MONTREAL — The philosophy professor known to many as the Anarchist Panda is helping launch a class-action lawsuit against the city of Montreal in hopes of having the controversial P6 bylaw thrown out.
The bylaw was modified in 2012 to restrict the definition of what constitutes a legal protest and impose fines of up to $650 on anyone caught participating in a demonstration not previously approved by police. Under the bylaw, a protest is considered an illegal assembly if organizers don’t submit a parade route to police at least 24 hours before the march.
Julien Villeneuve, the Collège de Maisonneuve professor who wore a panda costume to protests during the 2012 student crisis, says P6 won’t survive a constitutional challenge because it violates the right to free expression and free assembly.
The law was inconsistently applied during the hundreds of student protests leading up to the 2012 provincial election, often only being invoked after a skirmish between a handful of protesters and riot police. But in early 2013, police used the law to pre-emptively shut down protests.
Many see the turning point as the March 15 anti police brutality protest, in which police descended on the crowd before they could even start marching and made about 250 arrests despite little evidence of violence or wrongdoing. The same pattern of “preventive arrests” and fines repeated itself at subsequent student and anti capitalist protests.
“I’d seen a lot of questionable behaviour in 2012 but that was probably the most depressing point,” Villeneuve said of the March 15 mass arrest. “For a second it was like, ‘Okay, it’s over, we can’t protest anymore in Montreal.’ Cops were telling us exactly that.”
The class-action suit is being carried by out by Montreal-based lawyer Sibel Ataogul. The lawyer will also argue that the people arrested were mistreated while in police custody and targeted for their political beliefs — a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Police wouldn’t comment on an ongoing file but in the past Montreal police chief Marc Parent has said P6 is a necessary law enforcement tool to ensure the maintenance of order and peace within the city. Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois has echoed Parent’s defence of the bylaw.
“P6 breaks the right to spontaneously protest and that’s something enshrined in our constitution,” Villeneuve said. “People who break the P6 bylaw are subjected to a shitty experience. Let’s face it, this is a ticket, not a criminal offence, They’re being confined to a small space with no access to water, washrooms, often kept in the cold for hours so they can receive a ticket.”