Facing a barrage of criticism from human-rights observers and protesters detained during a five-hour crackdown at an anti-capitalist protest Friday in Dorchester Square, police yesterday displayed their reasons for taking what they termed "preventive measures."
"Anti-cop instruments," as protesters labeled a collection of marbles, also included Molotov cocktails, slingshots, wooden sticks, a wide assortment of golf balls and billiard balls, rocks and bricks.
This was just a "small sample" of what police found when they arrested 25 men for assault and vandalism, and ticketed 147 other demonstrators for unlawful assembly Friday night, said Commander André Durocher at a press conference yesterday.
The demonstration coincided with the Montreal meetings of G8 labour ministers that began Thursday and wound up yesterday.
"The sheer quantity of weapons shows our actions were not only justified, but necessary to avoid a threat to the public," Durocher said, adding that the CLAC - Anti-Capitalist Convergence, which organized the event - has a history of violent protest.
The only protester still detained was a man arrested in Dorchester Square with a 9-millimetre pistol, allegedly used to fire shots in nearby Peel métro station earlier that evening.
But observers and protesters, characterizing police actions as an assault on their right to protest and freedom of expression, dispute some of the main elements in the police's postmortem.
Seven members of the Ligue des Droits et Libertés who were at the protest said there was never any warning to the crowd to disperse if they wanted to avoid trouble - and a $138 ticket for unlawful assembly.
"Contrary to what police said, there was no advising, no notice to disperse," said Nawtal Sheikh, a journalist who is filing a complaint against police. "It was completely out of the blue. They came from all sides, and once you were in the circle, there was no getting out."
Sheikh's complaint will be difficult to substantiate. He and league observers said police had removed their badges and when asked, refused to identify themselves.
It is the force's policy to identify themselves, Durocher said, but "it may not be the best time" when they are facing a group of protesters.
The fundamental issue prompting observers to condemn the police action was the legality of the measures taken before any violence had occurred, a fact both sides of the riot line accept.
"Some 300 people are assembled in a park," read a statement by the league. "They listen to speeches about the G8, the environment, and no act of violence of any nature is reported by our observers when it is announced the march will begin. All of a sudden, without notice, the police encircle the park and block all the exits."
Forty-five minutes pass before they are told they are under arrest for illegal assembly, the league said. The arrest process lasts more than four hours, during which time the detained are kept standing, crowded together.
"During all this time, there is not one act of aggression, no confrontation by people detained toward the police," the league added.
"The right to assemble and protest is included in the right to freedom of expression. Police should not determine for themselves the parameters for the exercise of freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly."
The decision to cordon off the park was taken when protesters refused to tell them where their march would go, or identify the people leading it, Durocher said. "We're starting to get used to the accusation that we provoked it. But if we had waited we'd be asked why we stood by and did nothing, given all those with weapons and Molotov cocktails. Will we wait until windows are broken and someone is sprayed with gas and burnt alive?"
Two people were injured during the protest and the subsequent 4 1/2 hour detention. One journalist was hit with a marble in the back of the head; one police officer was kicked in the ribs by two protesters. Three police cars and one motorbike were vandalized. One police vehicle was stolen.
- Catherine Solyom's E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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