BY Amanda Defilló & Hannah Tiongson

Camille Goulet has attended various protests in and out of Montreal. She says it is an important way to initiate change.

“I truly see protesting as our only option,” she says. “It’s the only way to make the government hear and make an impact.”

And now, people in Montreal have new freedom to protest.

protester holding up sign at Stand for Dignity protest

Protester holding up a sign at the Stand for Dignity protest for Haiti. Photo by Amanda Defilló.

A judge has ruled that protesters were forcefully and unjustly detained between the years of 2012 and 2015. The judge’s verdict means Montreal is paying out $6 million dollars to those arrested and had to publish a public apology.

Sibel Ataogul, partner at the Melançon Marceau Grenier Cohen law firm, highlights the importance of the decision.

“I think there’s a recognition there that the fundamental rights of protesters were violated,” Ataogul says. “These were peaceful protesters. For the most part the majority of them were arrested for being where they were and when they were there.”

Ataogul was one of two lawyers that represented eight of the 16 class action suits.

“The only real law in place to protect protesters is really the Quebec and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she says. “That’s what we used to say this violates freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association.”

In addition to representing demonstrators against the city, Ataogul is also one of the lawyers who successfully challenged regulation P6. The article required protesters to provide police with an itinerary and prohibited the use of masks during demonstrations.

Recent court decisions have changed how police can react to protestors. Video by Hannah Tiongson.

“In my view, I think when P6 was in effect, that gave the police sort of an excuse to kettle and arrest in protests they didn’t want to continue,” she says. “I’ve seen more arrests in situations where police had access to these sort of random regulations. You didn’t give us an itinerary. You’re wearing a mask. Nobody did anything wrong but it allowed them to preventively get rid of people.”

Despite P6 being repealed, Montreal police still state on their website: “You will need to follow certain instructions to make sure that the demonstration takes place in the best possible context, in a safe manner and complies with municipal regulations.”

guidelines for protesting found on the SPVM website

The SPVM outlines a series of guidelines to a safe protest. Infographic by Amanda Defilló.

Ataogul says it’s important to maintain basic rights, like the right to protest.

“The situation isn’t fixed. It’s a constant struggle to maintain the rights we’ve fought for and it only takes a small spark for everything to be threatened,” she says. “If you want to preserve the life you have I think you have to fight and preserve your human rights.”

Man leads chant at Stand for Dignity protest

Man leads chant at Stand for Dignity protest. Photo by Amanda Defilló.

Kregg Hetherington, an associate professor of anthropology and sociology at Concordia University, agrees.

“I think protesting has always been just a vital way for people to express their displeasure with power. I think in our current Canadian democratic society protest is a really important way of expressing popular will,” he says. “Governments actually want there to be the possibility of protesting because it’s important for people to express in different types of ways. But governments are always gonna want to restrict what those protests can do a little bit because at their limit protests can be threatening to a particular power order.”

protesters hold up signs for passing by cars

Protesters hold up signs for passing cars. Photo by Amanda Defilló.

Hetherington notes that the fact we can hold these demonstrations is what makes us a democratic society.

“If you don’t have that then that’s sort of the definition of an authoritarian or autocratic regime” he says. “We say voting is the most important thing but voting almost doesn’t matter if you don’t also have the ability to back it up with other kinds of popular mobilizations.”

Main image by Amanda Defilló.
Published May 25, 2023.