Home movies from Montebello

Elizabeth May
In case you missed it, here is the Youtube link showing the confrontation at Montebello between Union organizer Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, and three members of some security force (RCMP? Surete du Quebec?) disguised as protesters. There is no real room for doubt here. The three are burly, well built guys (the protest crowd usually tends to the young and scrawny or over-weight and middle aged… not a lot of “pumping iron” folks in the anti-globalization movement.) The men are dressed as hoodlums. Bandanas over their mouth and nose. Caps down over their eyes. One of the three has a rock and is threatening to lob it at the police line. Dave Coles, in open shirt and sports jacket, moves in to call for only peaceful protest. In the moments that ensue, Dave gets very suspicious of the so-called protesters. As he related later, he looked at one and said “you are a cop, aren’t you?” (that part was inaudible to me on the tape) Very clearly, you then hear him say “Take your masks off, the three of you. … It’s a peaceful protest.” They refuse to remove their masks, so he points at them and calls out to the crowd “These three guys are all cops.” This is where any doubt about their identities really falls apart. One of them leans in to the policeman at the end of the line. Since the policeman, in full riot gear, is holding a plexiglass shield, our hapless provocateur has to lean in pretty far to have a chat with the officer. Let’s try to imagine what he could possibly be saying if it wasn’t “We are cops, get us out of here.” Maybe: “Excuse me officer, but this union leader here is badgering me and asking me to take off my bandana. I need protective custody.” The three do get to go behind the police line where they are then (gently) handcuffed on the ground, providing a good view of the fact the boots they are wearing are identical to those of the officers handcuffing them. Most Canadians are shocked by this. Sadly I am not. In fact, on Sunday at the Parliament Hill Rally a reporter asked me if I was worried about the potential for violence at Montebello. I answered “No, it will be peaceful, unless they send in agents provocateurs to create a violent confrontation.” The reporter looked dubious, so I told him that I had been in Seattle and in Quebec City and that it was very clear that the people who smashed windows were not with any protest group. In Seattle, where I was part of the official Canadian delegation to the World Trade Organization meetings, the march of over 40,000 people had been entirely peaceful. NDP MP, Bill Blaikie and I marched together surrounded by union members and environmentalists and wonderful banners proclaiming “Turtles and Teamsters: together at last.” The mood was festive, happy and peaceful. But somehow near the downtown, people dressed in black with crowbars had started smashing plate glass windows. The national guard quickly replaced the Seattle police. Tear gas filled the air and a curfew was imposed that left many young people scrambling for a place to go. There was no bus service. No cabs would venture out. Two young Sierra Club volunteers reached me in my hotel seeking shelter. They brought with them eye witness accounts of what had transpired. And they had video tape. (We didn’t have Youtube then.) I was shocked to watch on video as a line of policemen never moved an inch to stop the window smashing “anarchists.” The only effort to stop the hoodlums was from young people who had been part of the march. One young man put himself at real risk by trying to get the crowbar away from the vandal. They smashed windows in full view of over twenty policemen who watched impassively and then the vandals walked away. It made no sense. Once I saw that footage, I was convinced these young people in black were sent in to justify the crackdown that followed. I heard similar stories from Quebec City. One of my friends watched a group of men who looked like SQ forces (well-built, short hair, good boots) eating in a restaurant and then donning their disguises. She was convinced they were agents provocateurs. I have always been uncompromising in my belief that there is no excuse for violent protest or vandalism. None. When writing my activist guide, How to Save the World in Your Spare Time, I outlined the reasons. Ethical, moral, strategic. I also repeated prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby’s advice from a pre-Quebec City teach-in. When asked what to do if someone in your group starts talking about explosives or advocating violence, Clay answered: “You get a picture of them. You tell them you now suspect they are under-cover agents for the RCMP. You don’t tolerate that sort of suggestion.” Dave Coles is a hero. He not only acted to stop what he thought was an outraged youth with a rock, he took the time to notice the incongruities. He went for the evidence: show me your face. The fact that a video camera captured the whole confrontation is huge. Even more amazing is that thousands of people have already gone to the Youtube site to watch for themselves. Exactly who ordered this, who knew, what they hoped to achieve are all pressing and urgent questions. We must press for a full investigation. We must not let this chance to insist on transparency and respect for legitimate, Charter-protected rights of peaceful assembly be shrugged off with the official denials issued today. The Montebello Summit was all about a secret agenda with meetings held in secret. We must demand of the whole charade: “Take off your mask. Show us who you are.”