A speech delivered at the Vancouver ‘Rally in Solidarity with Quebec Students’ on the 100th day of student strike in Québec.
Two days later, three women and a man in their early twenties handed themselves over to Montreal police. They were subsequently charged with ‘inciting fear of a terrorist attack’, drawing from an anti-terrorist law in the Québec criminal code prepared in haste after the attacks of 9/11, and which had never been used before. Under Québec law the charges can entail more than $5000 in fines and prison sentences of up to 5 years. Anti-terrorism legislation, based on the justification of repression under fear of national security, has already forced the extradition of ‘suspected terrorists’ in Britain under order of the US, with only extremely skim and dubious evidence. The same type of justification has detained US war prisoners from Afghanistan without trial and reduced them to a state of bare life, robbed of their basic human rights.
A week after the smoke bomb in Montreal, on Friday May 18th, three of the four suspects were released on bail. But a law more monstruous than the last had already been passed, expanding on the justifications of heavy-handed repression in the face of perceived crisis, withholding freedom of speech under the banner of a ‘right to education’, of course with its subordination to demonstrable profit. Justifications to avert crisis through this unconstitutional law also mean a glaring attack on civil and democratic rights, the right to assemble at more than 50 without eight hours notice to authorities, to publicly voice dissent, and to encourage others to take part in demonstrations. It waves off our part in a democratic right, alien to governance, in shaping a politics which we have no titles to take part in, but in which everyone and anyone should. This is already the form of politics that the 100 days of strike in Québec has performed so beautifully.
More than 360 people were arrested last weekend in Montreal following the enforcement of bill 78. Countless reports of police brutality have surfaced. Thousands have been pepper sprayed, beaten or intimidated by police. In a single day earlier this month during protests in Victoriaville, a horrific scene was drawn where two young men suffered major injuries from police excess: Maxence Valade lost use of an eye and nearly lost his life, and Alexandre Allard was propelled into a coma after receiving a plastic bullet in the head.
Two nights ago, 70 protesters, after being forced into a kettle in Montreal, were arrested and detained. Their belongings were taken and all their red squares removed. A friend was among them, and while he was in handcuffs, several police officers insulted him with racist remarks, making unambiguously ‘asian noises’, calling him the son of Kim Jong Ill and threatening to send him back to Korea. When he resisted, calling on their blatant racism and mentioning his Québec citizenship, he was treated with force.
What my friend’s ridiculous association to Kim Jong Ill reveals, aside from grotesque ignorance, is the schizophrenic contradiction in the current government’s justification of violence and repression in the face of perceived threats to civil rights. Of these, only a fraction are evoked to preserve the economic oligarchy of a government that has made no real concessions to the voice of the student movement or democratic principles since the start of this strike. The threat of democracy in the form of that which curtails the rule of the market, is the object of anxiety in bill 78, and in subordinating basic rights to attacking it, embodies the very fear and instability it hopes to abolish.
Bill 78 will take effect until July of next year, giving the government more than a year to stage soporific general elections before their December 2013 deadline. As with other anti-terrorism legislation created in the past decade, they are the opportunity for governments, in forever claiming recourse to so-called exceptional laws in managing crisis, to show us that their very way of distributing the common good concerns not democracy, but the numbing tactics of management, which organises relations between individuals in such a way that everyone stays in their place; as opposed to a real politics that should drive us and offer us the potential to reconfigure our relations to each other.