All the Finance Minister's men

vieuxcmaq, Wednesday, November 8, 2000 - 12:00

Lyle Stewart (

Police target journalists and photographers during last week's demonstrations against the G20 in Montreal
by Lyle Stewart

For a moment, during Paul Martin's closing press conference of the G20 meeting at the Sheraton Centre last week, one could be forgiven for wondering whether our Finance Minister was living in a parallel universe.

"I wanted to tell you how much I am proud of Montreal," Martin intoned. "To the citizens of my city, I am very grateful for the welcome you reserved for the G20."

Out on the street, the few remaining protesters who had gathered under the banner of the G20 Welcoming Committee didn't quite feel welcome in the streets of their city. After close to 50 arrests, with many people beaten and bloodied by riot-cop batons and doused with pepper spray, with the frightening new use of mounted-police charges into crowds, there seemed to be little love lost between this institution of globalization and some citizens of Montreal.

But Martin - in the midst of an election campaign, after all - wanted to stay on message, and Montreal police did their bit to help him do just that. Several incidents during the protests last week point to a "systematic" campaign by MUC police to control the image of confrontations between police and protesters.

Pierre-Paul Poulin is a widely published photographer who snapped The Globe and Mail's Oct 24 front-page shot of heavily armoured riot cops sending a stream of pepper spray into a protester's face. While he was photographing the arrest of an activist later that day, he says, several cops jumped him, jabbing him forcefully with their batons and forcing him to the ground.

"It's very serious," Poulin says. "I have difficulty in moving, even sleeping. I feel very harassed."

Poulin says several cops told him "they're angry with what I did. It's like they have something against journalists or that we don't have the right to inform the public."

He may be right. The day before, when police used horses to clear a crowd from in front of the Sheraton Monday evening, Poulin was chased by a mounted officer whom he says shouted at him, "You like my horse? You're going to see him up close." The female officer then charged at Poulin, wedging him between two parked cars as he desperately pushed back at the horse's neck. "I shouted that I was a journalist and that she was stopping me from doing my work, but she just kept me squeezed in."

The effect, of course, was to limit his ability to document the police action or the methods they were using to disperse what was, with few exceptions, a peaceful crowd of about 400 people.

Hour photographer Benoit Aquin had a similar experience. Despite brandishing his journalist's credentials and accreditation for the G20 meeting the evening of the 23rd, he was detained for 45 minutes with a group of arrested protesters until a police van arrived to cart them all away. He was then told to get lost and that he would be thrown in jail if he returned to the scene. "I think it's systematic," says Aquin. "They make a perimeter and impede photographers from advancing when they arrest someone. It's obvious they're trying to make it harder for us."

The tactics are consistent with police actions at other protests in the year since "the battle in Seattle" became a catch phrase for clashes between activists and police in the streets during anti-globalization demonstrations. Police in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. have all attacked members of the press without provocation while sweeping up crowds of protesters. And it may be the shape of things to come: Le Soleil reported Sunday that Quebec City authorities are using what protesters call a "police riot" at the G20 to justify increasing the police strength dedicated to April's Summit of the Americas to 800, an unprecedented number for a Quebec City event.

For Montreal activist Jaggi Singh, the intimidating tactics are part of "the increasing criminalization of protest" and the control of public space. The G20 meeting and the protest it spawned was a relatively minor affair, he notes, making the overwhelming police presence completely out of proportion.

"There is a justification that they can use effectively by saying, We have to protect the lives of leaders,'" Singh observes. "But those horses have nothing to do with protecting the lives of leaders. This quintupling of police in Quebec City has nothing to do with protecting leaders.

"It would be much safer for them to have the Summit of the Americas at Mont Tremblant, Meech Lake or even 24 Sussex. But they're having these meetings in cities because it's a demonstration of their power, the fact that they control these public spaces, and that's why we have to respond."

Singh was himself arrested blocks from the Sheraton in the sound truck that provided loudspeakers for Monday's demo. After asking what he was to be charged with, Singh said the arresting officers told him, "Don't worry, we'll find something." He was eventually charged with unlawful assembly and participation in a riot after spending two days behind bars while crown prosecutors argued he is a "threat to public order."

Later, Quebec Court Judge Jean Locas denied bail to three protestors, saying the anti-G20 demonstrations were "antisocial" since the demonstrators allegedly targeted police, the "guardians of democracy." They remain locked up at the Bordeaux and Rivière-des-Prairies prisons.

Singh finally received bail that includes what he dubbed the "Popovic conditions," after the long judicial saga of activist Alexandre Popovic, who faced serious restrictions on his liberty while awaiting trial for protest-related activities. "They are extreme conditions that effectively keep me from protesting," he noted.

Singh's speech at the demo consisted of the "typical antiglobalization" rant that compared economic and police violence to the minor incidents of paint bombs and broken windows. That's what he believes the prosecution will focus on, but in the end, Singh muses, "What were they using to justify keeping me in jail? A speech."

And for the press corps, be it in Montreal or elsewhere, covering attempts to suppress free speech such as protests is becoming equally hazardous. What the public doesn't know about the state's treatment of its citizens, apparently, won't hurt them.

CMAQ: Vie associative

Quebec City collective: no longer exist.

Get involved !


Ceci est un média alternatif de publication ouverte. Le collectif CMAQ, qui gère la validation des contributions sur le Indymedia-Québec, n'endosse aucunement les propos et ne juge pas de la véracité des informations. Ce sont les commentaires des Internautes, comme vous, qui servent à évaluer la qualité de l'information. Nous avons néanmoins une Politique éditoriale , qui essentiellement demande que les contributions portent sur une question d'émancipation et ne proviennent pas de médias commerciaux.

This is an alternative media using open publishing. The CMAQ collective, who validates the posts submitted on the Indymedia-Quebec, does not endorse in any way the opinions and statements and does not judge if the information is correct or true. The quality of the information is evaluated by the comments from Internet surfers, like yourself. We nonetheless have an Editorial Policy , which essentially requires that posts be related to questions of emancipation and does not come from a commercial media.