Sound bombs, tear gas, paintballs, broken windows, shouting, car chases, helicopter noise, police sirens …downtown Montreal looked like a war zone last night as demonstrators and police engaged in yet another confrontation as the 75-day strike against rising tuition fees continues. At the heart of the action, the journalists were caught in the crossfire.

By Anne Caroline Desplanques for ProjetJ
Translated by Belinda Alzner*

 

Sound bombs, tear gas, paintballs, broken windows, shouting, car chases, helicopter noise, police sirens …downtown Montreal looked like a war zone last night as demonstrators and police engaged in yet another confrontation as the 75-day strike against rising tuition fees continues. At the heart of the action, the journalists were caught in the crossfire.

Félix Séguin, a reporter for TVA who spent part of the night covering the event, is still recovering from having been beaten by police batons. "Hopefully this was inadvertent," he said to ProjetJ. "I always try to cover as close as possible to the action, so there is always a risk. But when clearly identified as a journalist with the handheld camera, I think this calls for some restraint on the part of police. "

According to him, after weeks of protests, there was a "paradigm shift" last night. "Usually, we were attacked by anarchist protesters, but yesterday the police were racing in the heap, including the media." The film crew of CUTV Student Community Television has also been targeted by police who sprayed pepper spray directly in the eyes of the programming director of the chain, Laith Marouf, while filming an arrest. His colleague at CTV, who was at his side, was also sprayed.

Our collaborator Jean-Hugues Roy was there. Camera in hand, he was beaten with batons and was stuck in a cloud of tear gas. It happened not far from the CUTV team.

The same event from the perspective of CTV cameraman, Mark Doucette, who was also pepper sprayed.

For Laith Marouf, this was not his first encounter with the SPVM. A few weeks ago, he was arrested while covering another protest. After being held for five hours, he was charged with obstructing police work. Unlike the two La Presse journalists who were also arrested in similar circumstances two weeks ago, Marouf is still under criminal charges, which he considers a legal intimidation

He said the security forces are attacking CUTV due to its editorial content being pro-student. He also believes that these days, aggression is escalated in the police ranks and they are now trying to prevent journalists from seeing how the arrests take place. "I saw students being beaten, insulted, their arms broken, sexually harrassed. They want to prevent us from seeing all that."

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Marco Bélair-Cirino of Le Devoir was also attacked last night while attending the arrest of a protester isolated in the late evening. He took notes and recorded the conversation with his mobile phone, when a policeman shoved and shouted at him to move. For protection, he waved his press card, but the officer shouted "it is worthless," while continuing to push back. However, he also was a victim of hooded protesters at another event while taking pictures of broken windows.

According to Marco Bélair-Cirino, journalists are being targeted by people, police and protesters, who do not want their actions reported. He adds that "there is a weariness that installs on both sides face a protracted conflict."

Tristan Peloquin, a reporter for La Presse, also called to show understanding towards police officers who work in "situations of intense stress and repeated." "As media, we do not have an absolute right of a film,” he says. “When the police decide to empty the place, you do not stay there, whether you are a journalist or not."

He said since the beginning of the strike, the threat to journalists has come more from the radical anti-capitalist protesters than from the police."Media accomplices!" he says they have been called. Peloquin was targeted by paintballs last night. His cameraman, Hugo Sebastian Aubert, was hit a few inches from the eye. "People were very aggressive towards us and towards the police. For the first time, I withdrew to safety," he says, still in shock.

On Friday, Felix Seguin was pushed to the ground and beaten by demonstrators. According to him, belonging to a group like Quebecor or Gesca, seen as symbols of capitalism, is denounced by the more radical protesters, for which they attack him and his colleagues. In addition, journalists are holders of editorial positions of their media. "Those who make the editorial put so much pressure on journalists trying to make a balanced work in the field,” he believes.“People do not know the difference between me and Richard Martineau, and you can not ask them to, it's part of the game." (Martineau is a Journal de Montreal columnist who has been fighting against the students since the beginning of the strike.)

Jean-Hugues Roy captured an instance of intimidation between a hooded protester and a TVA cameraman last week:

In recent days, a TVA vehicle was ransacked and looted, while the the Journal de Montreal on Rue Frontenac was vandalized. Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ) denounced the vandalism of the Journal de Montreal as an attack on freedom of press. "The heightened social tensions of the moment must not lose sight of the need to preserve freedom for the different media to report reality, their own way,” she said. “Disagree with news coverage gives no justification in any way to engage in attacks against the media or journalists."

 

*Though Google translate and Anne Caroline Desplanques helped immensely, if anything was lost in translation, I  take the blame and apologise; please let us know in the comments.