Thursday, March 15, 2007

International women’s day march turns violent

Demonstrators accuse police of brutality

By Annu Saini

The leg of 17-year-old Emma Strople. Police hit her in the chest with a club. PHOTO: Tasha Zamudio

Several women reported injuries at the hands of police officers and one arrest was made at an annual International Women’s Day March in Montreal on March 8.

Over 200 people attended the sixth annual march, including representatives from several community organizations like Women of Diverse Origins, the South Asian Women’s Community Centre and the Iranian Women’s Association.

They marched peacefully on Ste-Catherine—a route cleared by police—from Berri-Square to Phillips Square. The confrontation with police occurred after some demonstrators started marching back to Berri-Square.

“We were marching back on the street. The police got on their bullhorns and told us to get on the sidewalk,” said Bita Eslami, one of the demonstrators. She said the police “just came at us, whipping at people indiscriminately with nightsticks,” and explained the violence against her:
“[The police officer] grabbed my throat and choked me. It was very calculated violence.”
-Bita Eslami

Head of communications for the Montréal Police Paul Chablo said the officers were trying to capture local activist Jaggi Singh, who was taking part in the demo and who the police claim was in breach of his bail conditions.

“The women’s day celebration started like usual,” Chablo said. “We saw that someone was in the crowd who was in violation of [their] conditions [...] we waited until the end of the march, and then we arrested him.

“Other people formed a semi-circle around him to prevent him from being arrested. We don’t recommend that people intervene when the police are attempting to arrest someone,” said Chablo.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Strople was injured during the march.

“I saw the police running into the marchers. People were running towards the sidewalk,” said Strople. “I was thrown to the ground twice. I hit my head on a parking metre. A police officer hit me in the middle of my chest with the end of a billy club.”

Chablo said that “it is a stretch” to call what happened at the demo violence.

“If there’s any abuse, we’ll even help them fill out the forms to complain,” he said.

Dolores Chew, a representative from the Eight March Committee who was also present on Thursday said, “We are horrified by what happened at the march. The Women’s Day march is very peaceful—we invite everyone, men and women, to come and celebrate with us. Its a very innocent march, like mother’s milk or apple pie.”

A United Nations human rights report in late 2005 noted that close to 2,000 protesters have been arrested by Montreal police since 1999, more than any other Canadian city.

As of press time, Jaggi Singh was still in jail.

Women in Manila and Pakistan were also injured by police while taking part in International Women’s day demonstrations.