Last year, Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête looked back at the behaviour of police forces during protests surrounding the Summit of the Americas in April 2001 and the convention of the Liberal Party of Quebec in Victoriaville on May 4, 2012. At both events, many people were gravely injured by plastic bullets fired by police. Indeed, weapons touted as “non-lethal” constitute a menace to the physical integrity and even to the lives of people who are merely expressing their opinions at public demonstrations in Quebec.
‘Reduced lethal force’ is a relative thing
Among the many cases in Quebec some of the notables include Éric Laferrière, who was hit in the throat and lost the use of his voice (Summit of the Americas, April 2001); Mathieu Harvey, who was hit in the head and spent three days in a coma (Summit of the Americas); Francis Grenier, who lost an eye (Mar. 7, 2012); Alexandre Allard, who suffered cranial trauma, fractures to his face, a cerebral contusion and who became deaf in his left ear (May 4, 2012); Dominique Laliberté-Martineau, who was hit violently in the face and suffered a double fracture to his jaw, the loss of six teeth and lacerations of his inner lip (May 4, 2012); Maxence Valade, who lost an eye and suffered cranial trauma as well as contusions to his liver and lungs (May 4, 2012); and Naomie Tremblay-Trudeau, whose face was wounded on Mar. 26, 2015.
Beyond these protests, despite what the police say, these arms kill, as demonstrated by the cases of Bony Jean-Pierre and Philippe Ferraro. The use of rubber bullets can also be linked to the death of Pierre Coriolan on June 27, 2017. Coriolan’s family believes that the Monteal police should stop using these type of arms and instead ensure that its members have adequate training in order to intervene in situations of mental health crisis. One can’t treat mental health issues with a bullet, even a plastic one.
Let’s also highlight that in many of these cases the police denied that the injuries were caused by these projectiles. The Grenier judgment of Nov. 6, 2017 is indisputable in this regard and recognizes that the Montreal police knowingly hid their responsibility for the injury suffered by Francis Grenier. Moreover, during the process, all the police witnesses downplayed the risks linked to the use of stun grenades despite the risk of serious injuries, even death, as is even spelled out in the product’s user manual.
Damage lasts long after the protests are over
The effects of weapons said to be “non-lethal” go beyond lost hearing or lost eyes and teeth. Their impact is profound and the psychological shock can be felt for years and can result, among other things, in latent fear and anxiety. Francis Grenier has been witness to these long-term impacts. Since the loss of his eye, he is afraid of explosions, can’t handle loud noises, and avoids crowds. This lasting shock can also translate into a loss of confidence in the institutions who supposedly protect us. How, for example, can one have confidence in the police after such things have been done? How to have confidence in them while they deny all responsibility and never cease to call into question the veracity of witness testimonies?
The impact not only affects those close to the victims but also large segments of the population, as the use of these arms means that anyone can be seriously injured by the simple act of participating in a protest. Fear builds and discourages protests, whereas the police enjoy near-total impunity.
The impact of police bullets therefore constitutes a veritable denial of expression. “Non-lethal” weapons silence dissidence, sometimes literally. Dominique Laliberté-Martineau, who received a plastic bullet right on his jaw during a protest in Victoriaville on May 4th, 2012 knows one or two things about it . . .
That’s why public debate is essential, so that voices and perspectives other than the police’s can be made heard, so that arbitrariness is not the force of law. Given that the harm has already been done, the process plays a central role — not only through the clarifications and repairs that it can permit but also for the recognition of the voices and the legitimacy to which it can give access.
This campaign for the right to protest without fear has this as its departure point. Every person should be able to express their opinions and criticize the powers that be without fearing for their physical safety. What is at stake goes far beyond injuries as such; it concerns every person for whom the value of rights and freedoms comes from their exercise. It’s not a matter of personal or private stakes, but of collective and political issues.
In face of the danger that “non-lethal” weapons present, in face of the reckless manner in which the police use them — without any regard for the risks they pose to the protesters and in the absence of any accountability — we are asking people to sign our manifesto, Protesting Without Fear, and to join us in calling out the political class. This is because the police are not the only ones responsible for this situation. The police benefit from the active complicity of those who pretend to represent and govern us.
That’s why we’re demanding that municipal administrations, as well as the governments of Quebec and Canada, ban the use of weapons like plastic bullets and stun grenade explosives. Ms. Plante, as the leader of a party that was elected on a promise to “review all crowd-dispersal techniques” and to “ban the use of plastic bullets,” what are you waiting for to act? Mr. Coiteux, as the minister of public security in Quebec, how much longer are you going to look away and remain silent?
The collective of the campaign “Protesting Without Fear”: Alexandre Allard, Marcos Ancelovici, Jenny Cartwright, Sophie Desbiens, Jérémie Gauthier-Caron, Francis Grenier, Mathieu Harvey, Mario Jean, Émilie E. Joly, Lynda Khelil, Dominique Laliberté-Martineau, Arij Riahi, Chantal Saumur,Claudel Valade, Maxence L. Valade, Julien Villeneuve, Sandy Wodz.