As footage of Tibetan and Chinese police and security forces using excessive force and violence against protesters in Tibet have sparked worldwide attention, it seems our own police forces have been taking discreet lessons from their Chinese counterparts, judging from the events that occurred at the annual May 1st International Worker’s Day demonstration, in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district.

The demonstration, which drew in as many as 800 people including some from Sherbrooke City, Drummondville, Trois-Rivières, Valleyfield, Sainte-Thérèse and Ottawa-Gatineau, was the culmination of efforts of nearly twenty community groups, popular fronts and other leftist organizations, including the Revolutionary Communist Party, Anarkhia, NEFAC, PINAY, the Center for Philippine Concerns, and others (complete list below), and was attended by people of all ages, from toddlers and their parents to elderly activists and supporters.

The demonstration began with a jovial, almost celebratory expression of solidarity with workers around the world, particularly those who suffer the most barbaric exploitation and oppression. Several speakers addressed the gathering crowds at Place Valois, on the corner of Valois Avenue and Ontario Street, speaking about various topics, from rising housing costs to imperialist wars to the deadly occupation of Palestine. All the while, police kept their distance, forming a ring around the surrounding streets as they usually do at any public event, particularly events involving “radical leftists.”

At around 6:30 the assembly began to make its way on to Ontario Street itself, in preparation for the long march towards downtown, finally getting underway a few minutes later. Again, the crowd maintained a peaceful demeanour, and as the march passed through the tunnel between Moreau and Lespérance, spontaneous yelling, hollering and laughing erupted, reverberating off the walls and creating quite the calamity.

As the march made its way down Ontario Street an incident occurred in which two self-proclaimed Neo-Nazis began taunting and provoking the demonstrators. Anti-Fascist/Anti-Racist activists in the demonstration confronted the two young adults, and a short scuffle lasting no more than 30 seconds broke out before those guys understood that it would be better for them to leave. The march continued however, the demonstrators showing their solidarity against intimidation from far-right extremists.

A few minutes later, however, as the demonstration made its way across D’Iberville Street, things began taking a turn for the worse. Those at the rear of the march began hearing the steady drumbeat of a line of riot police slamming their batons against their shields in unison. Those at the front also saw a chilling sight; a line of riot cops blocking their way.

As the bulk of the demonstration made its way past Parthenais and towards De Lorimier, the police made their move. At first their was only shouting, and the sound of pounding feet; the demonstrators at the rear barely had the time to look around before the police had caught up to them, pushing, shoving and hitting anyone within reach. An elderly lady was knocked to the ground in the flurry of batons; children screamed in terror as their parents desperately tried to run with them out of harm’s way.

There was no escaping, however. The line of riot police had halted the procession at the Avenue Des Érables as the riot police in the rear pushed up to Parthenais, closing off any avenues of escape, and just as soon as this realization occurred to the demonstrators, clouds of pepper spray began raining down on men, women, and children alike.

The crowd erupted into screams of terror as parents desperately tried to escape with their children and as others were shoved to the ground and beaten with batons and kicks. A middle-aged woman managed to escape, sobbing and in a daze. A young mother and her 4-year-old daughter were next, both of their eyes red from exposure to pepper spray and both in a state of terror. A young man broke free of the trapped crowd and began yelling that he had been assaulted, punched and beaten by police. As he went from officer to officer, trying desperately to report the crime, the irony of it became overwhelming; what can you do if you were assaulted by a police officer? He was laughed at by the police at first, but after it became clear he was not going to leave without an answer, he was attacked by three policemen and forced to flee.

The rear police line finally withdrew, allowing a tiny space through which the protesters were funnelled. Desperate to get away, most took the opportunity, but as the procession began trying to flee through this brief window, they were attacked again.

At first, as demonstrator after demonstrator was grabbed by the police and dragged off from the rest, it appeared as though arrests were being made. However it soon became apparent that incarceration was not important that day; those dragged off received beatings from groups of up to a half dozen police officers before being picked up and thrown back towards the terrified crowd. A young woman who had brought her dog to the march was surrounding by officers for several minutes as she desperately tried to shield her pet from the repeated jabs, punches and kicks. Inhabitants of the neighbourhood began to gather at this point, several yelling at the police for their brutality, particularly against the elderly and the children in attendance. Several of them were also assaulted.

Finally the majority of the demonstration made its escape south along Parthenais, quickly followed by the riot squads. Several people were left there on the ground, as passersby scrambled to help them up and check if they were okay.

As the police chased the demonstration along Parthenais, more people were grabbed, dragged behind police lines, and beaten in the middle of the street. One young man suffered this as his friends looked on, yelling at the police and begging them to stop. Eventually they did, and continued their chase, leaving the victim to be helped up and led away.

By the time the demonstration reached Logan Street, another line of riot police were waiting for them. Another attack forced what remained of the marchers to split into three directions, riot squads heading after them. What followed was nothing less than a complete rout, as stragglers, individuals, in pairs, or in small groups, scattered throughout a dozen or so blocks, were continuously harassed until finally the march had dissipated entirely. At this point, bystanders lined the streets and assembled on street corners, or hung out of their windows. Some quietly discussed what had occurred; others mockingly raised Nazi salutes to the police as they passed by. Everyone, be it those involved in the demonstration from the start, or those who witnessed the police assault, was in shock. Nobody had expected such violence; indeed, this is the first time in recent memory that the police have been this aggressive and this violent, especially towards peaceful protesters.

According to Police reports after the demonstration, which were made primarily to several mainstream media outlets, the Police acted in response to “violence.” What they fail to mention, however, is that the most vicious assaults occurred on demonstrators at the very rear of the march, who were two blocks away from the incident with the Neo-Nazis when it occurred and in most cases had no idea that the incident had even taken place. It is also not mentioned that Police riot squads were shadowing the march from behind for several blocks before this incident occurred, nor does it mention that of the approximately 800 demonstrators in attendance, scarcely two dozens were involved in the scuffle. Lastly, the Police made it clear that they believed the march would attempt to barricade the Jacques-Cartier Bridge (sic), and had deployed riot police near De Lorimier Avenue to “intervene” to prevent that from happening.

With all that occurred leading up to the incident it is clear that the Police had already put into motion the assault on the demonstration, and are now attempting to brush the entire incident off as just another “violent riot” which Montreal sees plenty of, instigated by “rebellious street punks” and “troublemakers.” In the end, it is perhaps fitting that in response to Neo-Nazis taunting and threatening the demonstrators, the Police chose to attack old men and women and children rather than act against the aggressors who provoked the scuffle.

We must not let the events of May 1st 2008 slip into vague memory. While the major media in this nation has chosen to ignore and sugarcoat these events despite the fact that their cameras and reporters were there, those who attended, and those with the strength of conscience to recognize injustice, must not allow this brutality to be swept under the rug.

Let’s remember also the bold and enthusiastic participation of more than 800 people in this anti-capitalist demo. The unions were saying that it was impossible to mobilize the workers on a weekday. The success of the demo proved they were wrong. In fact, it proved that there is a huge potential for a broad anticapitalist struggle. Expectations for May 1st 2009 will now be higher than this year. The anti-capitalist and revolutionary forces must prepare themselves for this important moment.

– From our correspondent

The groups responsible for the organization of this event were : Anarkhia, Apatrides anonymes, Association irrationnelle pour un Québec libertaire, Carrefour Québec-Cuba, Cellule rouge de Drummondville, Centre for Philippine Concerns, Immigrant Workers Centre, Comité BAILS (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve), Comité des sans-emploi Montréal-centre, Comité pour un Secours rouge canadien , La Pointe libertaire,Observatoire de l’Asie centrale et du Moyen-Orient, Organisation populaire des droits sociaux (OPDS), Rvolutionary Communist Party, No One is Illegal – Montreal, PINAY (Filipino Women’s Organization), Solidarity Across Borders, Union Locale de Montréal -NEFAC-, Unité socialiste des IranienNEs à Montréal.

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