Canadian police surrounded an annual protest against police brutality in Montreal, arresting 288 people before the demonstration had barely started.
The police claim the protest was illegal as the participants did not warn the authorities of their itinerary.
Montreal’s 18th annual protest against police brutality was cut dramatically short Saturday when police rounded up the participants. Minutes into the demonstration, riot officers converged on Jean-Talon Street and began detaining protesters. According to protesters there was a strong police presence, with police horses, cars and a helicopter on the scene.
— TVA nouvelles (@tvanouvelles) March 15, 2014
“It was a veritable army of police ... who occupied the area surrounding the Jean-Talon metro when the protest was to start,” the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality, which organizes the annual protest, said in a written statement issued after the protest.
Police declared the demonstration was illegal and asked the protesters to disperse. However, the activists carried on marching, brandishing banners and chanting slogans, such as “They want us to respect them, but they don’t respect us!”
La cavalerie du SPVM est sur place en prévision de la manifestation contre la brutalité policière au métro Jean-Talon pic.twitter.com/KIrJjrk3eH
— alexandre touchette (@alextouchette) March 15, 2014
Riot police then encircled the protesters and began making arrests. The majority of the 288 people who were taken into custody were released shortly afterwards, but four people may be charged under the Criminal Code for assaulting an officer and obstructing the police. Several others could face charges of mischief.
One man sustained injuries to his face during the police intervention and was tended to by paramedics on the site, said officers.
“They refused to share their itinerary, and they refused to give us any details. When we got there, we asked them not to jump onto the street, and they answered by going into the street and yelling at us that they were not cooperating,” police spokesman Ian Lafrenière said. He added that the protest has a bad reputation with the authorities and on previous occasions the demonstrations had descended into violence and rioting.
— Elizabeth Laplante (@ElizLaplanteTVA) March 15, 2014
However, activists had a different version of events and have accused the police of lying about the protesters’ activities.
“It looks good in the media — the police can say (all of these) people were arrested, were breaking windows and stuff, but it’s not true. They were doing nothing,” Claudine Lamothe told the Montreal Gazette.
The Collective Opposed to Police Brutality has staged a protest in Montreal every year for the past 18 years. This year the focused their protest on the issue of “social cleansing” where the authorities try to “get rid of people who are deemed unwanted,” the group writes on its website. The group cites an incident in January when an unnamed Montreal police officer threatened to tie a homeless man to a lamppost in temperatures of minus 30 if he did not move along. Following the incident, Lafrenière told the Montreal Gazette that the officer had been reprimanded for his “unacceptable” behavior.