22 May 2012

22 May 2012


There's really nothing quite like participating in a huge demonstration with like-minded people hoping to make a statement about what our society should be. The CSN labour federation estimates the crowd at 250,000 on its website this evening. My feet are sore, my forehead sunburned (it was supposed to rain!), but I feel like we made a point that ought to be heard. Time will tell if it was.

Instead of going on and on, particularly in my tired state and with some other things to do this evening, I will let my own photographic skills do the talking.

First the sweeping panoramic videos. From point A, corner of Jeanne-Mance and Ste-Catherine:

And from point B, near the corner of Jeanne-Mance and de Maisonneuve (note that this is just a block away, but it took us an hour to get there after the crowd first started moving):

And now some of my favourite signs and scenes (with translations or explanations below them).

"When the Mafia rules in Parliament, Democracy expresses itself in the streets." There are many allegations of corruption surrounding the current government, particularly with respect to the construction industry and organized crime. Paradoxically, today was also the first day of hearings for the Charbonneau Commission investigating the construction industry, a commission resisted for years by the Charest government before it was finally established.

"To Charest. So now will you listen to us, Charest?" Back to the allegations of corruption, often portrayed as cash in brown envelopes…

On the roof of the entrance to the Place des Arts Métro station, three police officers taking photos of the crowd.

The police protecting the Loto-Québec building. Not because of Loto-Québec, I understand, but because the university rectors' association has its offices in the same building. Now that's a curious association: gambling with money and the university rectors. No further comment.

Constable 728. Star of a YouTube video in which she viciously pepper-sprays some protesters who are doing nothing more than chanting (to free the police horses, no less). See the video here.

And, omnipresent for the last 100 days, burning up my tax dollars and keeping everyone awake late at night, the helicopter of the Sureté du Québec:

Bill 78 breaking the scales of justice. This law is being heavily criticized by many, including the Québec Bar, for placing limits on the right to protest: any gathering of 50 people or more wishing to protest must file an itinerary with the police 8 hours prior to the event. The police may change the itinerary if they deem it to be a problem for public safety. The organizer of a demonstration becomes liable for the acts of all the people who participate in it, with fines on the individual, representative and organizational levels.

"Bill 78 = Law toxic for democracy. There are circumstances when wearing a mask is necessary." In parallel with Bill 78 (provincial law suspending the school terms at affected schools and imposing limits on protesting), the City of Montréal approved a by-law outlawing the wearing of masks at demonstrations. Hard to say whether this by-law will stand up to judicial scrutiny either.

Lots of redecorating the Québec flag. The addition of the red square (not always in the middle) is about supporting the student demands. The blacking out of the four fleurs-de-lys signifies mourning for our democracy after the adoption of Bill 78.

"The worst is when the worst starts getting worse." Mafalda is a popular children's cartoon character. Her words speak for themselves.

"Plan dead." The "Plan Nord" is the current government's plan to develop the north of Québec, with massive infrastructure spending to make the region's mineral wealth more accessible. Many aboriginal groups are also expressing their opposition to this further intrusion onto their traditional territories without their agreement.

"Journal of Shit." Lots of criticism of the media and how they have been reporting the student strike and the demonstrations. The Journal de Montréal, with whom I had my own battle in the past, is not usually the best of media to begin with, and after their endless strike that turned out badly for the unionized journalists, things are often worse than before. Oddly enough, though, the JdeM outshone and out-objectived its more Liberal-party-identified cousin La Presse in the last few days.

"On the Liberal Titanic, they save themselves with the silverware and leave the children on the boat." Expressing the point of view that an excessive burden is being placed on youth relative to certain other sectors of our society. The flag that you see on the left is the flag of the Patriotes, who fought the Lower Canada Rebellion for responsible government in the 1830s. While the rest of Canada celebrates Victoria day on the May long weekend, Québec celebrates the Journée nationale des Patriotes. Historical depiction of the Patriote on the flag is optional.

"If youth are not always right, the society that hits them is always wrong." A quote from François Mitterand in 1968.

"Have you finished?" My own interpretation of this is that Charest is asking if the students are done embarrassing him. Not sure if I'm right, but it's certainly a good use of the iconic red square/box.
"Where is Charest?" You need to understand for this that in French Waldo (as in Where's Waldo) is Charlie (as in Où est Charlie).

"Classified ads. Man, honest, transparent, open-minded, trustworthy and empathic, likes to listen and discuss, looking for docile, naïve and easy to manipulate Québec population to establish a soft dictatorship and share tender moments of control and domination. Favourite sport: jerking off. Favourite meal: peppered student in its own juice. Profession: animal trainer, illusionist, puppeteer, clown." Something tells me we're not hiring.

The crowd stretching out before us. It looked like it went clear to my street, way off in the distance, but I think many had already turned up Berri on their way to Parc Lafontaine.

We thought we were back near the end of the demonstration, having paused to get a beverage after climbing the hill. One look back as we walked down the hill on René-Lévesque showed us otherwise.
The "surprise" trajectory of the demonstration caught many a motorist in mid-movement (it almost looked like someone shouted "freeze" and they did). Some were (understandably) frustrated (it takes a long time for 250,000 people to walk by), others were a little more philosophical or better-humoured about it. Just to note that there were plenty of rather expensive cars and no reports of damage to any of them…just a lot of enthusiastic youth encouraging them to honk and then cheering wildly when they did (but moving on if they didn't).

Demonstrator personality of the year: Anarchopanda! As we walked up Jeanne-Mance, nearing Sherbrooke, we spied him in the distance:

And then I was close enough to get a good shot (my little camera zooms well), but too shy to go for the hug I really wanted!

I think I will have to write a whole other piece just about Anrachopanda, or maybe also about some of the other regular characters. Watch for that!

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