200 arrested in protest against police brutality in Montreal

Mar 15, 2009 09:59 PM
Jessica Murphy

MONTREAL–Vandalism, a series of skirmishes and about 200 arrests marked a tense anti-police brutality demonstration in Montreal on Sunday.

Police said 48 of the people arrested were charged with criminal offences, while about 150 others were charged with alleged violations of municipal laws.

Bricks, bottles and food, including bananas, were pelted at police, while protesters also launched fireworks into the sky early in the march.

Garbage cans were set on fire and postal boxes were knocked over as several hundred people, some wearing masks, turned out for an annual event that has seen violent clashes between police and protesters in years past.

At least a few hundred officers, many in full riot gear or on horseback, played cat and mouse with the demonstrators, who tried to destabilize police by breaking up into smaller groups and heading off in various directions.

Organizers had refused to give the route of the demonstration to authorities.

"At the end of what was a peaceful march, there was violence and vandalism," said Montreal police Sgt. Ian Lafreniere.

"People weren't arrested (at the beginning) because of what they looked like but because they were carrying weapons, like sticks and things they could throw."

Two police officers were slightly injured. One was hit in the arm with a brick, the other was injured when he fell, police said.

Ali Hamam, whose building was damaged in a melee that resulted in police releasing tear gas, was critical of the police reaction.

"The protesters could have tossed chairs and tables but they were mostly peaceful," he said.

"I want the city to calm down these protesters (and get) more security from police. They (the police) are looking for trouble and they want to show off. Maybe they could go a little easier on these things. Everybody's allowed to protest."

Most of the 48 people facing various criminal charges were to be arraigned Monday, police said.

The Montreal march, which has been held for about a decade, has turned violent in recent years. Last year, more than 40 people were detained, while upwards of 370 were detained several years ago.

There were fears this year's demonstration could have been one of the most violent because it was the first since police fatally shot 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva last August.

Some protesters carried placards bearing Villanueva's image.

In preparation, police had warned downtown store owners to be cautious and advised the media beforehand they would do their best to ensure the security of the public and the protesters.

On Saturday, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay said he hoped the demonstration would remain peaceful and that he had confidence in the city's police force.

Organizers said before the protest they did not want violence but that they could not control everyone.

"We want people to understand that the police try to discredit us so our message doesn't get heard," said Pierre Francoeur, the spokesperson for the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality.

"The goal of this protest, and what we've been saying for years, is to denounce the fact that there's been 43 police-related deaths since 1987 (in Montreal)."

William Sloan, a lawyer who regularly attends the anti-police protests, said he hoped the march's message wouldn't be drowned out by news of the clashes.

"The police want to start something, they want to provoke and some youth will take the bait," he said.

"But the goal of the protest is to make noise. Because police brutality, police racism, and the silence of our elected officials with regards to these issues, those are the problems. We need to complain and to complain out loud."