(en) Eating in Montreal - Update

Thu, 11 Dec 97 17:03:15 -0500

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

Subject: A-infos story - Montreal Sent: 12/6/97 12:05 PM Received: 12/7/97 12:35 PM From: Dee, seahorse@odyssee.net

MTL'S RESTAURANT ACTION billed "the unthinkable" by media

-Injustice system speaks of "leaders", "violence" and "professional agitators," imprisons activists & begins laying charges. -On Friday, two of the 108 arrested refuse draconian release conditions and remain in prison. -Trials for Yves Manceau and Alexandre Popovic, the two political prisoners, set for December 16 and 18.

Last Wednesday's food-grab action in Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel is making waves. When some 120 poor Montrealers decided that hunger and poverty was too much, that charity was too condescending, and then proceeded to pillage an expensive buffet restaurant, the authorities clamped down massively. The police's dirty campaign to make us look violent and led by "professional agitators" is so far proving rather flimsy.

Since Wednesday night: who was released when: Late on Wednesday Dec 3 comrades that had not been arrested, as well as friends and relatives, came down to police headquarters where the 108 arrested were being interrogated and processed. Around 10 pm, three minors were released. Then some of the 35 or so women were let free. They were greeted by a solidarity vigil that was some 40-strong at midnight. The vigil did a lot to keep morale high, as the men and women still imprisoned next door in Bonsecours prison found out about our presence. Despite our being told otherwise by the police, most of the prisoners were not released in time to catch the last metro (subway) around midnight.

By 5 am Thursday morning, 104 had been released. 48 of the 105 adults had no accusations against them as of yet. The others were indiscriminately charged with robbery, mischief, and conspiracy to rob (complot pour vol). They are to reappear in court in early February 1998. No release conditions were imposed on these people. This was not the case with the remaining four. Jean-Francois Delisle, Yves Manseau, Alexandre Popovic and Luc Brisebois were singled out, either because of previous entanglements with the law, or because the authorities needed to finger "leaders".

By Thursday noon, the four were brought before a judge, and only one of them (Delisle) agreed to the following release conditions: along with notifying the court of any change of address, they had to stay away from the community centre that houses the Comite des sans emploi de Montreal centre (Committee of the unemployed, the organizers of the action) for the duration of the judicial process; to not communicate with any of the other three accused; to not organize or participate in any action.

The remaining three prisoners refused these harsh and unusual release conditions that amount to punishment before even a trial let alone a conviction. The prisoners were then taken to a prison far away from Bonsecour prison in Old Montreal. Again on Friday, they appeared at the courthouse to review the situation. Our lawyer, Pascal L'escarbeau (who is working pro bono (no charge)) did his best to have the men released unconditionally. He asked why was there a focus on these four, who for now are accused of the same things as the other 57 or so persons released unconditionally? The prosecutor also had to admit that the hotel's management had not pressed charges against the activists. Witnesses were called to testify that the community centre, the Comite Social Centre Sud at 1710 Beaudry street, was not the Headquarters of the Revolution.

The rest of this pre-trial hearing focused on whether the unusual release conditions were justified. The day wore on as the hearing brought out the political content of the situation. Our lawyer asked how did these men pose a threat to public security. Were they dangerous or violent? On this key question the prosecution seemed to waffle: the conditions were not for public security, but one of the accused had said in jail that the actions would multiply and grow in scope and effect. The prosecutor then contradicted himself by saying that public security was at risk. As for more serious charges, the prosecution claimed that they intend to charge some of them with assault. To overdramatize, the prosecutor impressed upon the judge how the courtroom is filled with activists who refuse to stand when he enters the room, but when the accused enter, they stand, giving clenched-fist salutes.

The judge offered to Alexandre Popovic and the two others the same release conditions save one: he could go to the community centre. He refused, and a trial date was set for December 16. Luc Brisbois accepted the release conditions, but only until December 16, when he would reconsider the situation. The prosecutor immediately pounced on this to inquire what was so special about the 16th. Were there other actions in the works? Yves Manseau's hearing was cut short by the judge, who was growing visibly impatient with the political overtones being heard. Rather than let Mr. Manseau call witnesses and be given the same consideration as the previous two accused, the judge simple told him the new conditions. Puzzled at why he'd been denied the right to be heard, Manseau did not accept the release conditions. His trial was set for December 18, and he was led off to the prison at Riviere des Prairie. At this point, one of the activists in the audience shouted out (in English) to the judge something along the lines of: "this court is an instrument of injustice! ..you are condemning us to poverty..." She refused to sit down, or to be quiet. The confrontational atmosphere was heavy, and security personal began moving towards her. The prosecutor wanted the room evacuated immediately, and the judge demanded that she sit down and be quiet, or else the room would be emptied. The activist did not stop, and the hearings in court room number 5 came to an end in this defiant and tense atmosphere.

We also organized a press conference that afternoon. We denounced the attacks on democratic freedoms, the situation with the comrades still in jail, the campaign of lies saying that we used violence, and the shortcomings in press freedom when the police can seize a station's footage. One station put the story first on the 6 o'clock TV news. It was an unusually sympathetic take on the situation.

We also called on other organizations in Quebec and Canada (and elsewhere) to show their solidarity. To all those individuals and organizations that have called, faxed and e-mailed words of encouragement and support, we thank you, we thank you for your solidarity and eagerness to bring about a more egalitarian society.

Our action has received considerable print, radio and TV media attention. Initially it was presented as "the unthinkable happened today in Montreal", a mob action done by "Leftists" and "the work of professional agitators". CBC news even fell for the police ruse of saying Alexandre Popovic is the "leader" of the Comite des sans emploi: "it's leader, Alexandre Popovic, has become a frequent guest in Montreal's jails..." Anyone familiar with community groups and radical activism should know that our activism develops our ability to take initiatives and function more autonomously.

The alternative weekly press covered the action more thoughtfully, however they were going to press late on Wednesday, so the coverage was spotty. In Hour, Carl Wilson described the event as "elegantly performed -smooth, almost giddy- until police arrived. the "self-service squad" was in and out of the dining room in minutes..." A second piece, more op/ed, was written by me in the Mirror.

The respected French daily Le Devoir focused on the police seizure of video footage from a Montreal TV station, saying this is a violation of journalists' freedom. A call-in radio show midday Thursday discussed the action for an hour. The callers were on the whole either sharply divided, (with perhaps a small majority sympathetic to the means undertaken) or they were torn in their feelings. In this sense, the action has been successful in getting large segments of the population to think about poverty issues more fundamentally, and it also brought ideological and class differences closer to the surface. Undoubtedly, such a brief awakening of a potential citizen-impulse and conscience will be quickly lulled back to sleep with the larger current of consumer and media noise and dross.

If there is one thing that is clear for most of us, it is our determination to continue our struggle. This action has once more helped galvanize the radical and anarchist community, and even though we are materially not rich, we form part of a network of talented individuals. Hunger is easy to politicize, and attacks on our hard-won social services will not go unchallenged. The privatization of social services would not be happening if they were really controlled and run by citizens in their communities.

In the months ahead we will undergo more trials, and there will be more public debate and action. We would like to know of similar types of actions in other cities. The fight continues. Sack the rich!

****** A-Infos News Service ***** News about and of interest to anarchists

Subscribe -> email MAJORDOMO@TAO.CA with the message SUBSCRIBE A-INFOS Info -> http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ Reproduce -> please include this section