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Palestine, Montréal, P6 and rejecting state violence

by Stefan Christoff

photo by Sawssan Kaddoura from Under the Olive Tree
photo by Sawssan Kaddoura from Under the Olive Tree
photo by Thien V.
photo by Thien V.
photo by Thien V.
photo by Thien V.

Over the past month in Montréal a significant grassroots mobilization in solidarity with Palestine has taken to the streets, thousands and thousands have demonstrated collectively against the Israeli bombardment and countless war crimes in Gaza.

A specific focus to these demonstrations has been the direct and overt complicity of the Canadian government and politicians, across political lines in Ottawa, with the Israeli attack.

« Israël : assassin ! Harper : complice! » has been chanted by thousands on the streets, a chant that has quickly extended to also include, « Israël : assassin ! Mulcair : complice! » & « Israël : assassin ! Trudeau : complice! ».

As Israeli bombs rained down on Gaza in recent weeks, opposition politicians have lined up to support Israeli military action and to denounce the Palestinian resistance, ignoring the collective right of any occupied and besieged people to resist, as recognized in international law.

Not a striking distance politically from past statement, the Liberals have been predictably complicit, openly making excuses for Israeli war crimes in Gaza. In contrast the NDP, shifting away from past declarations that quoted international law, UN resolutions and repeat rhetoric around a “two state solution,” now has Mulcair openly repeating Israeli government talking points. “Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization and Israel has the right to defend its citizens from these attacks,” stated Mulcair recently.

In response the growing Palestine solidarity movement on the streets has made Canadian politicians a focus of demonstrations from coast-to-coast, highlighting the connections between the local and the global, the clear links between the halls of power in Canada and the Israeli political establishment behind the horrific assault on Gaza.

A collective consensus has been expressed on the streets, that links our solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle with efforts to hold local political forces in Québec and Canada accountable for their support for Israeli apartheid.

Local movements & international solidarity

Key to this grassroots mobilization in solidarity with Gaza is the deep involvement of social justice movements, that have been central to the multiple protests and actions taking place on a weekly basis in Montréal and beyond.

Driving this urgent action is our collective solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli colonialism and our outrage toward the Israeli atrocities in Gaza, an outrage that has been translated into powerful street protests and actions.

Important logistics for these demonstrations, from securing sound systems, to banner painting, to printing flyers, to distributing information online and many other necessary tasks that go into a protest, is being facilitated and pushed forward by existing activist infrastructure.

Community activist networks, operating outside of the cynical space occupied by politicians, deeply understand that solidarity travels across borders, that the systems of local political and economic power perpetuating injustices at home are most often directly complicit and involved in injustices abroad, a systemic pattern that is no different in the case of Palestine.

Beyond politicians the protests are also pointing to corporations like CAE, which specializes in flight simulator and “real-time operation systems,” that has secured major contracts to develop technology for the Israeli army, aiming to train military personnel to operate "next-generation combat aircraft."

Another key element to the sustained support for the Palestinian struggle locally are the clear links that exist between Canada’s history of violent colonization at home and support for Israeli colonialism abroad. Solid support for the current Palestine solidarity mobilization has been vocalized by many activists and networks the Idle No More movement.

At the protests, on the streets, Palestine solidarity actions are expressing support for local indigenous struggles, a sense of connection in struggle found in the common slogan, « a – anti – anti – colonialista ! »

Standing against state violence, rejecting P6

In articulating the connections between local social movements and the Palestine solidarity protests now vibrantly taking the streets in Québec and across Canada, addressing the question of the P6 municipal law in Montréal is also essential.

A draconian bylaw that bans free demonstrations, P6 is an attack on our collective rights, a law that has been clearly denounced by multiple local community organizations, activist groups, student associations and unions. In the context of our local struggles, a clear line has been drawn in the ongoing battle to overcome this sharp political attack on the right to free assembly in our city, a political line collectively asserting a policy of non-collaboration with the regressive P6 law.

In response to the open call to defy the P6 law, that defines all protests without clear police permission as “illegal,” countless demonstrations have taken the streets over the past year openly rejecting collaboration with the police over protest plans, including many gatherings that have been family friendly, including the annual march for missing and murdered indigenous women and the major ASSÉ protests against economically violent austerity measures.

Despite manipulative warnings from the police to not disobey the P6 law, many protests have taken place in a safe and inclusive way on the streets of Montréal, a collective assertion of street politics aiming to overturn the undemocratic P6 law.

Over recent years P6 has been utilized in incidents of violent police repression, a law adopted into the current rendition that bans free demonstrations, in the context of sustained attempts by political authorities to repress and silence the historic student strike that fundamentally questioned the political order in Québec and took the streets for accessible education and social justice.

Hundreds and hundreds have been unjustly charged under P6 for joining “illegal” demonstrations within the context of the historic Québec student movement, many of the very same people now joining the Palestine solidarity mobilizations.

Last spring at the annual protest against police brutality in Montréal, I was arrested with hundreds of others for taking to the streets against police brutality, a demonstration specifically drawing attention to the growing numbers of police killings targeting the homeless and socially marginalized people in our city over in recent years, including the homeless Iranian refugee Farshad Mohammadi, shot in the back by police on a cold winter day in métro Bonaventure.

Clearly P6 is used for repression, to undercut local protests that criticize police abuses and that stand against economic injustices in our society, including the annual May Day protest on international workers day, where hundreds were arrested under the draconian bylaw.

Palestine solidarity protests and P6

Currently the P6 bylaw is being challenged by local activists and it will hopefully be struck down, as the law clearly undercuts essential collective rights, articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and also Quebec’s Charte des droits et libertés de la personne. In parallel to these legal challenges toward P6 the law continues to be challenged in practice on the our city streets.

In this context, almost all the Palestine solidarity rallies over the past month in Montréal have taken place outside of any compliance with P6, free protests, collective actions for Palestine that refuse to accept the repressive confines a local law that is inherently connected to a larger matrix of injustice.

Throughout the past month thousands have gathered at métro Mont-Royal for demonstrations every Wednesday evening, protests that have been inclusive for families and people across generations, all taking to streets together in urgency and in solidarity with Palestine. For all of these protests, Tadamon !, the collective that I work with which has been coordinating these actions, has refused to collaborate with P6. Also the Manif nocturne pour la libération des peuples et de la Palestine, organized by Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU), openly defied P6, an inspiring action that took to streets of Montreal for six hours across the city.

I write this text to express urgently that non-collaboration with the P6 bylaw, within the context of the current wave of Palestine solidarity protests, is important and critical. Our collective refusal of P6 within the Palestine solidarity movement has been done in a way that respects a diversity of tactics, while also being inclusive toward all types of actions and protests.

In Montréal, our local struggles against economic injustice, police brutality that face repression under P6 are inherently against the same structures of political power, on the municipal, national and federal level, that are directly complicit with Israeli apartheid and colonization. Our support for the Palestinian struggle in Montréal can only be strengthened by highlighting these connections.

Addressing P6 compliance on August 10

Thousands participated in a mass protest in solidarity with Gaza yesterday on the streets of Montréal, a beautiful demonstration of collective solidarity and our refusal to be silent in the face of injustice in Gaza.

Unfortunately the involvement of some organizations backing the August 10th protest, specifically representatives from the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), created a political atmosphere that lead to an action that openly complied with P6. All despite the fact that for over a month Gaza solidarity actions have been openly defying P6, while sustaining an inclusive atmosphere.

This move to comply with P6 is unacceptable, it creates political space for the police to divide our movement, while it also works to criminalize and justify police violence against toward protests that don’t comply with the P6 bylaw.

On an emotional level compliance with P6 removed so some of the intensity and vibrancy of the protest, the presence of police guiding our action is depressing. Also this context allows space for a dangerous process of cooptation to take place, as seen by the presence of cynical politicians at the rally.

A clear physical illustration of the impact of this compliance with P6 at the Gaza solidarity rally was the overhead shots of the mass protest going up Berri street, the iconic vantage point of student strike protests, where one could see from the highway overpass the long winding crowds of people into the distance. The photos from today’s protest sadly show the protest taking up only one side of Berri street, when clearly the numbers demanded that we take the full street, both sides, to express our beautiful and heartfelt solidarity.

Also such controlled and managed protests give political ammunition to the liberal democratic claim that dissenting voices are tolerated as long as the fundamentals aren’t questioned. In reality, dissenting voices who participate in free protest on the streets and call out the roots of colonial injustice in Canada and beyond, or stand against capitalism, are often declared illegal by the state in Montréal and attacked by police.

This text is written as an attempt to channel productively some of the deep frustrations felt throughout the protest and expressed informally by many grassroots activists at the demonstration, people who urgently understand the importance of standing with the Palestinian struggle and have been deeply involved with organizing the recent wave of demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza.

To address the interlocking connections between Israeli apartheid and our political systems in Canada we need to question the fundamental structures of political power in our society.

Complying with P6 is shortsighted and cynical, it also undercuts important local struggles against injustice, driven by the very same grassroots networks that have always been the first to stand with Palestine and which stand opposed to the systems of power at home that consistently back Israeli war crimes.

Stefan Christoff is a community activist, musician and independent media maker in Montréal working with Tadamon! collective, find Stefan @spirodon


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Stefan Christoff (Stefan Christoff)
Montreal, Quebec
Member since April 2010

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Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based journalist, community organizer and musician.

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