On Monday, June 11, 2018, trial began for killer cop Patrick Ouellet of the provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), in the death of five-year-old Nicholas Thorne-Belance in 2014. Officer Ouellet is charged with one count of dangerous driving causing death in the case. Thorne-Belance was a passenger in his father’s car when it was struck by the unmarked police cruiser driven by Ouellet. Ouellet’s vehicle was traveling at more than 120 km/h in a 50 km/h zone in the Longueuil borough of Saint-Hubert, south of Montreal when he hit the vehicle the five-year-old was in. The trial is scheduled to last two weeks.
Tag Archives: Montreal
Koray Kevin Celik (28) died during a police intervention at his family’s Île-Bizard home one year ago. On March 6, 2018, his family organized a vigil outside the Pierrefonds police station to commemorate their loved one and raise some troubling questions about police actions, and accounts of their actions, in Koray Celik’s death. Celik’s parents, Cesur and June, say their son needs to be remembered and what happened to him needs to be discussed publicly. And this discussion needs to happen loudly and often until there is some change (Feith 2018).
Koray Kevin Celik, 28, died during a police intervention at the family’s Île-Bizard home one year ago when the young man was experiencing some distress. Said Cesur Celik: “My son was in crisis and was in a vulnerable state. When the police walked in, he was standing. When they left, they carried his body out. He lost his life in their hands, in front of our eyes.” (quoted in Feith 2018).
Celik acknowledged that the parents called the police seeking help and assistance. The call was made a bit before 2 AM. The parents did not want him their son to hurt himself or to leave the house (Feith 2018). They now express regret at having called police at all.
What happened during the police intervention is under investigation. Few details have been made public. According to Quebec’s Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), the body that examines police interventions connected to deaths or injuries in the province, Montreal police responded to a call regarding a distressed man. The official story says that upon arriving at the house in Île-Bizard, Koray Celik became aggressive and suffered a fatal heart attack while police tried to control him (Feith 2018).
Cesur Celik, who says he witnessed the interaction in his home, rejects the bureau’s public version of events. He says four officers “brutally and viciously beat” his son before he died (2018). The family is considering legal action against the Montreal police force. They have tried to see a police incident report, autopsy, or coroner’s report but their efforts have been thwarted at each turn. The lack of information has added to the family’s grief. Says Cesur Celik: “We’ve been living with this nightmare ever since. One year later and there is still nothing. How can that be?” (quoted Feith 2018).
The Montreal police force (SPVM) has refused to comment on what happened the night Koray Celik died. Since June 2016, the BEI has investigated 72 cases. These include 37 fatal police interventions and five deaths that occurred during police detention (Feith 2018).
At the March 6 vigil, family and friends held signs reading : “Justice for Koray”; “We will not go away”; “The law applies to everyone” (Feith 2018).
Feith, Jesse. 2018. “A Year After Fatal Police Intervention in Île-Bizard Questions and Pain Linger.” Montreal Gazette. March 6. http://montrealgazette.com/news/a-year-after-fatal-police-intervention-in-ile-bizard-questions-and-pain-linger
We have written extensively on the lack of proper public reporting of police killings of civilians in Canada, the fact that police control the flow of information and what is released publicly, and the lack of truly independent and autonomous oversight of police in Canada. Not all provinces in Canada have oversight agencies at all to investigate cases of police harm to civilians and those that exist are not truly independent or autonomous. Some, like the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) in Quebec rely on active police force members for investigations.
These facts were put fully, and painfully and violently, on display on Wednesday, February 7, 2018, as the family of Montreal police shooting victim Pierre Coriolan announced that they are suing the City of Montreal over the “brutal and excessive” police intervention in which their loved one was killed by officer on June 27, 2017. The family also released a horrific video of the police killing taken by a neighbor on a cellphone and passed to the family recently. It shows Coriolan being shot approximately 45 seconds into the police intervention. Lawyers for the Coriolan family suggest that the entire direct encounter lasted about one minute and ten seconds, during which time multiple weapons were used against the victim, including after he had been shot by police and was on the ground.
Pierre, Coriolan, a 58-year-old Black immigrant from Haiti, was shot and killed by in the hallway outside his apartment after police reportedly responded to calls about a man yelling and smashing things inside his apartment on Robillard Avenue near St-André Street, in the city’s gay village.
The killing again raises issues of police violence, poverty, racism, and mental health issues. In addition, there have been concerns about the information provided publicly by police and the BEI regarding the killings of civilians by police.
The four minute cellphone video, recorded by the neighbor, an eyewitness to the killing, shows a chaotic scene in the hallway of the apartment building. Officers apparently use plastic bullets, a taser, and their firearms against Coriolan. He was allegedly holding some object, variously described as a screwdriver or a knife.
The BEI have reported in a statement released at the time of the shooting that police first received 911 calls about Coriolan making noise in his apartment at about 7 PM. The cellphone video begins at 7:30 PM. It is not certain from the video how long officers had been on the scene at that point or what their engagement with Coriolan involved up to that point.
The first five seconds of the video are audio only, without recorded video images. The audio records what is believed to be a gun firing a plastic bullet, followed by the crackling sound of a taser having been fired. Five officers then become visible with weapons drawn. They are crowded into the hallway, their backs to the camera. Other officers off-camera can be heard yelling from around a corner in the hallway.
Pierre Coriolan comes into view eight seconds into the video. He appears to exit his apartment and walk toward the officers. Very soon after he moves from his apartment two or three gunshots are heard, but the image is obscured as the neighbor with the camera ducks somewhat into his apartment. When the camera focuses back on the hallway, an officer is heard yelling, “À terre! (Hit the ground!).”
Coriolan is in view, on his knees, with four officers visible, and still pointing weapons at him. The victim is heard telling the officers, in French, “Pas capable (I can’t).”
At that point, one of the officers is heard, incredibly, asking a colleague in French, “Do you have another shot?” After an unintelligible response, the officer yells, “Take the other shot.”
At that point, two shots ring out. It is not clear what has been fired, plastic bullets or live ammunition.
In response to the gunshots, Pierre Coriolan collapses fully on the ground. Only his legs are visible in the frame. Only then is an officer heard to yell, “Knife.”
A first officer approaches Coriolan and kneeling beside him, appears to search for a weapon, rather than offering any medical care or attention. Shockingly, another officer then approaches Coriolan, extends a telescopic baton, and swings it twice with heavy force toward the victim’s arm. Coriolan is heard to grunt in pain.
Officers lower their weapons, and one is heard speaking into his radio to say, “A man, possibly injured by gunshot.” Clearly they knew he had been hit and injured.
The officers are standing talking to each other calmly. One says, “It’s a screwdriver he had.” Another officer says, “No, it was a knife.” Only then are officers heard saying, “He’s injured. He’s hit.”
Coriolan’s legs can be seen convulsing as one officer says the stricken man is still breathing. Another officer responds saying, “No, he’s not breathing.”
The video ends when an officer demands that witnesses in the hallway get back into their apartments. Pierre Coriolan would be pronounced dead later that evening in hospital.
Disturbing Actions Leave Disturbing Questions
Pierre Coriolan’s killing was met with protests and calls for action by community activists and organizers, including Black Lives Matter organizers. Community activists Will Prosper and Maguy Métellus joined the family’s lawyers and Joanne Coriolan, the victim’s niece at the press conference releasing the video and announcing the family lawsuit. The lawsuit was launched by two of Coriolan’s sisters who were not present at the news conference. They are seeking a total of $163,426 in damages.
Prosper, a former RCMP officer, expressed shock and disbelief upon first viewing the video. In his words: “The first question I asked myself is, ‘Why don’t you take the time?’ There’s no rush” (quoted Rukavina in 2018).
Prosper raised the question on everyone’s mind since the killing last year, which is why a man was shot and killed for making noise in his own apartment. As Prosper points out: ”The only thing Pierre was threatening was his own apartment. He was not a threat to anybody else” (quoted in Rukavina 2018).
Prosper was even more stark in his questioning of why a kneeling man was viewed as such a threat. He asks: “What is the threat of a black man kneeling down? It’s a firing squad he’s facing” (quoted in Rukavina 2018).
The only time on the video recording that police even directly speak to Coriolan is when they order him to the ground after he has already been shot. Says Propser: “You see there’s no communication, nothing mentioned to him as he’s kneeling down” (quoted in Rukavina 2018). After the man has been shot and is on the ground police do not even ask after his condition. Instead they hit him with a telescopic baton.
Alain Arsenault, a member of the family’s legal team, said that they have little faith in the BEI investigation and that said a lawsuit is the best available avenue to obtain justice for Coriolan. It may be the only way that the public can find out any meaningful information about the actions of police.
Arsenault said that the decision to release the video was prompted partly by frustration over the slow pace of the investigation and the oversight agency’s refusal to provide updates to the family. These are repeated concerns expressed by family members of people killed by police across Canada.
The video can be found here: https://news.google.com/news/video/ow10u5_zod4/dDnbIQ6E5KSZOqMJZ2vQh0aMMunjM?hl=en&gl=US&ned=us
Rukavina, Steve. 2018. “Family of Montreal Man Fatally Shot by Police Sues Over “Brutal Intervention.” CBC News. February 7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-video-police-shooting-rcmp-coriolan-1.4523348
Dates Scheduled for Coroner’s Inquest into Killing of Brandon Maurice (17) by Provincial Sûreté du Québec
On January 23, 2018, it was announced that the public coroner’s inquest into the killing of 17-year-old Brandon Maurice by Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers in the Outouais will be held over the period of April 9-13, 2018. Maurice was shot and killed by SQ officers following a police vehicular pursuit on November 16, 2015. The inquest was initially planned to be held in the fall of 2017.
The inquest will be held at the Palais de Justice in Gatineau. It will be overseen by deputy chief coroner Luc Balouin. Among those now named as being called for testimony are Dave Constantin and Frédérick Fortier of the Sûreté du Québec and Detective-Sergeant Mélanie Simard of the Montréal Police Service, which oversaw an investigation (by no means independent) into the killing.
A Victim of Power (Corp) and Police: The La Presse Conflict and the Suffocation of Michele Gauthier (Activists Killed by Cops Series)
A Victim of Power (Corp) and Police: The La Presse Conflict and the Suffocation of Michele Gauthier
On November 2, 1971, some 2000 people crowded inside and outside the church at Ste-Rosalle, their fists raised in the air in a silent and sombre but striking show of defiance and solidarity, They had gathered together in the rural area, a small village near St-Hyacinthe, some 45 miles southeast of Montreal, to pay respect to a fallen comrade. Her name was Michele Gauthier and she had been killed by police in the service of a government set on protecting a major corporate partner, the La Presse newspaper recently purchased by key capitalist power broker Paul Desmarais, head of the aptly named Power Corp.
Michele Gauthier was a young college student at CEGEP Vieux-Montreal. An activist and self identified feminist and Leftist, she had been killed by police during a vicious police attack on a demonstration in support of locked out La Presse workers the previous Friday night. During a sustained assault on marchers police fired off rounds of tear gas. Michele Gauthier suffocated from the stifling gas. A brutal and awful way to die.
The police killing of this young college student and activist played a radicalizing role among the broad Quebec working class unlike any seen in other cases of police violence in Canadian history. It would lead many to completely change their view of police and the laws—from being seen as neutral arbitrators of social consensus to violent, interested, upholders of class inequality, exploitation, and fundamental injustice.
This would spur a radicalized willingness to confront, even to break, laws that were now revealed as illegitimate and unjust. It would contribute to a breakthrough against the socialization that teaches conformity, respect for police, and the lowering of expectations to what elites deem to be reasonable or respectable.
Less than a year later it would erupt in the form of a general strike, and a broader insurrection, in Quebec. Only a few years later a second general strike would be launched across Canada on the basis of solidarity, infrastructures, and lessons learned in Quebec.
Aptly Named: Power Corporation, Paul Desmarais, and La Presse
The La Presse strike has its roots in the actions of a notorious and centrally important figure of the Canadian power elite. That is one Paul Desmarais, political funder and Svengali of numerous Canadian parliamentarians of various stripes, including Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, and Paul Martin Jr. At the heart of this power elite nexus is the institution of Power Corporation, the political economic juggernaut run by Desmarais over decades.
Desmarais merged his Trans-Canada Corporation Fund with Power Corporation (the holding company of the Peter Nesbitt Thompson group) and grew it. Power already had a history of union busting, vicious bargaining, and intensification of exploitation (profitability) (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 93).
Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa was a Power director (along with Prime Minister to be Paul Martin Jr.). At least 10 members of the Quebec government’s General Council of Industry were linked to the corporation. Power Corporation Secretary Claude Frenette was former president of the Quebec federal Liberals (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 93). Power was believed to a be a main financial backer for the Liberal Party (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 93). They also maintained strong connections with the Quebec Conservatives. This included connections between Desmarais and future Premier David Johnson (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 94).
Power had secured the largest private media monopoly in Quebec, owning three other daily papers (in Sherbrooke, Granby, and Trois-Rivieres, the three largest weeklies in Montreal, two Sunday papers, 12 other reciprocal weekly papers, and 10 radio and television stations. They controlled ideological production in Quebec for French language media. Onyx Films, a film company owned by Power, actually made films for the RCMP, an interesting wrinkle in power elite relations.
The Lockout and Strike at La Presse
Desmarais bought the La Presse newspaper only a short time before the strike of 1971 and his politically motivated actions were largely responsible for it. A strong Rightist and herald of muscular capitalism (neoliberalism), Desmarais sought immediately to turn the paper into a propaganda vehicle for nationalist (federalist) and hyper-capitalist ideology. He targeted journalists who disagreed with or would not capitulate to his mission.
Desmarais sought to provoke an illegal strike of journalists by locking out typographical workers. Knowing the Leftist and unionized journalists would not cross the picket line, Desmarais planned to then fire them. In the words of Alan Hetitage of the International Typographers Union: “I don’t think they were after us. They wanted the journalists. If we had put up a picket line we would have been dead because the journalists would have respected it and lost their jobs” (quoted in Sweetman 2004). The typesetters strategically chose not picket—thus not playing into a setting of a trap for the journalists.
After five months of being locked out the union movement held a mass demonstration, a solidarity strike of sorts, to show support for the locked out La Presse workers on October 29, 1971. The company and government moved to attack the workers with legislation. The union organizers were accused of promoting violence simply for striking. At one point workers keenly created a vehicle blockade of the building, parking their cars around its perimeter. This borrowed a famous tactic that had been successful during the 1945 strike by United Auto Workers (UAW) members against Ford in Windsor, Ontario.
The company tried to divide and conquer labor by blaming outside agitators from US unions for provocations and the delay in settlement. Workers turned to labor federations to build boycott campaigns of the newspaper and advertisers (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 98). The company managed to win an injunction prohibiting more than eight people from gathering near the building at the same time.
Notably La Presse implemented intrusive security, surveillance measures, including microphones to capture conversations among workers and closed circuit television. Thus they innovated measures of labor process management that have now become widespread.
The day after the mass demonstration, on October 30, the reactionary Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau re-introduced a ridiculous and one-sided pro-company anti-demonstration law for the city in consultation with Liberal (neoliberal) provincial Premier Robert Bourassa. This draconian piece of anti-democratic and class-biased legislation had already been declared illegal by Quebec’s Superior Court. Drapeau decided, after consultation with Bourassa, that the bylaw could still be legal because the court decision was under appeal (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 97). In announcing the re-introduction Mayor Drapeau refused to answer questions from the press.
The Drapeau government put a ban of more than eight workers gathering near the La Presse facilities. As part of the repressive government defense of their corporate sponsors a no-protest zone of fifty blocks around the La Presse building was established in law. It was to be a “forbidden zone” within the city itself. A clear provocation.
Union leaders declared the ban illegitimate. They would march. And with purpose.
Beginning at Square Saint Louis a crowd of more than 15,000 workers showed up in a show of defiance set to march against the corporation and governments at various levels. Public attention on the planned march spread well beyond Montreal (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 97). Public interest and concern were piqued by outrage over the anti-democratic protest ban which was seen clearly as a gift by the government to their corporate allies.
On the day of the march, organizers sought to avoid confrontations and violence by staying along Dorchester Street, the dividing line between the “free city” and the “forbidden city” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 98). The march began along St. Denis.
They headed toward La Presse headquarters. Picking up parts of the pavement as they marched the demonstrators were confronted by a police barricade outside the La Presse building at Craig Street.
On Dorchester, the police had other plans. As they proceeded the demonstrators found their route blocked by hundreds of riot police and several city buses. This left them no option but to continue on St. Denis into Viger Square. Police had set a trap something akin to what today is called a kettle. At Viger Square a cul-de-sac was formed by a police barricade right in front of police headquarters at Craig and Gosford streets (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 98).
The trade union leaders even offered themselves up for arrest in the manner of symbolic protest and civil disobedience. Instead, after only 15 minutes, police charged the crowd.
Police, protecting La Presse, moved violently against the assembled workers and supporters. One account describes police actions against the protesters as “sadistic” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 98). People were clubbed indiscriminately. Police sued their three foot long clubs on any and all that they chose or encountered. Neither size nor age offered deterrents against them. The police riot squad was deployed against the marchers. More than 100 Montreal police officers took part in the attack. There were around 60 arrests and around 300 demonstrators suffered various injuries, in addition to the death if Michele Gauthier. Police tracked people down at the local hospital, beating people who sought medical assistance. Tear gas was fired wildly into the streets. It was this mass deployment of tear gas that would kill Michele Gauthier, suffocating her.
The police violence and the killing of Michele Gauthier radicalized the union movement. The union leaders held a press conference the next day. At it they declared their illusions about society shattered. The police they said had behaved in an “inhuman” fashion. They took to calling the police “Drapeau’s Gestapo” and “two-legged dogs” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 98). The Montreal Policemen’s Brotherhood was read out of the trade union movement, where it never should have been in the first place.
Yvon Charbonneau said the murderous actions of the police were proof of the “collusion of the political and economic powers” directed against the working class by this power elite. The result of the police assault was, he said, that the public “has received an accelerated lesson in history” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 99). It was an important lesson in sociology and criminology too. In that act of brutality the mask of liberal democracy slipped and the police, and the state they are the front line for, were revealed as an institution of bare class power, not an agency of social protection and service.
This was a significant shift, coming in the context of the assault on social resistance undertaken by the federal and provincial governments under the pretext of the October Crisis and the actions of the urban guerilla FLQ. At that time Prime Minister Trudeau had deployed the army to occupy Quebec and hundreds of union and Leftist activists were arrested—despite having nothing to do with the FLQ and its actions.
During the march, notably, nationalist slogans and placards were greatly outnumbered by anti-capitalist ones, such as “Capitalism equals unemployment, socialism equals work [in French]” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 98). The makeup of the crowd was markedly blue collar. Many had not attended protest marches previously (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 98).
At her funeral on November 2, Michele Gauthier’s pall bearers included Marcel Pepin, president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, Louis Laberge of the Quebec Federation of Labour, Yvon Charbonneau of the Quebec Teachers Corporation, a student from her CEGEP Vieux-Montreal, a member of the Front de Liberation des Femmes, and a press worker representing the locked workers at La Presse (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 107).
For observers and commentators at the time, the thousands who attended the funeral and most of the people who they represented in their organizational capacities viewed Michele Gauthier unambiguously as a martyr (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 107). She was remembered as a committed and serious activist in women’s liberation and Left wing politics.
In the Quotidien Populaire, the daily paper of the locked out La Presse workers, she was given a full page “In Memoriam.” In it her husband Michel offered a powerful testament:
“A victim of violence jointly and deliberately planned by the economic powers and the political powers, this frail young woman lost her life because she dared protest peacefully against those who treat workers like cattle. I dare to hope that this terrible event will help us understand the necessity of uniting in the face of a more and more oppressive power, and to fight for the ideal which animated Michele: a Quebec where liberty, justice and equality reign.” (quoted in Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 107)
The response of the provincial government was particularly despicable, showing starkly the ruling Quebec Liberal’s unflinching, and unconscionable, support for the employers. When Gauthier’s death was raised in Quebec’s National Assembly, the Liberal caucus responded with derisive laughs and hoots. This in response to a police killing of a young student standing with locked out workers being mistreated by an aggressive employer. Liberal Party Whip Louis-Philippe Lacroix went further in asserting the government’s dedication to its corporate masters by calling for an investigation, not of the police or even La Presse) but of the labor leadership (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 107).
Montreal’s legendary, and infamous, mayor, Jean Drapeau, added his own offensive and insensitive take on events and the actions of his own police force. He stated obnoxiously and contemptibly: “It’s dishonest to say somebody died because of the events Friday night. Nobody died at the demonstration. Madame Gauthier could just as well have lost her life at the Santa Claus parade” (quoted in Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 107). Yet there was no word from the mayor on how many times or why Santa Claus parade goers have been subjected to bombardment by massive quantities of tear gas.
Organized labor in Quebec came out of the La Presse battle with a unity not previously seen. As Sweetman suggests: “It’s often said that few things are more radicalizing than the end of a police baton, and on Oct. 29, 1971, the end of the baton—clearly and deliberately wielded by the state—was felt by the entire working class of Quebec” (2004).
The La Presse strike and the various solidarity actions showed a militant and unified model for tactical social action. It suggested Common Front that could bring together diverse workers and overcome divided and competitive craft union models as existed at La Presse before the lockout and strike.
The QFL and CNTU, the two main labor federations ended their rivalry and with the Quebec Teachers Corporation formed a Common Front. Notably, newly recognizing their real social basis they called on all progressive forces—political groups, students, unorganized workers, unemployed people, welfare recipients—to join together in a now apparent shared goal—the overthrow of capitalism ad the development of socialism (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 99).
Laberge considered the growing militance and push for socialism as the “great national battle” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 102). Cooperation and pursuit of reforms, which had dominated labor movements in Quebec, were now revealed to be a certain dead end. And this went beyond nationalism to seek a coalition with English Canadian workers against experiences of exploitation and oligarchy that were shared in common.
This Common Front model and the militant direction opened to workers through the strike raised important possibilities for working class organizing and for claims on workers power—even workers control. Such a Common Front could mobilize and support and defend hundreds of thousands of workers. It could provide strength against employers—not only private capital, but the state.
Organization is key. As Laberge would state:
“It would be illusory to dream of some revolutionary cataclysm. Some people believe in effect that the collective consciousness of exploitation will unleash an irresistible liberation movement and all we have to do is to let ourselves be carried along with it. I don’t believe miracles happen by themselves. We have to organize efficiently, starting with often humble and discreet tasks.” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 106)
CNTU members were provided a militant study guide: “Ne comptons que sur non propres moyen” (“Let us count only on our own resources).
The La Presse strike and the solid actions of organized labor, especially during the police assault of October 29, showed the divisions between the working class Left and the Quebec nationalist Parti Quebecquois (PQ). After the police assault PQ leader, and legend, Rene Levesque incredibly had denounced the labor leaders as fanatics. In his words, he would “rather live in a South American banana republic” than in a Quebec influenced by the “ranting and raving of labour leaders” (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 112).
Before the QFL convention of November 1971 the PQ’s National Council did try to manage some reconciliation, offering a “mini manifesto” expressing support for labor’s goals of democratic restructuring of the economic and social systems. But Levesque silenced Robert Burns, a former CNTU lawyer who sat as PQ member of the National Assembly for Maisonneuve , telling him to leave the party if he did not like it. Burns, for his part, had said that the PQ was acting like little more than the progressive wing of the Liberal Party.
Anglo social democrats and unionists offered chauvinistic and divisive assessments. Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) head Donald McDonald reinforced Trudeau’s view, suggesting that the strikes in Quebec were not strikes but revolutions and sided with his state and corporate bosses in suggesting that they needed to be put down.
Having gained essential experiences in organizing and confidence in their actions, the workers’ movements in Quebec wold provide the impetus for struggles that would be among the most significant of the last half of the twentieth century, not only in Quebec or Canada but in North America. Quebec workers provided the inspiration and organizing force behind the largest general strike in North American history in 1976. The Canada-wide general strike of that year was launched against wage controls promoted by the federal Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau (yes, the father of that guy). More than 1.2 million workers across Canada took part in the general strike. That strike provided an example of working class solidarity across assumed barriers of language and culture. It provided an important counter to Anglo chauvinism and nationalism alike.
Throughout the year of 1971, social struggles, class struggles, would build and grow. New levels of labor militancy and direct action would spark and spread. October of 1971 would gain the title of Quebec’s “Blue Collar” crisis (Palmer 2009, 362).
Growing and high unemployment, continuing poverty, and job losses in even higher tech sectors with supposedly greater job security contributed to widespread unrest in the province, not only in Montreal. The crisis for capital and the state would provide a revitalization of labor. Rural protests targeted the corporate monopolies in the resource industries, often the sole major employers in the towns (Palmer 2009, 362).
In Cadillac, a small town between Val d’Or and Rouyn, about three-quarters of the town took part in a week long highway blockade to stop the shutdown of the molybdenite mine that they viewed as theirs, not capital’s (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 103). In Manneville, about 400 miles northwest of Montreal, the townsfolk fought against riot police who had been transported in to repress protests over woodcutting rights (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 103). The whole town at Mont-Laurier mobilized against wood plant shutdowns throughout 1971. In Shawinigan, home of federal cabinet minister, and future Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien, there were numerous demonstrations.
Residents of Cabano blockaded railways and blew up bridges used by KC Irving after the company failed to live up to promises to build a plant and increase jobs in the area (Palmer 2009, 362). They even threatened to set fire to the company’s existing facilities.
In Sept-Iles, two thousand steelworkers and 1500 machinists walked out of the American owned companies (Palmer 2009, 362). One journalist, Malcolm Reid, reported on the Sept-Iles uprisings as follows: “They don’t read much Trotsky in Sept-Iles. But the workers of this iron port way out east on the St. Lawrence put themselves at the head of the May revolt in Quebec with something that looked like what Trotsky called ‘dual power’” (quoted in Plamer 2009, 362). This is a remarkable claim, suggesting that workers were devising and developing new forms of self-directed, self-governing activity outside of, beyond, and against the formal apparatuses of state and capital. These were manifestations of working class self-determination in formation.
The shared experiences of state repression and recognition that the state was willing to take the lives of people standing for social justice and to respond to such atrocity with no remorse, steeled the labor movement. It would encourage a further coming together in solidarity that would see a Common Front developed over and against previous divisions within the labor movement and between its various groupings.
Many familiar with Canadian labor history will know of, at least in some general detail, the Quebec Common Front and the General Strike of 1972. Involving more than 300,000 workers, it was, up to that point, the largest general strike in Canada. Infamously union leaders, including Louis Labarge, Marcel Pepin, and Yvon Charbonneau were arrested and sentenced to a year in jail for urging striking workers to break state injunctions against them.
The Common Front was formalized politically at a mass rally at the Montreal Forum, famed home of the legendary Montreal Canadiens hockey team, only four days after the police assault on the La Presse demonstration. Around 14,000 people turned out on only 24 hours notice for a militant and affirmative show of solidarity and resolve (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 99). The meeting was chaired by Michel Chartrand and Louis Laberge, Yvonne Charbonneau, and radical lawyer Robert Lemieux. Much of the Quebec trade union leadership participated.
Michele Gauthier’s memory was a present and vital part of the evening. Referencing the assault by police and ensuing street battle only a few nights previous, Louis Laberge declared from the podium:
“We give serious warning to the wealthy and to the established powers that this first victim might be followed by others, but in future the victims won’t only be on our side” (quoted in Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 100).
Speakers one after the other called out and condemned the governments of Trudeau (federal), Bourassa (provincial), and Drapeau (Municipal). They identified the struggle as a battle against “the wealthy, propertied capitalists” and for “democracy, social and economic justice, liberty and equality (Chodos and Aud der Maur 1972, 99-100). These were distinctly and emphatically declarations of class war—on the other side, the side of the exploited against the exploiters (Chodos and Auf der Maur 1972, 99).
Mass Direct Action
In response to the state jailing of the union members in an attempt to break the strike, workers upped the ante. Several towns on the North Shore were operated by and defended by workers (including Joliette, Sept-Iles, Sorel, and Thetford). Numerous factories in the towns became worker run organizations for the period of the strike. This signalled a potential move from a strike to workers control of industry. It posed the prospect of revolution in real terms. Several television stations were taken over by workers and 22 radio stations were controlled by workers. Anti-union newspapers were simply forced to stop publishing over that period. Entire towns came under workers control.
When news of the jailing of Laberge, Pepin, and Charbonneau reached Sept-Iles, a community on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, unionized workers left their jobs and initiated something of an insurrection. They blocked the only road leading into town, they closed the airport, they took over the local radio station (CKCN). Within hours their town was truly their town.
In response, the local bourgeoisie organized a vigilante group to inflict violence on the workers and to seize back the property they believed to be theirs (as capital believes all property to be as their natural right). The name of their vigilante group was a priceless statement of bourgeois law and morality. The Comite des Citoyens Respecteux de la Loi et de ‘lOrdre was headed up by the president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
A statement released on behalf of 6500 union workers in Sept-Iles stated: “We have finished with respecting laws that crush people, laws that are defined by the traditional elite” (Gellner 1974, 170). The bourgeoisie was more focused on property and its typical disparagement of workers. In their statement they explained themselves:
“Goons, drunkards, loudmouths and revolutionaries were taking over our town and were sabotaging our homes, hurting our businesses and breaking up our property. It was time for us to take affairs in our own hands and end the reign of terror.” (Gellner 1974, 169, emphasis added).
Of course, the real issue was that the police force that had always taken care of these things for the property owners and business elites were frightened into inaction for once. So the usual customary, legal and “respectable” means of the state, usually reliably available to capital was, in this instance, not available. And as a result its real social function was once again put on proper display.
The general strike was successful in winning several concessions from employers or from government. The arrested and sentenced union leaders had their sentences reduced, to four months from one year. Even more, bosses were put on the defensive, unable to carry out their preferred or desired austerity plans against the working class.
Some politicians and bosses might have come to believe that revolutionary syndicalism might have been put in the grave alongside the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. The La Presse strike of 1971 showed that revolutionary syndicalism still existed or had been resurrected in a Canadian context. And it showed that it still provided the most striking model of effective working class resistance, even in a distinct economic, political, and cultural context.
Said jailed CNTU President Marcel Pepin in 1972:
“Not since the days of the Industrial Workers of the World, since the days of Joe Hill and the battle for the eight-hour day, has a North American union movement been so dedicated to the tradition of revolutionary syndicalism.” – Marcel Pepin (jailed President of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, 1972)
The Common Front was so widespread that police were put into the position of acknowledging, against their own preferences, that they could neither contain it not put it down. Instead they were, again and again, in setting after setting, compelled to stand back. They understood that they would lose any decisive clash in that context of united workers power. And this is a crucial lesson to be held throughout.
It confirmed the claim pressed by syndicalists historically of the power of the general strike. A mass mobilization of the organized working class committed to militant action and self defense can sideline the police and their repressive force. This is the lesson of class struggle and revolutionary syndicalism.
Yet while many will know something of the Common Front and 1972 general strike, few if any will recall or know anything about the catalyst for the uprising of May 1972. That is the 1971 strike at the La Presse newspaper and the police violence against striking workers that left a young feminist and Leftist student, Michele Gauthier, dead at the hands of Montreal police.
The La Presse conflict would become one of the signal events in labor history in Quebec and in Canada. Yet it is largely forgotten outside of Quebec. And the name Michele Gauthier, and the causes for which she stood, has been largely lost to history. This is an effect of power. We are too often left unaware of the humble heroes who, without fame or attention, put themselves on the line to stand for social justice and a better world against forces of control and domination, exploitation and repression.
This silencing allows power to tell its own particular story about our society and its true character. In Canada, the overlooking, the too easy forgetting, the silencing of the screams of pain, the muffled gasps, of regular people striving for a better world, has allowed state and capital, politicians and police, bosses and brigands to pose the country’ history as one of peace and progress rather than regressive and repressive violence. It allows power to paint a picture of a social consensus that has never existed and is only an image imposed by force.
Michele Gauthier’s sacrifice and her commitment, her active pursuit of solidarity and search for a better world must not be left to history. It must return as a part of the present of social justice and struggles against the everyday violence of power. She helped to galvanize a movement and forge commitments which posed revolutionary alternatives as real world prospects. She contributed to a development of working class solidarity and unity that seemed unlikely only months before.
This is of growing importance today in a period in which forces of reaction and outright fascism and ruling class brutality are on the upswing and growing. It is absolutely crucial as the exploited and oppressed look for examples of winning strategies and tactics and new ways of envisioning social alternatives to the dominant structures of power and domination, dispossession and accumulation. And as people in struggle debate the nature of the state and the nature of resistance and protests and seek to affirm the legitimacy and necessity of community self defense and militant collective direct action.
Chodos, Robert and Nick Auf der Maur. 1972. Quebec: A Chronicle 1968-1972. Toronto: James Lewis and Samuel, Publishers
Palmer, Bryan D. 2009. Canada’s 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
Sweetman, George. 2004. “General Strike: The 1972 Rebellion in Quebec.” North-Eastern Anarchist 9. https://www.ainfos.ca/04/nov/ainfos00381.html
There is no formal, systematic process for documenting and recording the deaths of civilians through encounters with police in Canada. There is no systematic reporting publicly of civilian deaths through police encounters. A baseline or minimum number of people who died through police encounters can be arrived at by review of oversight agency reports, coroners inquest reports, and close following of media articles. Here is some of the very limited information of what we know about 65 reported deaths. Much more needs to be known and should be made public.
- Amleset Haile. Female. 60. January 2. Toronto, Ontario. Toronto Police Service. Self-inflicted. (Black woman).
- Jimmy Cloutier. Male. 38. January 6. Montreal, Quebec. Montreal Police. Shot.
- Ralph Stevens. Male. 27. January 7. Stoney Nakoda First Nation, Alberta. RCMP. Shot. (Indigenous man).
- Nadia Racine. Female. 34. January 25. Gatineau, Quebec. Gatineau Police. In-custody.
- Male. 20. February 11. Goodfare, Alberta. RCMP. In-custody.
- Male. No Age Given. February 12. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Winnipeg Police Service. In-custody.
- Moses Amik Beaver. Male. 56. February 13. Thunder Bay, Ontario. Thunder Bay Police. In-custody. (Indigenous Man).
- Female. 20. March 6. Burlington, Ontario. Halton Regional Police Service.
- Male. 28. March 6. Montreal, Quebec. Montreal Police. Heart attack.
- Vitaly Savin. Male. 55. March 9. Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton Police Service. Shot.
- Male. 20. March 18. Pond Inlet. Nunavut. RCMP. Shot.
- Male. March 24. 61. Chateauguay, Quebec. Sûreté du Québec.
- Male. 40. April 1. Kelowna, British Columbia. RCMP. In-custody.
- Male. 24. April 28. Puvirnituq, Quebec. Kativik Regional Police Force. In-custody.
- Male. 39. May 2. Hall Beach. Nunavut. RCMP. Shot.
- Male. 32. May 13. Fort McMurray, Alberta. RCMP. In-custody.
- Male. 41. May 15. Beauceville, Quebec. Sûreté du Québec. Shot.
- Male. 26. May 22. Cambridge, Ontario.
- Female. No Age Given. May 27. Oak Bay, British Columbia. Victoria Police.
- Male. 43. June 3. Smith Falls, Ontario. Ontario Provincial Police. Self-inflicted.
- Male. 31. June 3. Ottawa, Ontario. Ottawa Police Service. Shot.
- Male. No Age Given. June 18. Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. RCMP. Shot
- Austin Eaglechief. Male. 22. June 19. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Saskatoon Police. Shot.
- Pierre Coriolan. Male. 58. June 27. Montreal, Quebec. Montreal Police. Shot. (Black man).
- Male. No Age Given. July 3. Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton Police Service. Vehicle chase.
- Male. No Age Given. July 5. Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. RCMP. Self-inflicted.
- Male. No Age Given. July 9. Quebec City, Quebec. Quebec City Police. Shot.
- Dale Culvner. Male. 35. July 18. Prince George, British Columbia. RCMP. In-custody.
- Marlon “Roland” Jerry McKay. Male. 50. July 19. Thunder Bay, Ontario. Thunder Bay Police. In-custody. (Indigenous man).
- Shawn Davis. Male. 52. July 26. Chatham, Ontario. Chatham Police. “Sudden Death.”
- Male. 66. July 30. Pointe-Calumet, Quebec. Vehicle chase.
- Male. 25. August 10. Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, Quebec. Sûreté du Québec. Shot.
- Female. 55. August 7. Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton Police Service. In-custody.
- Male. 23. August 20. La Sarre, Quebec. Sûreté du Québec. Shot.
- Male. No Age Given. August 13. Winnipeg, Manitoba. In-custody.
- Ozama Shaw. Male. 15. July 27. Mississauga, Ontario. Peel Region Police. Shot. (Black youth).
- Male. 48. September 4. Sudbury, Ontario. Sudbury Police. In-custody.
- Female. 26. September 4. Windsor, Ontario. Windsor Police Service. In-custody.
- Unnamed Male. 26. September 6. Whitefish Lake First Nation, Alberta. RCMP. Shot.
- Female. 46. September 9. Indian Head, Saskatchewan. RCMP. In-custody.
- Male. 29. September 9. Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton Police Service. Shot.
- Adrian Lacquette. 23. September 13. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Winnipeg Police Service. Shot.
- Male. 34. September 15. Windsor, Ontario. Windsor Police Service. In-custody.
- Male. 33. September 23. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Winnipeg Police Service. Shot.
- Sheila Walsh. Female. 65. September 25. Arnprior, Ontario. Ontario Provincial Police. Vehicle chase.
- Female. No Age Given. October 2. Quesnel, British Columbia. RCMP. In-custody.
- Nathan Wehlre. Male. 15. October 6. Highway 6, Ontario. Waterloo Regional Police. Vehicle chase.
- Taryn Hewitt. Female. 16. October 6. Highway 6, Ontario. Waterloo Regional Police. Vehicle chase.
- Cody Severight. Male. 23. October 10. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Winnipeg Police Service. Hit and run, officer DUI.
- Male. 35. October 12. Qualicum Beach, British Columbia. RCMP. Shot.
- Cavin Poucette. Male. 26. October 19. Gleichen, Alberta. RCMP. Shot. (Indigenous man).
- Brydon Bryce Whitstone. Male. 22. October 22. North Battleford, Saskatchewan. (Indigenous man).
- Tom Ryan. Male. 70. October 27. Cobourg, Ontario. Cobourg Police Service. Shot.
- Male. 44. October 31. Brampton, Ontario. Peel Regional Police. During arrest.
- Male. 23. November 8. Montreal, Quebec. Montreal Police. In-custody.
- Bill Saunders. Male. 18. November 15. Lake Manitoba First Nation, Manitoba. Shot.
- Male. 57. November 26. Toronto, Ontario. Toronto Police Service. In-custody.
- David Tshitoya Kalubi. Male. 23. November 24. Montreal, Quebec. Montreal Police. In-custody. (Black youth).
- Male. 52. December 6. Douglas, Ontario. Ontario Provincial Police. Shot.
- Male. 25. December 13. Maple, Ontario. Toronto Police Service. Shot.
- Babak Saidi. Male. 43. December 23. Morrisburg, Ontario. Ontario Provincial Police. Shot.
- Male. December 24. Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton Police Service. In-custody.
- Male. 22. December 28. Umiujaq, Quebec. Shot.
- Male. 36. December 28. Danford Lake, Quebec. Sûreté du Québec. Shot
- Male. No Age Given. December 30. Mississauga, Ontario. Peel Regional Police. Shot.
Investigation into Death of David Tshiteya Kalubi (23) in Custody of Montreal Police (Black Lives Matter)
Quebec’s Independent Investigations Bureau (BEI), the unit that examines police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating the in custody death of David Tshiteya Kalubi, a 23-year-old Black youth. Kalubi, who was arrested by Montreal police in his own neighborhood of Hochelaga, was declared dead less that 12 hours after his arrest.
Little information has been released publicly. Police say Kalubi was stopped by officers in Hochelaga and arrested on an outstanding warrant after police ran a background check. The BEI has not stated publicly what the outstanding warrant was for, only that it involved a municipal offense.
Community activists in the city, which has seen many cases of lethal police violence against civilians, and disproportionately against Black people, are raising concerns about Kalubi’s death and the actions of police. Racial profiling and so-called carding, where people are stopped by police and subjected to interrogation and/or background checks, have been strongly condemned by community members in cities across Canada. Carding goes hand in hand with profiling as Black people are disproportionately stopped for carding checks in Canadian contexts. Kalubi is of Congolese background.
Montreal police reportedly took Kalubi to the station, where he spent the night before being transferred to the municipal courthouse in Old Montreal to appear before a judge, according to the BEI. The transfer took place at 7:35 AM. Only a little more than an hour later, at 8:55 AM, a guard noticed that Kalubi was on the floor and appeared to be unconscious. He was then taken to the hospital and declared dead at 9:55 AM. Community members are raising concerns that Kalubi was subjected to differential, discriminatory, treatment because of histories of police racism in Montreal. The family, for its part has not raised the issues of racial profiling. According to the family’s lawyer, Virginie Dufresne-Lemire: “For the moment, there’s not enough information to know if it’s a case of racial profiling, but with a young black man arrested it can look like racial profiling” (quoted in MacArthur 2017).
Dan Philip, the executive director of the Black Coalition of Quebec has said publicly that it took police seven hours to notify his mother and family of Kalubi’s death. Even then, police took the opportunity to first interrogated the family about Kalubi, before telling them he was dead, according to Philip. Said Philip, in an interview with CBC News: “They felt it was a travesty. They felt there was no compassion. They felt that there was no concern about either the death of the young man or the family themselves who have to mourn the situation” (quoted in MacArthur 2017).
Community advocates have little confidence that the BEI will provide satisfactory answers to the family’s many questions. Critics have long pointed out that the BEI includes several former police officers among its active members. As Philips suggests: “It’s the police investigating the police. They have no interest in finding out why did he died and what negligence caused his death” (quoted in MacArthur 2017). It has also been pointed out repeatedly that the BEI lacks any meaningful diversity. It is expected that their report will not be released for another year yet.
MacArthur, Cecilia. 2017. “After a Young Man Dies in Custody, a Family Searches for Answers.” CBC News. November 24 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/david-tshiteya-kalubi-montreal-police-1.4416153