SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS - FTAA Quebec April 20th 2001

Pic: Zoe Mitchell

Coming Off The Fence

On-the-spot reports by Shawn Ewald

A20 Quebec City

A block before the perimeter, people were asked to follow green, yellow or red routes. We went red. It only took a few minutes for the black bloc to take down the fence on l'Amerique-Francaise and not long after that for the first volleys of tear gas to be fired, which were met with rocks and bottles from the protesters.

The Quebec police force has a great deal of experience in crowd control and use extreme violence and terror tactics with skill. In retrospect, everything they did had a degree of strategy which most people were unprepared for.

We didn't bring gas masks because we assumed they would be confiscated at the border. The gas hurt like hell, but when we walked away and faced the wind, it cleared. But after each dose it became harder to recover.

After an hour the police brought in two water cannon trucks behind the protesters, in an attempt to trap them between l'Amerique-Francaise and Turnbull, and lure the black bloc away from the wall. The last part of the plan worked, but not how they expected. The protesters who were now fighting mad after being tear gassed for over an hour, ferociously attacked the water cannon trucks - smashing the windows and attempting to open the doors to drag the drivers out. The trucks made a hasty retreat and from then on stayed safely ensconced behind the perimeter fence.

Later we learnt police - dressed as protesters - kidnapped Jaggi Singh, one of the most visible and effective spokepeople for the actions. They caught him in the green zone, beat the crap out of him, and threw him into an unmarked car.

A21 Quebec City

The next day's assembly point was on Charest at noon. Yesterday we had 15,000 to 20,000 in the streets, today we had 60,000 union marchers according to the organizers and 10,000 to 15,000 protesters and angry locals.

This day we brought goggles, cloth to cover our faces and vinegar to cut the tear gas. A couple of bank windows got broken, no big deal, and sometime before noon, protesters occupied the freeway on and off ramps on Cote d'Abraham and began a massive drum session on the guardrails to disrupt the nearby summit. The drumming started before noon and the marathon did not end until it was viciously dispersed around 4AM. The whole time, these people were under direct attack but the black block came to defend them and draw fire away. The people who took part in that defense (men, women, black, white, asian, First Nations, Quebecquois) showed incredible guts, ferocity and tenacity. Barrages of teargas, plastic bullets, and water cannon blasts were met with storms of bricks and stones, flaming debris, and teargas cannisters flung back in the cops' faces. The "bangers", as we were calling them, on the freeway and the defenders took shifts - it was an informal system: someone got tired or hurt and there would be someone else to take their place. This battle went on for hours.

Vinegar on a piece of cloth will protect you from CS gas pretty well, but not if you're foolish enough to walk into a cloud of it, so we decided to move on down to St. Jean, where we heard the fighting was also getting fierce. On our way over we saw some amazing generosity from the citizens of Quebec City; a lovely middle-aged woman hung a water hose out her window smiling on the crowd below as they rinsed their eyes and filled water bottles; a shopkeeper in the street did the same; a grandfather with his grandchildren sat on his stoop shouting: "Mais oui! Mais oui! C'est Admirable!" as we passed and the black bloc marched down a street to cheers from protesters and locals alike.

There is a long, steep staircase that leads from Cote d'Abraham down to Saint-Vallier, where we sat on the curb to relax and chat, with many locals gathering to mingle with activists. Suddenly, out of nowhere, people came running and screaming down the stairs with a cloud of teargas trailing behind them. The cops had managed to push the line about two blocks down the hill, yet the "bangers" were still going strong.

The locals started throwing bottles and rocks up at the cops and got another round of teargas for their troubles. It took an hour for the cops to back off, but by this time the camel's back has been broken. It was Saturday night, and the bars and streets filled with angry working-class whites, blacks and south asians of St. Jean-Baptiste and Limoilou who had been perpetually gassed the whole day.

The whole intersection of Charest and Couronne belonged to the locals and the activists. A bonfire had been lit and people were drinking hard, smoking dope and the sound system was pumping out hip-hop.

Another amazing street battle occured on Cote d'Abraham, this time with the full resourcefulness of the locals. At one point, they pulled a steel fence seemingly out of thin air and march up Cote d'Abraham to charge the cop line near the top of the hill. The battle raged back and forth until 4AM when the cops finally drove everyone down into the park. We heard there were still battles going on at St. Jean and Rene Levesque, but it was over for us. There was a rumour that the Canadian army may be brought in, provoking people to say there'd be a revolution because Quebecois hate the army: They still remember what the army did in the 70's during the Quebecois civil rights struggles. On Sunday morning, we learned that something like 455 people had been arrested and sources claimed that only approximately 300 were accounted for.

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