Monday, May 14, 2012

Quebec Police Responsible for Victoriaville Fiasco

There's a lot of discussion these past days over the riot in Victoriaville two Fridays ago and whether police used excessive force. The Montreal Gazette tried to dissect events in an extensive article on Thursday of last week and while describing events quite accurately, failed to critique or offer any conclusions. Link

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.

The starred numbers in the map above represent flashpoints where police battled rioters.
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!
At this point the police had pretty much lost any tactical advantage and  unleashed  plastic bullets into the crowd, another tragic mistake.
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.

A little more planning, a little more creativity and a lot less violence, is what was called for.

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.


  1. 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.
    Change from within?

  2. So after over 50 years since the death of Duplessis, the SQ are still a goon squad.

    On the other hand, you previously wrote about the Montreal Police goading the people of colour in Montreal North and other surrounding regions, yet this time you praise them for their experience handling crowds.

    I'm glad the Montreal police handle crowds better thanks to proper fencing, but it's hard not to look at them with disdain when they pick fights with certain ethnics to prove someting or other I cannot identify.

    I think you should take a stand on the matter--one way, or the other.

    1. "I think you should take a stand on the matter--one way, or the other."

      There's no contradiction, the Montreal police are good at on thing, bad at another.

  3. Editor,

    Following your logic, it is then my fault if I choose not have fence around my house, a burglar comes, and I break his leg with a baseball bat.

    Instead, according to you, it is my duty to install high enough fence (even though my neighborhood is usually calm and peaceful), invest in expensive security system, and not to hit the burglars with hard object. Maybe a pillow is good enough for you?

    And, to top it off, I must do it not for my sake, but for the burglar's sake.

    If my assertion is wrong, kindly let me know where it wrong since that is the impression that I get from this piece.

    1. I think that most people think of the police as "us", and of the protestors as "them", but the editor seems to be saying that both the police and the protestors are "us". Therefore, the police, having the monopoly of power, must exercise discretion in their role if unnecessary violence is to be avoided.

      Exemples of such discretion given by the editor are : an easily defended perimeter well-away from the entrance of the sensitive location, not using overly dangerous weaponry, clear orders to the crowd to disperse. None of which was done by the SQ at this protest.

      The fact that the crowd initiates the violence is a bit of a distraction - if the police doesen't do its job right, then perhaps it retains moral higher ground, but you still have damage to property and human beings that could have been avoided. As the editor points out, the majority of protestors in a protest are peaceful and simply exercise their democratic right of assembly; but agitators ruin it for everyone.

    2. Yannick,

      I believe in the Castle Doctrine. I also believe in individual and group rights as long as such rights do not infringe to the rights of others.

      In case of Victoriaville, it was a private event (the QLP is a private entity) conducted at a private space. Once the hotel declared that its premises were private and the protesters were not welcome, the protesters lost the right to the premises. As they lost the right, their attempt to enter the premises was trespassing. Therefore, once they breached the perimeters, they actually earned the right to have bullets in their brains. Not that the police must bestow them with that right, though...

      Having written that, look. I do not at all oppose individual and group rights to express their concerns publicly. I am not at all against peaceful demonstration. In fact, I support demonstrations against injustice.

      My personal example. My wife is working at McGill and she is member of MUNACA. In the fall 2011 the union went on strike. So my wife did, for three months, the picket line. She was on her feet every day for 4 hours. But the way she and her colleagues did that was peaceful and lawful.

      The workers stayed on the sidewalk. They did not go on the street. They did not prevent other pedestrians from using the sidewalk. While they are loud, they did not do physical action to others. And certainly they did not prevent other members of McGill community to enter the premises and to do their business. Then came the court's injunction. Basically the workers were prohibited to do the strike around campus. What they did? They complied with the court's order. So they did their picket lines elsewhere in the city. They went to the offices of the board members, they went to McGill offices not located on campus and they went to the construction site of the super hospital. When they went to the super hospital, the work stopped for one day and costed MUHC hundred of thousands. But they did not stop the work. Construction workers saw them and they ceased work as an act of solidarity.

      As for your comment:

      As the editor points out, the majority of protestors in a protest are peaceful and simply exercise their democratic right of assembly; but agitators ruin it for everyone.

      If it is true than majority are peaceful, they should have retreated at the first sign of trouble instead of participating in the intifada against the authorities.

    3. Fair enough Troy. What do you think of the bit where the Editor says that the Police was not loud enough, and that most protestors were not even aware they had been told they had to vacate the premises peacefully?

      Imagine, if you will, that you're in the middle of the crowd. You don't know what happens at the front, and therefore are privy neither to the agitation nor to the police command. The first warning you get is the gas, then the plastic bullet. Even if you were peaceful to begin with, chances are you'd be mighty ticked off! After all, as far as you know the protest is entirely peaceful.

    4. Yannick,

      The very second they see/feel/taste the gas, they must retreat. Their emotional state (e.g. being ticked off) is irrelevant.

    5. I don't believe that, Troy. That would imply that no matter how unwarranted the police attacks are, the fault rests with the public. What if the policemen just lobbed gas grenades as soon as they saw a protest, so that they had the right to go in, baton-a-flyin'?

    6. Yannick,

      Please do not mistake my position as a carte blanche for the LEOs. My point is that for the students on the back of the ranks. Whatever the situation is, for their own sake, when tear gas starts floating in the air, they should retreat. And do not pick up hard object and throw it in retaliation. While the police may or may not be wrong, they are still the authority. It is such a bad idea to retaliate and fight back, as there is a duty to retreat.

    7. Alright, we can agree on that. It is never legitimate to attack the police, regardless of the error of their conduct. If anything, it only helps the student's cause to get beat up by police while providing no retaliation - take for instance, that famous picture of the policeman casually pepper-spraying sitting protestors in the eyes.

      Which is why some of the most cynical amongst us often wonder if the people starting the riots are acting on behalf of the police. After all, it's happened in Quebec before.

  4. Editor is playing the "devils advocate" with this post.

    The rioters were in the wrong, they got what they deserved. In some regions of the world the bullets would not be made of plastic.

    As the editor indictes, when you play with fire sometimes you get burnt.

  5. the spoiled brats err Terrorists got what they deserved!!! The Montreal Police should be employing the same tactics.... maybe the next demonstration Pauline and Amir will show up to stand united with the spoiled brats.. That would be another chance to bring out the tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, sound grenades... If they don't and these so called protests go on well into festival season... You can kiss goodbye the millions
    in tourist dollars.. oh but I forgot Quebec sais faire....

  6. Québec saiT faire,merci.

    1. spelled correctly or not , doesn't make it so.......

  7. Editor, there are theories that the Black Block are agents provocateurs used by police to incite violence.

    Here's an interesting documentary on the 2010 riots in Toronto. If you have libertarian sympathies, your jaw will drop after watching this.

  8. A bit out of topic:


    Just to continue your love-fest with UQAM, here is another comment from a UQAM professor explaining the revenue source for education subsidy and saying that it is the government who breaks the law.

    1. At a quick glance, he seems to be making a lot of the fact that people die in the US if they are not insured. This is not entirely correct; it is the law that hospitals cannot refuse to give emergency services, insurance or no insurance. Therefore they often operate at a loss on those patients which will never ever pay. They tend to try to get rid of those patients as fast as possible (there have been allegations of hospital vans driving out and dumping patients in front of homeless shelters), and make money off the other uninsured to compensate. They would likely want to increase rates to insured patients as well; however, the whole idea of insurance in the US is that insurance companies negociate preferential rates with certain hospitals/drug companies and pay lower than normal price for the same services. Therefore, it is usually the uninsured who get dumped with the increase.

      It's very different in Canada. Here, the insurance companies negociate with their users, not the providers. They reimburse the normal rate of the provider, either in part or in totality. They do not induce companies to lower their prices for them only.

      He also talks about taxes on industries. It is true that these have kept going down, down, down. Back in the 1960's, our time of greatest prosperity, taxes on businesses were 90% in the USA. 90%! And yet, businesses managed to turn in a profit. Now that the taxes are as low as ever, they run their businesses in the ground and then stick their hand out for bailouts. This makes me unsure of trickle down economics.

      As to the law on sustainable development... I have no clue what he's talking about. It sounds like empty rhethoric.

    2. How can you take seriously a so called professor who teaches at UDDÀM and at the same time writes on vigile (=unloads pile of crap on vigile)?


    3. Because I believe people should be attacked on the sake of their arguments, not their character.

  9. What do y'all think of the proposed Conservative bill to make it illegal to wear a mask at an illegal assembly? Max : 10 years in prison. (the article says 5, but it was recently increased to 10 years.)

    The rationale is that this will deter people from wearing disguises or masks, since the police can then "pre-emptively" arrest them once the assembly has been declared illegal.

    Predictably, the Sun News calls for more: "that isn't good enough. I'd argue that any person wearing a mask or disguise at any controversial protest or demonstration is up to no good, and can be assumed to be contemplating illegal behaviour."

  10. @yannick,

    "He also talks about taxes on industries. It is true that these have kept going down, down, down. Back in the 1960's, our time of greatest prosperity, taxes on businesses were 90% in the USA. 90%! And yet, businesses managed to turn in a profit. Now that the taxes are as low as ever, they run their businesses in the ground and then stick their hand out for bailouts. This makes me unsure of trickle down economics."

    Very interesting point. I think you had more trickle down prosperity at the time because of the bigger threat to the elite interests. Communism was a very large threat, therefore it was in their interest to make sure that a larger part of the masses shared the prosperity. I wonder how much of a impact on working class prosperity the cold war had.

    1. I have to retract some of what I said. Apparently, while nominal tax rates on the upper bracket were at 90%, there were more deductions so that people only ended up paying about 40% of their income on taxes. Still, it's hard to argue they were not paying more than they are now.

      I'd be interested in seeing numbers for the share of real (as opposed to nominal) taxes paid as a function of time since the 40's. It would be very informative.

  11. BANG!!!

  12. Dans le feu de l'action :

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.


    8:40, Mario Beaulieu: "On est parti devant les bureaux de Jean Charest parce que la principale cause de l’anglicisation de Montreal c’est le gouvernement du Quebec qui refuse d’appliquer rigorousment la loi 101 et refuse de la renforcer malgre le déclin evident du francais"

    Oh really? The principle cause of anglicisation is inaction of the government? How about globalization, immigration, decline in birth rates amongst the Quebecois, English being the language of commerce and the lingua franca, the historical place of English and anglo institutions in Quebec, the geopolitcs of the region, and demographics in the macro (North America) and micro (Montreal) scale? These have nothing to do with anything? All that can be countered with a decision of a government bureaucrat sitting behind a desk in la "capitale nationale"?

    Fascists like Beaulieu think that everything can be changed with a decree and an enforcement of that decree. Unfortunately for him, it's more complicated than that.

    1. adski,

      Not only that, but "the Bill 101" that he is talking about is not Bill 101 currently in effect. In many events he demands something not covered by Bill 101 or he denounces something not prohibited by Bill 101. Examples: French description for trademarked company name or the government providing services to citizens in English.

      Moreover, a number of elements of Bill 101 are declared to be unlawful by the Supreme Court. Of course he does not accept that. For him if the courts go against his wishes, the courts are instruments of English colonist power.

    2. How embarrassing that Radio-Canada would bother reporting on this nonsense. English has been an integral part of Quebec society for over 250 years. Instead of treating this as being the significantly useful benefit that it is, Beaulieu is obsessed with the zero-sum nonsense that the presence of any English whatsoever is somehow a detriment to French.

      I wonder who is responsible for having transmogrified the definition on “anglicisation” in the first place. The simple presence of some English words about does not equal anglicisation. The Wikipedia article on anglicisation clearly explains what it really is (e.g. changing “Battenberg” to “Mountbatten” or “København” to “Copenhagen”). For us, anglicisation would mean renaming “Outremont” to “Beyond-the-Mountain” or “Rosemont” to “Rosemount” (oops! That’s what it used to be… it got francised). Having a Café Chillout is not an example of Anglicisation, since there’s no equivalent to “chillout” and it’s so commonly used by unilingual francophones (much like “full” is… c’est “full hot”, ça! Hostie!). Artificially creating a translation to “chillout” would serve to demonstrate the insecurity of French much more than anything else (cf. “hambourgeois”). Denmark clearly demonstrates that a small population’s official language is not threatened by English nor does it constitute “genocide” as claimed by those shrill demonstrators. Spewing against the bilingual MUHC is beneath contempt (especially by referring to “nos taxes, nos impôts”… who is this “nous” again?)

      Successful societies such as those in Japan, Germany, Holland, Scandinavia and Singapore welcome English with open arms since they are not so insecure about their culture as we are here. Even the Académie Française is not as intransigent as the OLF is. Quebec must be the most rabid anti-English place on the face of the Earth.

      Also, +1 to Troy’s comments.

    3. "In many events he demands something not covered by Bill 101 or he denounces something not prohibited by Bill 101"

      Yes Troy. As I said, Bill 101 is a free for all. Take the preamble that says that French is the language of communication in QC, and go from there making it up as you go. And don't worry about the press and other institutions, they'll just quote you but won't correct you or challenge you.

      I hear about Bill 101 (or related to that: language, culture, etc...) every day on the French news. I hardly hear anything about other laws, nothing about speed limits, stop sign laws, tax laws, criminal laws, etc...Why? Because those are simply laws. Bill 101, on the other hand, is a religion and a sacred cow, and something that supports the social order and the power structure in this province. So its "importance" has to be rammed into our heads every day.

      Language/culture in QC is something like terrorism (before that: the red scare, the negro, the Hun, the red Indian). Something to scare people with and justify the leadership. Plato said something to the effect: "leaders love war because at war they can make themselves look useful". Well, the culture war in QC served to us daily through the media is a kind of war. Something to occupy us with and something that is meant to be never-ending.

  14. Je crois que ce blogue tourne en rond.

  15. The Editor’s mention of Germany’s high-tech water cannons reminded me that I had seen a deployment of similar equipment in Berlin over 20 years ago. (The issue then was protesting against landlords who were jacking up rents for flats located near the former Wall, which had suddenly gone from being an undesirable fringe area to a newly-desirable central area.) I’m surprised that I had forgotten about those police trucks and wonder why we don’t seem to have them in North America. I’m sure they’re more effective than lobbing smoke canisters back and forth between protesters and police.

    Also, I hadn’t realized that the fencing was so flimsy in Victoriaville. I suppose that symbolic fencing would be nearly free but is the obviously-better state-of-the-art fencing really that expensive? I’ve had very noisy police helicopters parked flying over my neighbourhood observing the protesters. Surely that must be much more expensive than having proper fencing.

    Interesting also that the 3rd Summit of the Americas in Quebec City is better remembered for its security preparations and protests than for the actual negotiations that were held. All Summits have had protests but this one was the worst for violence. The 4th Summit in Argentina was somewhat violent but protests were mainly against the presence of George Bush (perhaps understandable). All the others (1st in Miami, 2nd in Santiago, 5th in Port-of-Spain and the recent 6th in Cartagena) were not notable for their violence. Does this indicate that we are an inherently violent society?

  16. "but it's hard not to look at them with disdain when they pick fights with certain ethnics"

    Any REAL Proofs ?

    You should look at how the rcmp was dealing with the natives to see what police brutality is all about.