to a prison far away from
Bonsecour prison in Old Montreal. Again on Friday, they appeared at the
courthouse to review the situation. Our lawyer, Pascal L'escarbeau (who is
working pro bono (no charge)) did his best to have the men released
unconditionally. He asked why was there a focus on these four, who for now
are accused of the same things as the other 57 or so persons released
unconditionally?  The prosecutor also had to admit that the hotel's
management had not pressed charges against the activists. Witnesses were
called to testify that the community centre, the Comite Social Centre Sud
at 1710 Beaudry street, was not the Headquarters of the Revolution.

The rest of this pre-trial hearing focused on whether the unusual release
conditions were justified. The day wore on as the hearing brought out the
political content of the situation. Our lawyer asked
how did these men posea threat to public security. Were they dangerous or
violent? On this key question the prosecution seemed to waffle: the
conditions were not for public security, but one of the accused had said in
jail that the actionswould multiply and grow in scope and effect. The
prosecutor then contradicted himself by saying that public security
was at risk. As for more serious charges, the prosecution claimed that
they intend to chargesome of them with assault. To overdramatize, the
prosecutor impressed upon the judge how the courtroom is filled with activists
who refuse to stand when he enters the room, but when the accused enter,
they stand, giving clenched-fist salutes.

The judge offered to Alexandre Popovic and the two others the same release
conditions save one: he could go to the community centre. He refused, and a
trial date was set for December 16. Luc Brisbois accepted the release
conditions, but only until December 16, when he would reconsider the
situation. The prosecutor immediately pounced on this to inquire what was
so special about the 16th. Were there other actions in the works? Yves
Manseau's hearing was cut short by the judge, who was growing visibly
impatient with the political overtones being heard. Rather than let Mr.
Manseau call witnesses and be given the same consideration as the previous
two accused, the judge simple told him the new conditions. Puzzled at why
he'd been denied the right to be heard, Manseau did not accept the release
conditions. His trial was set for December 18, and he was led off to the
prison at Riviere des Prairie. At this point, one of the activists in the
audience shouted out (in English) to the judge something along the lines
of: "this court is an instrument of injustice! ..you are condemning us to
poverty..." She refused to sit down, or to be quiet. The confrontational
atmosphere was heavy, and security personal began moving towards her. The
prosecutor wanted the room evacuated immediately, and the judge demanded
that she sit down and be quiet, or else the room would be emptied. The
activist did not stop, and the hearings in court room number 5 came to an
end in this defiant and tense atmosphere.

We also organized a press conference that afternoon.  We denounced the
attacks on democratic freedoms, the situation with the comrades still in
jail, the campaign of lies saying that we used violence, and the
shortcomings in press freedom when the police can seize a station's
footage. One station put the story first on the 6 o'clock TV news. It was
an unusually sympathetic take on the situation.

We also called on other organizations in Quebec and Canada (and elsewhere)
to show their solidarity. To all those individuals and organizations that
have called, faxed and e-mailed words of encouragement and support, we
thank you, we thank you for your solidarity and eagerness to bring about a
more egalitarian society.

Our action has received considerable print, radio and TV media attention.
Initially it was presented as "the unthinkable happened today in Montreal",
a mob action done by "Leftists" and "the work of professional agitators".
CBC news even fell for the police ruse of saying Alexandre Popovic is the
"leader" of the Comite des sans emploi: "it's leader, Alexandre Popovic,
has become a frequent guest in Montreal's jails..." Anyone familiar with
community groups and radical activism should know that our activism
develops our ability to take initiatives and function more autonomously.

The alternative weekly press covered the action more thoughtfully, however
they were going to press late on Wednesday, so the coverage was spotty.  In
Hour, Carl Wilson described the event as "elegantly performed -smooth,
almost giddy- until police arrived. the "self-service squad" was in and out
of the dining room in minutes..." A second piece, more op/ed, was written
by me in the Mirror.

The respected French daily Le Devoir focused on the police seizure of video
footage from a Montreal TV station, saying this is a violation of
journalists' freedom. A call-in radio show midday Thursday discussed the
action for an hour. The callers were on the whole either sharply divided,
(with perhaps a small majority sympathetic to the means undertaken) or they
were torn in their feelings. In this sense, the action has been successful
in getting large segments of the population to think about poverty issues
more fundamentally, and it also brought ideological and class differences
closer to the surface. Undoubtedly, such a brief awakening of a potential
citizen-impulse and conscience will be quickly lulled back to sleep with
the larger current of consumer and media noise and dross.

If there is one thing that is clear for most of us, it is our determination
to continue our struggle. This action has once more helped galvanize the
radical and anarchist community, and even though we are materially not
rich, we form part of a network of talented individuals. Hunger is easy to
politicize, and attacks on our hard-won social services will not go
unchallenged. The privatization of social services would not be happening
if they were really controlled and run by citizens in their communities.

In the months ahead we will undergo more trials, andthere will be more
public debate and action. We would like to know of similar types of
actionsin other cities. The fight continues. Sack the rich!

     ****** A-Infos News Service *****
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