Most of us are tired of the student protest and aren't particularly sympathetic to claims by protesters that police over-reacted.
We've all seen the reports of anarchists bound and determined to confront police and the photos of billiard balls, rocks and pieces of concrete hurled at police. It's hard not to conclude that the demonstrators got what they deserved....but they really didn't.
Let me be one of the first in the blogosphere to assert that the police botched the job from A to Z and bear the major responsibility for the fiasco.
Those who've read this blog extensively might remember my characterization a while back of the Sureté du Quebec (provincial police) as a bunch of Keystone Kops.
I don't make this statement flippantly, it is based on my experience with the Montreal police and relationship with senior officers that helped me understand the difference between the two police forces, one a well-organized urban force, the other a bunch of country bumpkins.
There is a level of disdain held by the Montreal police in relation to the SQ that is never discussed in public. Quite simply, the Sureté is perceived as a bunch of hayseeds charged with patrolling provincial highways and the back roads of small town Quebec. All the major cities and towns of significance have their own police forces.
Before I get on the subject of the Victoriaville fiasco, let me say a bit about the Montreal police which will underscore the difference between the two organizations. The Montreal police may be the most experienced force in North America in dealing with public mayhem. I haven't looked up the statistics, but I'm sure you'll agree that there isn't another city with as many violent riots and demonstrations.
Years back, playing in a foursome at the SPCUM annual golf tournament, I was teamed up with a senior officer of the force's tactical squad, or as the public knows them as ...the riot squad.
It was quite an eye-opener, over the course of eighteen holes, he described the philosophy and tactics of his unit.
As Spock used to say...Fascinating!
First he explained to me that the tactical unit recognized that protesters had a democratic right to protest and that the unit was bound and determined to respect that principle. Once a demonstration gets out of hand, it is the police's responsibility to 'manage' the riot with an eye to maintaining public safety, including that of the rioters.
Believe it or not, in Montreal, professional rioters and police understand each others tactics quite well and generally demonstrations are dispersed with a minimum of injuries. In fact, it is the demonstrators, not the police who determine how far the violence will go.
Experienced anarchists and rioters are aware that once warnings are given to the crowd to disperse, there will follow escalating measures of force by police, as the situation deteriorates.
Those who are demonstrating peacefully are given every opportunity to leave the scene and those who remain understand that they are responsible for what follows.
Experienced officers and policemen is what makes the difference between a measured and reasonable response compared to a situation where inexperienced and under-prepared police wildly over-react.
So far this year, the Montreal police have 'managed' about 180 student demonstrations, of which around 30% resulted in law-breaking. Not once was there a complaint about police brutality or the over-use of force on a par with what happened with the one riot managed by the SQ in Victoriaville.
I'm no expert but looking at the situation and the pictures of the riot, it is clear that the SQ made serious and fundamental mistakes which led to the violent confrontation.
Now unlike student demonstrations in Montreal, where students march through the streets, the hotel where the Liberal party was holding meetings was clearly going to be a static clashpoint, something that should have worked to the SQ's advantage.
Think of it like soldiers protecting a castle in the olden days. All the police had to do was keep demonstrators from breaching the walls.
If police did their job, demonstrators would have been held at bay and while they'd be able to toss their various projectiles from a distance, not much harm would have come. Maybe a few windows would have cracked, but in the greater scheme of things, that's not such a big deal.
Look where they set up their defensive line, not twenty yards from the front door, much, much too close.
Look at the fence, it may as well have been a velvet rope at the Odeon, it's only four foot high and held together with plastic bar locks. Are they kidding!!!!
Look what happened when protesters approached the defensive line. MAYHEM!!!
What exactly did the police prepare for?
Some of the demonstrators told reporters that they were shocked at how flimsy and amateur the defensive positions of the police were.
The fencing material should have been at least six feet high and set out farther away from the hotel. Those who've attended an outdoor rock concert or a car race, are likely familiar with what a real crowd control fence looks like.
By placing a higher fence a little farther out, most of the problems would have been averted.
With a properly defined security perimimeter, all the police had to do was to protect the fence. By standing close to the fence on the inside, policemen themselves would have been protected from flying debris, which would sail over their heads falling harmlessly behind them.
Police could warn demonstrators not to touch the fence and could easily pepper spray those that defied the order.
Only those brave or stupid enough to attempt to bring down the fence would suffer the consequences and innocent and peaceful demonstrators could chant and scream from a distance.
The whole police operation should have been about defending the perimeter of the hotel, not wading into the crowd to brawl with demonstrators.
Had the police stayed within a well defined and protected defensive perimeter, none of the confrontations would have occurred.
Again, think of defending a castle with solid walls and a moat. Why on Earth lose the tactical advantage by leaving the safety of castle walls to venture out in the fields to battle the enemy?
In response to questions that the fence was too flimsy, an SQ spokesman unloaded this pearl;
"In terms of the fencing, a perimeter that is high and hard and impenetrable goes against the democratic right to protest," he said. " Link
That, dear, readers is the biggest crock of bullshit that you're likely to hear in a long time, a feeble excuse to deflect responsibility for failure to properly plan.
At the Summit of the Americas conference in Quebec City in 2001, police cordoned off huge swaths of the city, warning protesters that nobody would be allowed within these designated 'Red Zones"
The crowd control fences which I've described above were deployed and it seems that the SQ had no particular qualms about impeding the democratic right to protest back then.
Here is a picture of the formidable barrier put up in Quebec for that conference and look at the SQ officers using the exact same strategy that I described above, that is, defending the security perimeter from the inside of the fence.
Perhaps they should have set up a 'Red Zone' around the hotel in Victoriaville.
The peaceful demonstrators AND the anarchists came to Victoriaville to confront the Liberals and the police, either peacefully or violently. Left outside a well defended and sturdy barrier, they would not have embarked on wanton destruction, the proof being that there was little or no damage away from the hotel, despite the riot that actually took place.
This one planning error by the SQ led directly to the chaos that followed, the breakdown of the flimsy defensive perimeter set the demonstrators directly among the police. Once the barrier fell, the engagement was on and the police reacted out of panic.
But other mistakes were made as well.
First the command to disperse wasn't heard by the crowd, probably because it wasn't given loudly or forcefully enough.
Of the majority of demonstrators who came to Victoriaville, most were peaceful and given an instruction to pull back or face the prospect of being gassed, I have to believe that most would comply.
But that didn't happen and peaceful demonstrator after demonstrator claimed they never heard any police order.
Then a massive amount of gas was unleashed, incommoding many people needlessly and enraging others.
|I bet you didn't think plastic bullets were this big!|
The SQ was quick to say that they never targeted heads or torsos, aiming for the legs of demonstrators, but when people are on their knees, doubled over suffering the effects of the gas, heads and torsos are in prime jeopardy. When two unfortunate demonstrators received head shots (one leading to a lost eye), it was no surprise.
Readers, I'm not for a minute absolving the rioters of responsibility, many of the anarchist groups, including the Black Block, CLAC, PCR, UCL and the RRQ, came to Victoriaville expressly to confront police violently.
My only complaint is that police made it easy for them to achieve their goal, after all, it takes two to tango.
At any rate, the rioters erred badly in assuming the SQ was as professional as the Montreal police and were taken by surprise by the over-reaction.
Let us say that they played with fire and got burned badly.
I can't say that I feel badly for them but I do for the innocent protesters who were caught up in the something they didn't bargain for.
Here is my humble advice to the SQ.
|Read about the WaWe 10|
Plan better, devise better tactics and invest in non-lethal alternatives.
Never use plastic bullets, they are much too dangerous.
Here's a picture of Germany's new hi-tech water cannon, which would be particularly effective in Quebec, given the cold climate.
A good soaking takes the ardor and spirit out of rioters, especially on a cold night.
The machine is non-lethal, but can deliver a powerful stream of water that can stop protesters in their tracks and actually knock them back. It has a variety of settings and is highly effective.
Better this then plastic bullets any day!!
How about investing in a couple of hundred of meters of a state-of-the-art portable crowd control fence. It could have prevented the disastrous confrontation.
The fencing is a snap to deploy and creates an easily defendable security perimeter.
The SQ needs to amend its training, tactics and policy.
Today, they need to apologize to Quebecers for their pitiful performance in Victoriaville.
As for the rioters, they learned a valuable lesson about going up against an under-trained and over weaponized force.......Watch-out.
On the other hand, maybe I got this all wrong. There are those among us that are happy to see the demonstrators finally get their asses kicked so badly.
Maybe the SQ should be giving lessons to the Montreal police!.....dunno.