[Documents menu] Documents menu

Melee on May Day

By Amanda Jelowicki and Jane Davenport, The Gazette, Tuesday 2 May 2000

The quiet residential streets of Westmount were invaded last night by more than 200 angry protesters who chanted slogans against government and big business while spray-painting anarchist symbols on private properties.

More than 100 people were rounded up by police and arrested on The Boulevard and Belvedere St. in upper Westmount about 7:30 last night.

Dozens of Montreal Urban Community police officers from the force's riot squad held back the protesters - who police described as mainly students and serial demonstrators - with large shields after they were rounded up in a circle.

The group chanted "Solidarite" as, one by one, they were handcuffed and escorted by police into a bus parked on Belvedere.

David Battistuzzi, 22, participated in the protest but was not arrested. He said the 200 people were not members of any organized group but had joined together for a May Day demonstration.

Battistuzzi said the group had specifically chosen Westmount because it's Montreal's wealthiest district.

"People live in a bubble up here. The area is so different from where most of us live. I don't even think they live on the same planet as most of us. We want people to wake up to poverty and democracy issues."

As police broke up the Westmount demonstration, 1,000 chilly and soaked May Day marchers - who participated in a separate, peaceful march against poverty yesterday evening - shared a moment of respite under a makeshift pavilion in the St. Henri district at day's end.

"Poverty is not a one-night issue. It's not just a demonstration issue. That's what the major labour unions have come to understand," Marc Laviolette, president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, told marchers gathered in the pavilion.

The CNTU joined forces with the Centrale de l'Enseignement du Quebec, the Quebec Federation of Labour, the Centrale des Syndicats Democratiques and several smaller organizations under the banner of the Montreal May Day Coalition to organize yesterday's demonstration, which began at 6:30 p.m. at Atwater Ave. and de Maisonneuve Blvd. and snaked its way through Westmount to its final destination in St. Henri.

"It came off very well, especially in view of the weather, " said Liane Flibotte of the Union des Travailleurs et Travailleuses Accidentes de Montreal as she relaxed in the tent, set up on the grounds of a St. Henri high school on St. Jacques St. "The whole thing was memorable."

Earlier in the afternoon, representatives of the four major unions met with Premier Lucien Bouchard at his Montreal offices in the Hydro-Quebec building on Rene Levesque Blvd. to present a six-pronged request for provincial reforms designed to eliminate poverty.

Representatives of the Syndicat de la Fonction Publique du Quebec, Solidarite Populaire Quebec and the Collective for a Law to Eliminate Poverty also attended the meeting.

"We had a clear and frank discussion," CNTU president Laviolette told the crowd after the demonstration. "Today we met with the premier to debate the fact that economic growth and riches rule our society."

At the meeting, Bouchard pledged to meet with members of the collective in the weeks ahead to further discuss the manifesto presented at yesterday's meeting.

The six initiatives outlined in the manifesto include the improvement of social-security programs, the refinancing of health and education systems and an in-depth reform of the provincial Labour Code to better protect the rights of workers.

"We need a government that puts itself resolutely on the side of the poor," Laviolette said.

Demonstrators met Laviolette's summation of the meeting with cheers before breaking into groups to drink, chat and dance to fiddle and accordion music.

"There is still a lot of work to be done," Flibotte stressed. "It'll take more than a meeting with Mr. Bouchard to change things. Poverty is everyone's responsibility."

Samir Ouati, 21, isn't affiliated with any of the organizations that took part in yesterday's march, but he went along anyway.

"I believe in what they're doing," he said, calling the trend to eliminate poverty "inevitable."

Ouati, who works in retail for $9 an hour, said he plans to attend law school on a student loan in an effort to get ahead in life.

"It isn't pleasant to see people around you living in poverty," he said. "I didn't grow up poor, exactly, but it depends who you compare yourself to."

At the Westmount demonstration broken up by police, Andre Durocher, chief of communications for the MUC force, said protesters were aggressive and police had no choice but to arrest them.

"They were really aggressive toward our officers, and it's illegal when people start spray-painting graffiti."

He said officers seized three cans of paint and a variety of pocket knives from the group.

The 100 people will all be charged with mischief and illegal assembly, and one person will be charged with assault after he attacked a police officer on a motorcycle.

One protester who was not arrested said the group had convened to raise awareness to poverty and to highlight the discrepancy between the world's wealthy and poor.

Durocher said the protesters arrived in Westmount at about 5:30 p.m., when they got off buses at Atwater and Sherbrooke St. They headed up the mountain toward the plush residential homes of the tony district.

Durocher said the protesters had no intention of maintaining a peaceful demonstration.

Some ran through the front and back gardens of residents, damaging lawns. The letter "A" encased in a circle, the symbol for anarchy, was spray-painted in bright red outside a number of residences.

There were reports that paint-filled balloons were thrown against private properties.

Belvedere St. resident John Zbarsky's property was run over by protesters, and he stood in the rain on his front step last night as police arrested people.

Zbarsky said he was eating supper with his family when his son noticed police running after demonstrators.

"I just saw all of these people running all over the place. It looked like there might be a bit of a problem, and some of them got into a shoving match with police.

"One really gets nervous, to see all these people running down the street. It was really annoying," Zbarsky said, adding he was anxious when protesters ran through his gardens, damaging his lawn.

Durocher said some of them were members of a group called the Blood Sisters, and others simply called themselves anarchists. He would not comment on reports that a handful of freelance photographers and a journalist were among those arrested.