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Judith Lachapelle April 29, 2013
Caption: The maple spring left deep wounds, according to the report entitled Repression, Discrimination and Student Strike
Besmirched freedom of expression, excessive use of force, police impunity, political profiling… The bond of trust between a segment of the population and law enforcement and police was broken over the Spring of 2012, according to a new analysis report obtained by La Presse.
The 48-page document entitled Repression, Discrimination and Student Strike was jointly drafted by the Ligue des droits et libertés, the Association des juristes progressistes and the Association pour use solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ). It will be made public on Monday during a press conference in Montréal.
The three organizations have collected 274 testimonies from individuals who claim to have been the object of either intimidation or police brutality, of detention or accusation, or who have suffered discrimination because they wore a red square, throughout the maple spring’s student uprising.
The authors are worried. “It is extremely dangerous for freedom of expression or for the right to peaceful assembly, that this oppressive tendency towards the criminalization [transl. note: in French, there is the term “judiciarisation” that has no English equivalent, that implies a social phenomenon of appealing to the judicial system to solve problems that could potentially be solved otherwise. If you know of a fitting English word, please email us!] of the social contestation be a permanent fixture here in Quebec.”
In fact, they observe, “the repression is so vast, the arrests are so numerous, the attitude of the police officers is so scornful and brutal that a segment of the population is now straight out afraid of going out in the street to protest in support of their opinions and their dissent.”
The situation is even more troubling, according to Lucie Lemonde, a Political Science professor at UQAM, due to the fact that a large proportion of the population does not realize the scale and impact of the authorities’ actions. “What I found most surprising was that people found what happened normal”, says the coordinator of the report’s editorial board. “What was being said was “Yes, it’s ok to arrest people heading to Île Sainte-Hélène because they are wearing the red square”. It was shocking that such massive arrests were made and that it didn’t bother anyone.”
The analysis is focused on the breach of trust towards authorities. Several witnesses expressed “resentment towards the police in general and their unprofessional attitude that shames the profession.” Witnesses bring up several occurrences when the police “ridiculed”, “despised”, “insulted”, “humiliated”, having not used overt physical violence towards them.
Various abuses of power during detention were reported, such as gathering personal information that is not obligatory to divulge as well as taking photos of the detainees, even in the case of a municipal bylaw or a highway security code offence. According to the law, taking photos is limited to Criminal code offences.
In fact, very few people (under 1 on 7) were accused of criminal offences. The majority of those arrested were done so by virtue of certain “vague” dispositions in bylaws, underlined the authors, leaving the police with great discretionary powers.
Thus many testimonies underline the police’s confusion at the time of arrest. One witness recounted that once, at the police station, “the inspector was still wondering what accusation he could bring against [the detainee]”. In that way, many received a ticket for having “crossed the street at a red light”, “loitered”, “spat”, “emitted an audible noise”, or for not having walked on the sidewalk.
Why this barrage of tickets? According to the authors, it suggests that “the primary goal was to control the identity and the movements of people and to prevent them from joining a protest.”
For some people, it worked: several witnesses say they remain afraid to this day to participate in a protest. “Yes, it left wounds, says Lucie Lemonde. But it also radicalized some people.”
The report wraps up with seven recommendations, including holding a public inquiry into the police’s work and into the infringement of freedom of expression. It also recommends that all accusations brought by virtue of municipal bylaws and of the highway security code be dropped (but not those by virtue of the Criminal Code). It asks also that a “civil, transparent, impartial and independent mechanism” be implemented to investigate police abuses.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.