Oh, Quebec. At around 9:30AM this morning, 50 members of “Le Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU)” occupied the Scotiabank Tower in downtown Montreal for about half an hour. They made a lot of noise, and left a mess on the floor, exercising self-control and respect for others as we’ve long been accustomed to at Montreal protests.
The aim of the game was to “taxer les banques pour plus de logement social,” taxing banks to fund more social housing. Not that it matters what the cause is, given Montreal, but it’s a detail that shouldn’t be left out. (I suppose we wouldn’t tolerate the same level of “activism” from pro-pipeline or pro-free trade protesters, but I digress.)
I arrived at the scene a little late, unaware of what was going on, to discover twenty or so police officers (dressed in camouflage pants, naturally), and ten police cars decorated with the “Libre Négo” stickers that have become trademark of the current police protest against pensions, as I have detailed elsewhere.
Naturally, I asked one of the officers on the scene what was going on, and was met with “c’est une manifestation!” I asked if I could go inside, and was told that the police weren’t letting anyone in. As I turned away to try to figure out what was going on, I saw, to my amazement, that one police car was decorated with a FRAPRU flyer as well:
So, police officers, dressed in their striking gear, with their cars covered in the flyer for a protest, weren’t letting me inside the building being protested. For a moment, I actually wondered whether the police officers were the ones striking! It’s a completely ridiculous idea in a civilized society that police officers would be picketing a bank, but given the circumstances, it seemed natural. I turned around and asked the same officer if they were the ones striking, and was met with a stern “No,” and I realized than that the flyer on the police car was more likely the result of a particularly brave protester than a police officer showing solidarity with the cause, but the point still stands.
It says volumes about the state of Quebec civil society that a flyer protesting a bank and advocating for affordable housing appeared on a police car. It is but one among countless other flyers decrying the government’s amnesty measures. If the police union can compel virtually every officer to break the dress code and parade around with cars plastered in flyers over pensions, why not over affordable housing? If the police can protest an issue concerning public pensions, why not over public housing? Why not all issues? In my opinion, this is at the heart of the problem with protest culture in Quebec: once we allow individuals to block public space, and to infringe on our collective rights of movement and association, where can we possibly draw a limit? Last August, fireman trashed City Hall while the police looked on idly. Why should we expect anything more?
When the police are being societally disruptive, how can we expect them to keep order and prevent others from being disruptive? It seems hypocritical. It is. It seems like a silly way of organizing a society.