Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Fall Of Montreal

Wilhelm Reich saw Fascism has an emotional plague. As a medical doctor and psychoanalyst, Reich determined that Fascism and reactionary politics were a psychological plague and epidemic which had engulfed western society back in the 1930s. For Wilhelm Reich, the emotional plague did not come out of a vacuum. For Reich it has been incubated by millennium of authoritarian societies and states. For Reich, Fascism was not restricted to any race or religion or region. It can strike anywhere at any time. Montreal is the latest city to be afflicted by the emotional plague.

On Friday June 22 I walked up Avenue du Parc and saw thousands of Canadian soldiers occupying Jeanne Mance Park. I had never seen so many soldiers amassed in Montreal. The Canadian military launched its largest recruitment drive in 40 years. With Canada engaged in a war of conquest and occupation in Afghanistan, more recruits are needed.
Two days later, on St. Jean Baptiste Day, as I had laid in bed, I heard soldiers marching outside my apartment. It was one of the most terrifying experiences I had in Montreal. The full realisation of the context chilled me to the core. Quebec has historically been pacifist. Moreover, St. Jean Baptise Day is the official holiday for the Province of Quebec. It is the day of Quebec nationalism and separatism. Moreover, Montreal was placed under military occupation during the Front Liberation du Quebec crisis in 1970. Was it really wise to have Canadian troops marching through a residential neighbourhood on a quiet Sunday morning on a holiday?
In the provincial capital, Quebec City, another parade of troops were scheduled. The parade was announced in advance and there was a large anti-war demo to counter the military display. In Montreal, the marching of troops was a surprise. Most people were either asleep or out of town for the weekend. It was an act of intimidation by the Federal right wing government.

The sight of Canadian troops occupying a public park and marching through a residential neighbourhood was already too much. This past Spring, the Borough of La Plateau du Mont-Royal passed a by-law implementing video surveillance cameras on Blvd. St. Laurent and Rue St. Denis. The video cameras are operated by the Montreal Police Service. Unlike the ubiquitous cameras which pollute the streets of the UK, the cameras on the Plateau are small. They are posted about 20 feet off the ground hanging off lamp posts. Though there are signs on the lamp posts advising of video surveillance, the cameras are miniature. The cameras rotate 360 degrees underneath a darkened dome of glass. The height of the cameras makes vandalism all but impossible.
The cameras were first placed around Berri Square and adjacent St. Denis and Blvd. deMaisonneuve last year as a pilot project. They were installed due to the large number of marijuana dealers around the Metro kiosks. Everyone in Montreal, in a pinch, buys weed from Berri. The quality is bad and the quantity minuscule but it is safe. In the 6 years that I lived in Montreal, I had never witnessed or heard about violence or disturbances that arose from the marijuana dealers.

One is not safe going underground. 20,000 cameras have been installed on the metro. For a relatively small system which carries less than 15 million passengers annually, 20,000 cameras is rather excessive.
However, the armed occupation of Montreal has penetrated underground. On June 18th, armed police officers began to patrol the metro. The unarmed guards which had been responsible for safety since 1980 have been assigned to catch fare evaders. There are undeniable signs of militarised occupation in Montreal.

One of my primary motivations for fleeing New York and the US to Montreal was racial oppression. Under Rudy Giuliani, there was a reign of terror against New York's Black population by the NYPD. When I arrived in Montreal, I immediately observed that the police here were far less racist and vicious than the NYPD.
Like most multi-racial cities of the world, the police in Montreal also mis-treated Blacks. There have been racially motivated killings of Blacks at the hands of the Montreal police but compared with the US, France and the UK, the incidents were infrequent to be almost negligible.
However, since I arrived in Montreal in 2000, I frequently heard complaints of the Metro guards harassing Black teenagers. Most reported incidents were the result of tickets for false charges such as fare evasion or loitering. There were more alarming incidents of guards beating Black teenagers on the metro. Though disturbing and racist, Montreal was not unique in that regard vis-a vis other multi-racial cities.
predecessor Pierre Things started to change in 2003. That was the second year of Mayor Gerald Trembley's first mandate. Trembley's political party did not have a single person of colour elected. Trembley'sBourque had brought many people of colour into municipal politics. Half of Bourque's caucus were people of colour. Realising that he did not need the polticical support of Black Montrealers, the Trembley administration began a policy of excluding Blacks.
First came the ban on a community football tournament in the NDG (Notre Dame de Grace) section of Montreal. The justification given was that the mostly West Indian attendees smoked marijuana and drank beer in the park during the tournament.
Second came the eviction of the West Indian Carifesta parade in downtown Montreal. In 2003, the police provoked some youngsters who began a minor rampage downtown. The city responded by threatening to cancel the Carifesta all together. The city denied Carifesta a permit to have the parade and festival downtown. After pleading by organisers, the city relented and let the Carifesta take place at Parc Jean Drapeau on St. Helen's Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. It was a humiliating move that forced Montreal's largest Black festival to be removed from the core of the city.
In 2004, a Filipino film maker released a documentary about racial profiling in the Montreal Police entitled "Zero Tolerance". In the film, Montreal cops openly express their racism and contempt for Blacks. One police woman made her case against the concept of community policing. "If we are all community police, who is going to do the repression?" The Montreal Police was greatly embarrassed by the film and instructed all of its personnel to boycott the film.
Also in 2004, a Black man walking late at night in St. Henri died in police custody. When the victim's family tried to recover the body, the police refused to release the body. It took the family two months before the cops finally released the body. The police obviously did not want a fresh autopsy to expose anything criminal.
Things got worse. In 2005 A Black Science teacher visiting from New York was harassed, insulted and fined for jaywalking by a police officer downtown. 2006 was the year that racial profiling hunting season on Black Montrealers began in earnest.
After two years, the Carifesta was revived. This time it was pushed entirely out of the city of Montreal and took place in Angrinon Park in LaSalle.
(Montreal is the largest municipality on the Island of Montreal. Though there are a dozen "independent" towns which are suburbs, Island-wide policing is done by the Montreal City Police.)
Revellers were given rough treatment at the hands of police. Families with babies and great parents were viciously abused by the police. Late in the afternoon a thunder storm had passed. Hundreds of people ran for cover at the entrance of the Metro station. Police on horseback told the astonished crowd that they could not stand in front of the metro to seek shelter from the rain. There were over 25 arrests and at least a dozen people complained of violence at the hands of the police that day.
2007 has been the worst year to date. The Black newspaper Montreal Community Contact been receiving hundreds of letters weekly from Blacks complaining of harassment and violence. There were two primary justifications given for armed police to patrol the Metro. The first of course was terrorism. The second and the true reason was further harassment and subjugation of Black Montrealers. The police said that they were needed in the Metro because of street gangs. Before this blatant lie is de-constructed a honest assessment of the situation needs to be explained.
It is true that there are certain stations on the Orange line in NDG that young Blacks like to congregate. The reason why they congregate at these stations is for the same reasons why white suburban kids congregate in malls: boredom. The stations became places where Black teenagers would meet, play, and engage in normal mischief that most teenagers do. There was only one major fight that broke out that I can recall in the 6 years I resided in Montreal.
The Montreal Metro is one of the safest in North America. When I rode the Metro frequently, I never saw a fight that broke out. I never even heard a loud argument. When I lived in the poor Southwest part of Montreal, I never felt the slightest inkling of danger. If gangs had truly invaded the Metro it would have been obvious. It may very well be true that when someone ascends the steps at Vendome station and sees a group of Black teens congregating, that person might feel alarm as I did. However, these kids are harmless. If anything they are more likely to bully someone their age rather than attack or harass someone they do not know, especially adults.
Many of these kids has frequently complained of racism by the un-armed Metro guards.
Now the police have labelled them as street gangs. The police have stated that they are going after young Black males. Now all young Black males who ride the Metro are profiled as being gangsters. It is deja vu. It is New York 1995 all over again.

Upon my return to Montreal just over two weeks ago, I felt something amiss is the air. When the emotional plague inflicts a city, the atmosphere changes. It is something which is hard to explain or to quantify. I first noticed the emotional plague in Atlanta and Florida as a child. Then I first observed it in New York on hot and humid summer days. Though after 1994, it was felt on a daily basis. When I lived in Vienna in 1998-99, there used to be what I called reactionary days.
In Vienna there were certain days when I stepped out of my house, repression was in the air. When I would board the tram inevitably there would be reactionary people on board. When I would walk around Vienna on certain days, I could feel fascism. That is what Wilhelm Reich meant when he discovered the emotional plague.
When I first moved to Montreal in 2000, I never felt the atmosphere to be oppressive or reactionary. I had felt this in New York, Vienna, Paris, Atlanta and London but never did I feel it in Montreal. What I found most remarkable about Montreal was that for a multi-racial metropolis, it was remarkably free of racial or social tension. It was not until last summer before I felt it for the first time in Montreal. On this blog I described it as the Stockwell Day Effect. The Stockwell Day Effect is the emotional plague.
When I touched down at Dorval Airport two weeks, I first noticed the difference. Dorval was one of the few international airports in the world which felt as if 9/11 had never occurred. There was hardly security and immigration and customs control were too easy that one became suspicious. This time around there were lots of armed cops. The Border Protection officers were out in effect. It was my first sense that something was amiss in Montreal.
Summer is the busy time of Montreal. The weather is bearable. There are millions of people that fill the streets and parks during the summer. Montreal is usually North America's most dynamic city during the summer. Thins are different. The city feels empty. The city feels vacant. There is a hollowness that is most unusual for Montreal. I kept asking myself where everyone was. Last week I took a walk from CKUT to Cote des Neiges. Not only was the city empty but it was silent.
A good way to measure the social and political climate of a city is to observe the faces in buses and trams. When I first moved to Montreal, I noticed that the faces looking out the windows were usually light-hearted with a stoned and spaced out look. At worst, one would see indifferent faces. Generally, I got the impression that Montrealers were a happy and free people. On Cote des Neiges I looked at the faces. Most of the passengers were Black. I saw faces of oppression and heaviness. I never saw such oppressed eyes in Montreal! I was again flashed back to 1997 in New York. During the peak of the Giuliani years, the faces of Black people were combined of terror and profound sadness and impotence.
Montreal was dying before my very eyes.
I saw trouble come in late 2001 with the rise of Gerald Tremblay. I knew he was going to be bad news. He had a suburban mentality. He was bland and boring. I knew that he would bring in
narrow minded suburban values to Montreal. He would make Montreal into
a spitting image of himself: boring, bland, uptight, suburban, conservative.
Things started to deteriorate around 2004. Since 2005, Montreal's fall
has been free and swift. North America's last hold out has succumbed. 2006 was the first
attack. First the US DEA had its first ever international anti-drug strategy conference north of Miami. Montreal is the most marijuana tolerant city in North America. The message was clear. Montreal and Quebec's lax drug laws and enforcement had to go. The second attack
came from the Interpol conference held a few months after the DEA conference in Montreal. The plan was to build a security perimeter around the island of Montreal. Apparently Interpol thinks that there are too many terrorist sleeper cells, drug lords, and general lawlessness in
Montreal. Montreal was out of line. Montreal needed to be aligned with the program of total control. However, it was in 2005 when I realised that the end was near. I
arrived back from London at Dorval. The immigration hall was new.
There was a huge electronic monitor which encouraged frequent
travellers to register for a retina scan. No passport would be required
and that would be the best way to avoid long ques at immigration. In
2004, I was shocked to see that US Customs were at Dorval airport.
What were US Customs officers doing on Canadian soil? I have moved out of Montreal at the right time. Montreal is dying. It is not dead yet but it is inevitable that the city will submit and become another homogenised city for global capital.
Despite the increased racism and militarisation of Montreal, the only part of town that has not changed is the Plateau east of St. Denis. It is the heart of French Montreal and also the district where Quebec separatism is strongest. It is the only part of Montreal that is normal. It makes sense that the West and Centre of town would be attacked first. The downtown borough of Ville Marie passed a by-law outlawing dogs in public parks. The reason was to exclude the hundreds of teen age street punks that arrive in town every summer out of downtown parks.
The Trembly administration has created a stupid campaign of "beautification" of the city. The plan is to clean up downtown around Ste. Catherine Street east of St. Laurent. Trembley believes that tourists would have a bad impression of the the city.
Whenever a municipal politician speaks of "cleaning up" a city, that is the first sign of repression. Giuliani vowed to clean up New York. He turned New York into Disneyland. Trembley wants to turn Montreal into Disney North.
On this blog I wrote a detailed political report of Canada from Europe. The practical effects of 19 months of far right wing government in Ottawa and the strong results for the Provincial far-right wing Part the ADQ (Action Democratique du Quebec) have visible results in Montreal. though Montreal did not elect neither the Conservtives nor The ADQ, the right wing shift federally and provincially is killing Montreal.
So far neither the police nor the politicians feel secure enough to attack the French population east of St. Denis. The best part of Montreal remains the East End. It is best to avoid going west of St. Denis.
It makes sense that the West and Downtown would be attacked first. NDG and Cote des Neiges is where the non-white population is concentrated. Downtown is the business and tourist district. It is normal to take the path of least resistance. However, the next provincial and federal election will set the time table for East Montreal's homogenisation.
I am getting tired of this. Within a decade I have seen the two greatest cities in North America die. New York and Montreal were the most dynamic and cultural and intellectual hubs of their respective countries. coming there as well. The new subway cars have video cameras on them. many of the trams are Berlin remains the last dynamic cultural city in the Western world. Still, I can see the changesalso under video surveillance. The River Spree which was east of the wall is prime real estate. As I reported in a previous post there is a war between Anarchists and the police about control of the west. Berlin is the last stand. Why do I fear that within the next decade I will see another city die?
-Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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Blogger Metamorfose Ambulante said...

Loved this post. I am originally from NY and visited Montreal for the first time last week. I have developed such an infatuation with Montreal that I signed up for French classes with the hope of moving there one day. Do you speak French fluently? Did you feel as if being from America originally you were treated differently there?
I've gotten so sick of right & left wing debates on every topic I just have to move. I'm hoping the political climate is different since I have zero interest in partisan politics, the war, the Patriot Act, the immigration debate (ironically). Another thing I loved about Montreal was the laid-back persona of the people and lack of advertising. New York is amazing in its size, its diversity, but what you'll find are pretentious people, people who live up to their stereotypes, and advertisements on every half inch of space. This can be said of any big city I do realize but I sensed that Montreal was different. Considering what you wrote, as well as the fact that it will be years before I am fluent in the language, I wonder if I fully experienced Montreal enough to rush to make it my future home.
Have you been to Montreal since? Do you have any suggestions for someone who is looking to cross the Northern border?

Thanks for your input and your writing :)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007  

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