There has been growing concern in Canada about a chill on peaceful, democratic protests. In the latest incident police officers, posing as protesters, allegedly attempted to incite violence at a protest in Montebello, Quebec.
If violence had broken out, it would have given the police a pretext to use force against the protesters.
The Sûreté du Québec initially denied the allegations, but now they admit that the three phony protesters were members of their force. They still deny that the officers were sent to stir up trouble.
The three “agents provocateurs” were carrying large rocks. They were confronted by a union leader who told them,
Go on, it’s our line. It’s a peaceful demonstration. … Put the rock down, cop.
Moments later, the three officers approached the police line. They “broke through” the line (against token resistance), then they were handcuffed and led away. It was an obvious charade to get the officers out of the predicament they were in, while maintaining the pretense that they were protesters.
If you would prefer to watch a professionally edited version of the footage, one is available (after viewing a brief advertisement) on the Globe and Mail site.
The Sûreté du Québec was operating under the oversight of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Globe and Mail reports:
Marlene Jennings, the federal Liberal justice critic, said the issue goes beyond the provincial police force.
“The RCMP has some explaining to do,” she told The Globe and Mail Thursday night. …
“We have people who blend in with the crowd. Everyone does that. All police forces in every country,” said Jean-Guy Dagenais, who heads the union of Quebec police officers (Association des policières et policiers provinciaux de Québec) that includes the Sûreté du Québec. …
But union leader Dave Coles, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said Monday’s incident went beyond any undercover police officer’s mandate.
“We’re not talking about someone that’s in plainclothes just walking amongst them. They were there armed with boulders. I witnessed them trying to incite a riot. I saw it,” said Mr. Coles, of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
I should note that the chill on protests began under the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien, as part of the general heightening of security post-9/11. But there is a perception among some observers that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper models itself on the Bush Administration in its efforts to stifle dissent.
(What else would you call it when the RCMP remove journalists from the lobby of a public building to prevent them from asking the Government questions?)
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Harper openly mocked the protesters at Montebello:
I’ve heard it’s nothing. A couple hundred? It’s sad.
I didn’t like his tone at the time. It has become doubly offensive in light of the latest developments.