Emile Zola’s epic working class novel Germinal inspired a group that now has five members languishing in the Orsainville jail. After teddy-terrorist Jaggi Singh’s release on $3,000 bail, some people are questioning the continued imprisonment of the Germinal 5, Singh’s former cellmates.

The first thing Singh told the press after winning his freedom was that the charges against the five were “exaggerated” and “unfair,” and that their continued imprisonment was a “scandal.” He also said, “the arrest and imprisonment of the Germinal group are part of a police fear campaign timed perfectly to justify the repressive measures that followed [during the Summit protests].”

According to Germinal member Johanne Paquin, two activists hatched the idea for the group one evening over a beer. The raison d’être of Germinal has always been to attack the 3.8-kilometre perimeter built to protect government leaders from their own people. The wall was a “legitimate target” for the diverse collection of workers, students, feminists, communists and Quebec sovereigntists that make up the affinity group.

The surveillance and arrests of Germinal members Victor Quentin, Roman Pokorski, Alex Boissonneault, Mario Bertoncini and Serge Vallée were as bad as – if not worse than – the cloak-and-dagger tactics used in Singh’s arrest.

Singh was kidnapped by three undercover officers on April 20, thrown into an unmarked van and later charged with possession of a dangerous weapon and participation in a riot.

The Germinal group was the target of Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Sûreté du Quebec investigations since last December. Security forces even set up a phoney car-rental business for trips between Montreal and Quebec City. This business employed a group member. Two undercover agents infiltrated Germinal: one drove two members from Montreal to Quebec City.

According to group member Pierre-David Habel, one of the undercover agents encouraged activists to “arm themselves” and supplied “materials for shields, such as Styrofoam and adhesive tape.”

It was the alleged possession of such equipment that landed seven members of Germinal in jail before Quebec Summit protests even started. Two members were later released after signing a personal performance bond of $5,000. The seven are charged with:

  • conspiracy to commit mischief that could present a real danger to the lives of people;
  • possession of explosives with dangerous intent and;
  • theft and concealment of military equipment of a value less than $5,000.

Germinal members claim that the equipment they are alleged to have had in their possession was about as dangerous to the heavily armed and armoured Quebec security forces as the teddy-bear catapult allegedly possessed by Singh. The explosives police say were in the possession of those accused included smoke bombs (designed to produce a smoke diversion) and “thunder-flash” grenade simulators (essentially glorified fire-crackers designed to simulate the noise of larger explosions).

Police seized other items when they searched members’ apartments, including gas masks, shields and copies of the anarchist newspaper, Le Trouble.

As the Germinal 5 start their third week of imprisonment, they have yet to gain the kind of mainstream media attention that Jaggi Singh received. Still, protesters have been demanding their liberation at actions. One such event saw 300 people demonstrating outside of the Liberal Party of Canada’s $500-a-plate fundraising dinner on May 3, before Singh’s release. The protest was organized by the Convergence des luttes anti-capitalistes (CLAC). Free teddy bears were distributed with the slogan, “I can’t BEAR political repression.”

Most of the news coverage of the demonstration reported that participants shouted “Free Jaggi, trade Chrétien!” Yet other slogans were chanted, too:

  • Free Victor, trade Pettigrew!
  • Free Mario, trade Martin!
  • Free Roman, trade Tobin!
  • Free Alexandre, trade Rock!
  • Free Serge, trade Menard!

Support demos are now being organized for the five’s evidentiary hearing to be held on May 22.

David Bernans is a researcher for the Concordia Student Union, a part-time professor at Concordia University, a member of the bikesheviks vélorutionnaires and is the author of the forthcoming book, Con U Inc: Privatization, Marketization and Globalization at Concordia University (and beyond). He ran for the NDP against Finance Minister Paul Martin in the most recent federal elections.

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