May 24 2012
MONTREAL - A peaceful evening march that began with people festively banging pots and pans in support of protesting students ended in the early morning hours with police kettling a crowd of demonstrators and arresting 518 people.
Montreal wasn't the only city to have roundups Wednesday night. There were also mass arrests at protests in Quebec City and Sherbrooke.
The Montreal demonstration was the 30th consecutive nightly march since the student protest against tuition fee increases began more than three months ago.
Wednesday night's protest was declared illegal by police the minute it was scheduled to start but was allowed to proceed for almost four hours before a line of Montreal riot cops blocked part of Sherbrooke Street as the marchers approached.
Riot squad officers had been marching on the sidewalk beside the front of the protest all evening. An order to disperse was given when it arrived at Sherbrooke Street because police had been pelted by projectiles and other criminal acts had been committed, Montreal police spokesman Daniel Lacoursiere said. The group had also apparently resisted going in a direction ordered by police.
Montreal police said those arrested could face charges under municipal bylaws or the Criminal Code.
As the march approached the line of police on Sherbrooke Street, other Montreal officers and Quebec provincial police riot squad members moved in to cut off the other three sides of the street, which at that point intersected St-Denis Street, a trendy avenue dotted with bars, restaurants and theatres.
Police charged the demonstrators, snaring them in a pen-like encirclement of grim-faced cops.
Some demonstrators reacted angrily to the tactic while others sat dazed.
The swift police action squeezed the mob together tighter and tighter as the officers advanced and some people begged to be let out, pleading they were bystanders. One photographer was seen to be pushed to the ground and a piece of equipment was heard breaking. Some protesters cursed and yelled at provincial police officers, who ignored the taunts.
Riot officers stood impassively around the corralled demonstrators, feet planted and batons clutched in gloved hands. On a nearby street, a provincial police officer was seen snapping a rod topped with the flag of the hardcore anti-capitalist Black Bloc and tossing it between two parked cars.
Police on horseback also provided reinforcement as officers sorted out the crowd.
The crowd was led away one by one to be handcuffed and sent for processing at a police operational centre.
Some demonstrators who had escaped the police cordon continued to march elsewhere while others milled about beyond the police lines and cheered as buses took the detainees away.
The mass arrests come after five days of escalation of violence and police response during the tuition fee protest which saw tens of thousands of people flood into the streets of Montreal on Tuesday to vent their anger against a special provincial law passed last week to tighten the rules for marches and impose heavy fines on offenders.
While there had been clashes at other points in the dispute, violence marked every night of the long weekend and the first part of the week.
Wednesday's demonstration looked as though it would break the pattern with an almost party-like atmosphere kicked off in many neighbourhoods by the supportive pot banging that continued in some cases as the demonstration passed by.
In recent days, the percussion-heavy approach has been happening every night at 8 p.m. in Montreal and each night it's become bigger and louder and lasted longer. Wednesday night, there were thousands doing it and they spilled out from their houses into the streets in different pockets of the city in crowds that included children, their parents, students and elderly people.
Large numbers joined the student march, which broke off into several splinters during the evening.