Critical mass arrest: Eyewitness account of Montreal police repression of monthly bike ride

| July 30, 2013
Photo: Justin Canning

If you don't know, the last Friday of every month, an event takes place across the world at the exact same time. This event is known as Critical Mass: a collective bike ride through major cities, riding for not only the rights of cyclists, but for alternative transportation, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.

It's an event that has taken place in Montreal every month for the past 20 years. A month ago we began preparing for July's ride, hoping we would see a few more cyclists out after the SPVM's huge crackdown on cyclists this summer.

The idea was we would promote Critical Mass as we usually do, but also mobilize cyclists together against the SPVM and their targets, traps and fines toward cyclists as a whole. With the popularity and collective dislike toward police -- after a cyclist was fined for warning others of bike traps -- we knew that there was a possibility of a larger ride this month.

I rode up to Square Phillips, which would, as usual, be the meeting point. I was overwhelmed by the amount of cyclists that had gathered, awaiting the start of the ride. We noticed a few bike police hanging around, and despite a small concern over their reaction, we disregarded their presence and focused on the mission at hand: bike rights.

It wasn't long before the ride began, exiting through the back of Square Phillips and back up toward St. Catherines; Critical Mass Montreal was alive, a large crowd of over 50 cyclists pedalling together. We turned onto Ontario at Berri, we took a sharp turn toward Rene Levesque, deciding that the Old Port would be our next destination.

One cyclist was stopped and ticketed near Papineau; this was where a Police Officer on bike, Daniel Theoret, whose reputation for violence extends far past manifestations, attacked a cyclist waiting for the other's release -- irreparably damaging his bike, the back gear being bent completely inward into the bike tire. This cyclist ended his ride there, unable to ride the bike any longer, walking it to the metro and back home. Unaware of the attack, we continued our journey up Rene Levesque, bells ringing and cheering from all around. The mood and atmosphere was extremely positive, as we laughed and cheered, tourists gazing on in confusion.

We made our way up toward Square Victoria, and then turned up Beaver Hall hill to go back toward downtown. Despite my concerns about the hill, and my overall general laziness when it comes to biking up hills, we moved forward, the group still laughing and cheering. A couple of us dismounted from our bikes to walk them up, as we all continued to move forward. I looked behind me, as I could hear laughing, and noticed a line of bike police had formed directly behind us. It was at this moment that one grabbed my arm, and the friend next to me. I had a feeling this would happen, so I didn't bother resisting or putting up a fuss. Almost a second later, intervention police pulled out from an alley, jumping from their vans and grabbing cyclists who were still mounted on their bikes pedalling forward. The cop who had grabbed me, and myself, both stopped and looked ahead. There were about to be injuries, we both knew it, and everyone on their bikes realized this. Some cyclists kept peddling, ignoring the numerous Intervention officers on foot, and moving forward. The police, confused, began chasing, running, grabbing, pushing and attacking anyone on bike.

Cyclists were being thrown to the ground, if not pushed then by losing balance and falling; bikes were hitting other bikes and other cyclists -- and the police showed no mercy. This was not a manifestation or protest, furthermore, it was not declared illegal, there was no route given, there was no problem with the route not being given -- the same event takes place every month without problems. No laws had been broken, nothing had been damaged, roads weren't even shut down and we had done nothing to provoke the police. None of us had seen the intervention vans, and the only police we were aware of were the few motorcycle cops and the few bike cops following us.

Regardless, Intervention had set up a trap in an alley on the hill and waited for us to pass before attacking. We were all handcuffed, our bikes pushed to the side, and each issued a 500.1 Ticket, at cost of $501 --others got minor infraction tickets for missing lights, reflectors and small things like that. And a few were arrested and taken away in police cars. We were surrounded by police, and after about thirty to forty five minutes, each escorted in separate directions away from the scene. Cyclists that were passing by, completely separate from the Critical Mass, and not associated with the event whatsoever, were stopped and ticketed as well. We reconvened later at Parc Emilie Gamelin, where the police had travelled to ticket any other cyclists that had not been captured at the intial arrest.

It was here that I was able to see the damages. Several bikes had been damaged. One cyclist's bike had been severely damaged, to the point he could not even ride it home. The front tire had been bent, and now wobbled. His pedals had been scraped and one would no longer securely stay in place; his handle bars had been gashed on one side and the bike's finish had been scratched. Other bikes had suffered less severe damage.

Many cyclists were bruised or cut from the takedown and everyone bared a ticket, if not several. Aside from that, a few others were biking down to Berri Square when a vehicle on the road had tried to hit one of them. The driver got out of his car, flagged down a Police Officer, telling him that the cyclists had hit his car. The group explained that, in fact, the driver had side swiped him; a passerby, a tourist, had come up and even told the officer she witnessed the driver trying to hit him, but the cop refused to believe the cyclists and witness and refused to offer any help assuming that those cyclists were apart of the Critical Mass.

These are cyclists who are not self-declared and publicly identified anarchists. These are people who participate in Critical Mass monthly, people who bike to school or work, who fight for rights for cyclists and some who just like to ride their bike, who were not involved in the student protests, some who have never been ticketed before in their life. These were not "hoodlums" and "troublemakers," and I found myself explaining how to contest a ticket to most of them, something that the rest of us are all used to after the student strike. A lot of them were so confused by the police attack that they genuinely believed it was not for them. They weren't resisting arrest, they were trying to get out of the way so the police could take down the bank robber that they thought they were trying to arrest. These people are not criminals, they're cyclists. Like anyone else.

So my question is, what the fuck was that about SPVM? No P6 tickets, no "this manifestation is illegal," just let's injure all of these people? And, furthermore, give them a 500.1 ticket, which is a traffic code stating that the accused was trying to block traffic with an obstacle, the same code that is currently being challenged for constitutionality in court. Wouldn't that suggest traffic was blocking traffic?

We are encouraging everyone who was fined to contest their tickets as a collective. The code in which we were fined is already being challenged presently in the courts, and this means that the traffic code may not even be considered an offence in a few months. Furthermore, we will continue Critical Mass, as we have for the past two decades in our city. The next Critical Mass will take place August 30 at 17h30, and we will all meet at Square Phillips as we usually do.

The abundance of stupidity that is the SPVM still astounds me. How long are we going to tolerate assholes with three years of CEGEP deciding who gets stitches that day and who doesn't? The police aren't ensuring safety by banning manifs, they are ensuring that anyone they don't like that day goes to the hospital.

Penalizing the public with fines and clubbing innocent people into submission is not the purpose of a police force. As a public we need to question the legitimacy of the thugs in uniform patrolling our streets.

 

Katie Nelson is a twenty-one year old Anarcho-Syndicalist, insurrectionist, and anti-fascist, organizing against neo-nazism and combating Police repression. She was raised on the Mexican Border in Texas, moved back to Alberta at eight years old, and last year moved to Montreal to support the student strike and never left. 

Photo: Justin Canning

 

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Comments

This report has convinced me to communicate this important message, particularly to those who have been ticketed in this shameful series of incidents.

Based on this report, it is clear that there were people in the group who are new to being judiciarised. It is vitally important that they be found and that every measure taken to prevent them from pleading guilty and paying the fine. They must contest, every last one of them, and not one must feel that things are so hopeless that this person gives up.

The tickets are complete nonsense. The offence on what really is an experimental traffic ticket never before decided in a court of law, is essentially the act of either 1) Being in the street, or 2) Placing a vehicle in the street as an obstacle or 3) Placing some other obstacle in the street as, 4) part of a proven conspiracy to block or interfere with traffic... that the intention be to block or interfere with traffic.

So they must not only prove that there was a plan to obstruct traffic, but as people were not in the street, they were using vehicles... vehicles that were moving, not placed, number 2 does not apply either. So there is no way I can see how the police and the courts can twist the law to win these cases here.

Moreover, this whole provision of the Highway Safety Code is subject to constitutional challenge, it was designed for truckers that blocked highways with trucks, and prosecutors presently don't want to touch such cases. So far it has been used against participants in normal street marches as well as a couple of bridge-blocking operations launched by students last year. In Montreal it was also used last year as a device to deter people from disobeying commands to go onto the sidewalks and stay upon them when they deemed that the crowd was insufficiently large to "deserve" to stay on the street.

Anyone who does not contest before 30 days has a strong possibility of paying a fine and then finding out that what they did is not considered by the courts to be an offence. This must not be allowed to happen. If there were people there confused, not familiar at all with this kind of situation, they must be helped. There is no other way. The last group to get 500.1 tickets of the types I described received them on 22 October 2012 for blocking the strategic Ste-Elizabeth Street artery (that was sarcasm) that later was shut down for over an hour by the police and my information indicates that most agreed to pay the fine. This is unacceptable.

I strongly recommend that measures be taken to organise everyone and inform them of these facts and organise meetings if required to provide the necessary support. That of course is not all. The police have clearly caused material damage to bicycles and have committed assaults against people. This should be not be allowed to pass without a response. I hope they are consulting with legal people to come up with the available avenues for doing what they can to bring justice in this case.

Thank you.

"after a cyclist was fined for warning others of bike traps"
As with warning others of speed traps, that's a crime. Reprecussions should have been expected. Don't get me wrong, I do very much enjoy this entitlement complex that seems to be common among cyclists in this city. You have two wheels and that makes you special, you're exempt from laws.



"This was not a manifestation or protest, furthermore, it was not declared illegal, there was no route given, there was no problem with the route not being given -- the same event takes place every month without problems. "

"These are cyclists who are not self-declared and publicly identified anarchists. These are people who participate in Critical Mass monthly, people who bike to school or work, who fight for rights for cyclists and some who just like to ride their bike, who were not involved in the student protests, some who have never been ticketed before in their life. These were not "hoodlums" and "troublemakers," 

"This event is known as Critical Mass: a collective bike ride through major cities, riding for not only the rights of cyclists, but for alternative transportation, environmentalism and anti-capitalism"

Look familiar? It's what you opened this very rant with. Sounds suspiciously like a demonstration to me, especially that anti-capitalist bit.

"and I found myself explaining how to contest a ticket to most of them, something that the rest of us are all used to after the student strike."

LOL? So which is it? You can't not have not been involved in the student protests, but yet, simultaneously be used to it due to involvement in the student strike. What are you suggesting anyway, that everyone should be profiled, and those who weren;t involved in the student strikes be given carte blanche? What of those who were? Why even bring up the student protests? Why is any of it relevent, many of the students protesting last summer were also neither self-declared nor publically identified anarchists (in fact, dare I say, most were self-declared social-democrats, the anti-thesis of anrchism), many have never been ticketed before either. 

Or are you suggesting that having no history of arrest, ticketing or wrong-doing should essentially exempt one from reprecussions? Bloody brilliant.

Also worth mentioning is you yourself fashion the event as having an anti-capitalist element to it. While I know that they're only loosely related, that there is a strong association between anarchism and anti-capitalism in the public mind is undeniable.

"it was not declared illegal, there was no route given, there was no problem with the route not being given "`

As you dont divulge until later on in your rant, these were 500.1 tickets for blocking/disrupting trafic. Conventions associated to P-6 don't apply.

"They weren't resisting arrest, they were trying to get out of the way so the police could take down the bank robber that they thought they were trying to arrest."

A police offer charges you for an arrest, and you don't cooperate, you're resisting arrest. Is it silly? Certainly. Is it the letter of the law? Certainly. Is there precedent? Obviously. 

"These people are not criminals, they're cyclists. Like anyone else."

Are you suggesting that being a cyclist somehow exampts one from illegal activity? What's "like everyone else" supposed to even mean in this context? I'm not a cyclist, I walk everywhere, and I also cooperate with police regardless od whether I think I'm innocent or not.
Do be sure to mention the imaginary bank robber when you contest your ticket, I'm sure it will brighten their day with a giggle.

"So my question is, what the fuck was that about SPVM? No P6 tickets, no "this manifestation is illegal,"

That's the fun thing about P-6. The declaration of illegality is not required to invoke it, it's a courtessy, and a chance for part-takers to disperse. Being so familiar with how to contest a ticket from the student protests (personally, I just read the back of the ticket and followed instructions, shocking, I know), you'd think you'd be aware as well of P-6's fun little intricacies.
This is of course academic and besides the point. None of you were ticketed for illegal assembly under P-6, but rather 500.1, for blocking traffic.

The important question is however, were you guys and gals cycling in the middle of the street? Were you respecting traffic signals? If the answers are yes for the former and no for the latter, then guess what, 500.1 applies, but do have fun trying to explain how by disrupting/blocking trafic you were in fact, not disrupting/blocking trafic.

It seems like you`re pissed off that rather than being nailed on P-6, you got nailed on something much more appropriate. Shocking, not to mention somewhat more difficult to contest.

"--others got minor infraction tickets for missing lights, reflectors and small things like that."

Interesting. So there were trafic violations and bicycle security code violations. But that's okay, you're cyclists, you're special.

"The police aren't ensuring safety by banning manifs, they are ensuring that anyone they don't like that day goes to the hospital."

Didn't you earlier in your rant insist that Critical Mass is in fact not a manif? But now it is. Interdasting. There`s no mention of any hospitalizations in this incident, you might want to tone down the hyperbole a notch, it tends to help with credibility.

Stavros wrote:
As with warning others of speed traps, that's a crime.

Bullshit.

Just like the rest of his comment.

 

Well, I certainly can't match witts with your well-crafted, throughly thought out and masterfully meticulous barrage of well-formed arguments, now can I, Mr. Spector?

Am I supposed to call you a poo-poo head or something now? You want to refute my comment, by all means refute it, but do try to be a teeny bit grown up about it and, oh, I don't know, elaborate on what makes it bollocks.

Click on the fucking hyperlink, genius!

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