June 10-11: Terrebonne – St. Janvier de Mirabel – St. Scolastique

Until reaching the municipality of Mirabel, the Peoples for Mother Earth had encountered no problems with any police; local or provincial. The march had passed through and stayed in scores of towns, and had no issues with local authorities even in pro-pipeline towns. Even in Montreal — where the police often appear more concerned with putting down protests than stopping crime — the march’s technically illegal protest saw absolutely no confrontation with the police. This all changed once the march reached Mirabel.

Mirabel is a town in the North Shore of Montreal, an area known for a high level of political corruption. The Charbonneau Commission, an ongoing inquiry into corruption in Quebec, has targeted the North Shore particularly strongly. Stories abound in testimonies to the Charbonneau Commission of North Shore politicians receiving brown envelopes stuffed with cash in exchange for political favours and contracts. The culture of the government, from the top to the bottom, is one of corruption.

The police are also famously aggressive in Mirabel. The march learned this quickly, with two separate stops within a period of a few hours on the first day’s walk from Terrebonne to Saint-Janvier-de-Mirabel. The first saw a police officer — heavily tattooed, built like a tank, hand on his belt beside his gun — attempt to tell the marchers that walking on the sidewalk was somehow an infraction. The officer could not wrap his head around the fact that no single person was responsible for the group’s decisions. When he finally proposed to allow us to keep on going, provided that the security vehicle drove ahead and waited in a parking lot, the marchers decided to take a vote on whether to listen to the police. The vote passed. A similar situation happened a few hours later, with similar results.

The next day, as the marchers made their way to St. Scolastique, one local marcher proposed a slight detour to Mirabel’s city hall. The mayor and municipal government are openly pro-Enbridge (as the march was now covering Line 9’s route, as opposed to Energy East), and have — according to those whom marchers spoke to door-to-door — ignored any dissenting voices to the pipeline. Because Line 9 is an already-existing pipeline — distinct from a prospective one such as Energy East — municipal governments along its route are already receiving tax revenue from Enbridge. In the age of austerity, city governments are increasingly starved for funds and unwilling to give up revenue — even if the long-term cost of that short-term revenue is astronomical.

As the marchers made their way to city hall, they were interrupted by a large contingent of local police. No less than five police cars actually stopped to speak to the marchers, and multiple undercover cars with light-reflective paint — as well as a paddy wagon, presumably meant for mass arrests — could be seen circling the area. The marchers were told that they could not set foot on city hall. They were once again asked “who is responsible here,” and once again gave the answer “everyone and no one.” Police attempted to ticket one marcher for posting a sticker on an Enbridge sign. They “escorted” the march to a park beside city hall, and then treated the marchers to a lengthy speech by a white-shirt officer in a position of authority. After a long delay, the white-shirt allowed the marchers to stand on city hall’s front lawn and take a picture. The mayor, by that time, had left.

The marchers, frustrated due to police harassment, left for St Scolastique. The next day would be better.