As it was the last friday of the month, I decided to ride down to Philips Square to check out the monthly Montreal Critical Mass ride, which gathers at 5:30 and rides at 6pm. The sun was shining, and attractive Quebecois were going about their day, buying flowers from the kiosk in the square, going home from work and passing by, observing the growing crowd of cyclists. There was a guy in a Bush mask and a suit who riding with us, and two sisters, Fanny and Marion, had made stencils out of old t-shirts, and were handing them out to the assembled massers. I pinned one to my guitar case that said “vive le velorution”. Thought that was appropriate….(my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org)
We pulled out of Philips Square, about 40 cyclists, some with plants draped around their handlebars and some with papier mache palm trees. I think there was some sort of Earth theme going on, as it was Katrina- Climate connection ride, organized by the climate justice group Rising Tide North America.
A police car drove close behind us, announcing over his loudspeaker: Envoye En n’avance!! (Get going- get a move on….) (What a great name this would be for a new Montreal based bike direct action campaign along the lines of Times Up in NYC…..vous ecoutez les Montreal velorutionaires??)
Everyone was in high spirits, cruising down St. Katherine, exclaiming in French and English: “A qui la rue??? A NOUS la rue!!!!! and “Whose streets? OUR Streets!!”. The mood was light and people were chatting and socializing as we rode along. All of a sudden, word was passed forward that a woman was being arrested by the police. Everyone turned around and weaved back through traffic to see what had happened, and it turned out that the police had picked off a rider who was passing out flyers to passersby at the back of the ride. There was a crowd of shoppers gathered (as this was the main shopping district) and as the ride rallied around the woman being arrested, the police lunged for two more riders (who happened to be non-white) and threw them to the ground, knees in the back, arms wrenched behind them, simply for riding their bikes, and enquiring what had happened to the woman being roughly shoved head first into the police car.
In total, I believe that 3 people were arrested. The three were transported to the police station, and the rest of us rode on, sans police company. Many people on the street, and in windows above, waved and cheered, and later one guy in a Humvee yelled at us, “get a job!” We yelled back, “get a bike!” We ended up in a park, where we held a leaderless, mutually facilitated debriefing in a circle, consistent with the tradition of Critical Mass, where everyone shared their observations about the incident, and what was to be done about it.
Many thought that it was important to write to the papers about it and let others know this is happening.
I shared my experiences riding San Francisco Critical Masses almost monthly since 1997, and suggested ways to deal with police repression, as San Francisco, and most other masses throughout the world, have dealt with violence and intimidation tactics from police forces in the past.
A man from Winnipeg, Manitoba shared that the Critical Mass there was badly brutalized a couple months ago, with people being beaten as they were arrested, and then later while being held in jail. The next months ride swelled to 300 riders in protest. You can seen the video of the Winnipeg incident here.
And here I was thinking Canada was so progressive and environmentally friendly. Police, even in Montreal, are beating up peaceful cyclists riding lawfully and environmentalists speaking out against climate change.
Apparently, Montreal police are known for being aggressive, so watch out if you come to Montreal and want to ride a bike or speak out!
Those who witnessed this incident should speak up and protest these heavy handed tactics.
Envoye en n’avance!!!!