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