Thursday, June 11, 2015

Judge dismisses Occupiers court battle over the legality of Branding Protesters

Back in November 2011 when Occupy Montreal was dismantled, the SPVM arrested some of the Occupiers.  What happened is that people were UV tagged and never told. Apparently big brother can do anything and face no consequences. 

Judge dismisses Occupiers court battle over the legality of Branding Protesters

I woke up this morning to an E-mail from the Lawyer who graciously represented me and two fellow occupiers in court appearances vs. the City of Montreal.  To say that I felt let down and betrayed by the legal system as I read that the entire case had been dismissed and that we would now have to pay the court fees would be an understatement.  Fees I have no idea how I will repay.

When we took up this battle upon the wishes of other occupiers we knew we could face the consequences of losing.  We knew there would likely be no form of compensation awarded.  I was OK with these things; I fought so that my voice would be heard.  I fought for those who were affected by the disgusting branding protocol of the SPVM.  I had thought that a judge would say that writing on people with the intent of subterfuge; that marking us with invisible ink while our hands were tied behind our backs was wrong.  I thought that lying to us about it would be deemed equally wrong.  I was banking on that acknowledgement and nothing more.  I think this is why my disappointment stings so deeply.
For those who do not know the story, I was a protester at Occupy Montreal in 2011 who remained on site during the eviction to stand up for my beliefs.  I was angered at the time that the city would change their bylaws to get rid of their “protester problem”, a tactic we were privileged to witness time and time again throughout the “Printemps Erable” and the student protests of later years.  I stayed knowing full well that I was going to be arrested; and that was the point.  I was willing to be arrested to prove my point.  I was in a public place exercising my right to freedom of speech; I felt I had every right to be in Parc Square Victoria.  What I wasn’t banking on was the treatment I received, and while I negotiated with the officers who led me away to be gentle, that I would co-operate; this didn’t follow though to the female officers I was handed to for processing and this is where everything began to go wrong.

I was questioned and handcuffed with my hands behind my back and led to a bus.  In the entrance to the bus I had one officer speaking to me and another one behind me who wrote on my hand with what felt like a marker.  I then felt a sharp metallic point scraping on my skin on the opposite hand.  It felt WRONG and put me in a panic. I asked, “What are you doing?” as wild thoughts ran though my head of “what did I just get myself into?”.  The officer told me she wrote on me with a pen as if challenging me to dispute her.  Feeling like I was in over my head, I decided to keep quiet and complacent until my release where I discovered no pen marks, only a red blotchy rash on my hand that I had felt the metallic scraping on. Later after the advice from a friend, I checked my hands under a black light and was horrified to see I had invisible ink on the hand that I felt the scraping on, the same hand that was having some sort of allergic reaction. I tried calling the SPVM to find out what it was only to be given the run-around before I was told there was no information and hung up on.

When the story of what happened went viral after my blog post was shared around the world people began to ask that we take this to court.  In the end I agreed, wanting to fight for the many people who wrote to me concerned and especially those who wrote to me saying they had this done to them at later protests.

In October 2014, nearly 3 years since the eviction of Occupy Montreal I found myself in court with two fellow occupiers taking on the City of Montreal and the SPVM regarding their questionable practices. What I learned while there was eye-opening as well, and aggravating.  I learned that the hand branding was a procedure the SPVM had been using since 2009, two years before Occupy Montreal.  I learned that it was used to “surprise protesters” as they were worried that protesters were giving false names like “The Tooth Fairy” and worried that they would swap identities in the holding tank.  I learned that it was part of their protocol to brand us with invisible ink while our hands were tied behind our back, often while being distracted as I had been.  They were told to deny anything, all in the aims of keeping it secret so they had this tool to “one up” protesters.  They maintained that this practice was a practical and convenient way to control protesters.  They likened their tactic to that of a bar stamping patrons with glow in the dark ink, stating that consent isn’t needed to write on our bodies; that the charter of rights is “not absolute”, that it “needs to be expected that exceptions need to be made”.  All these things I learned angered me and left me feeling betrayed and after everything is said and done consent is everything; not to mention the UV “Pen” was nothing like a stamp at a bar.
All of that was in the end, unnecessary.  I had provided them with photo ID.  They photographed me as well (a practice done more to be able to link protesters to crimes found in you tube videos).  The black permanent marker took me 3 days of scrubbing to remove from my skin and the invisible ink more than a week to start to fade. The ultra violet ink and the subterfuge that went with it, all the lies and pretending was all unneeded. It was also pointed out while in court that the invisible numbers were in place to try and catch us red-handed in the days after being arrested, a way to pin future infractions on us.  I can’t help but feel this was part of a plan to intimidate us protesters and in a way I feel they succeeded in this goal as the two fellow occupiers I went to court with and myself  have ceased protesting altogether since Occupy Montreal.  A number of the others who were arrested that day also left behind their protesting careers and this fact makes me sad and ashamed of myself for giving up the fight.

I learned many other interesting things while in court; confirmations that they did indeed have a team watching our livestream and social media groups, that they were following and profiling who they thought were key figures of the protest on social media and while we were at square Victoria, even long after the eviction date.  It was plainly said in court that they treated the eviction like a riot, not the peaceful demonstration that it was. They came prepared for 300 arrests and failed to alter their tactics when we were a small group of 16. They had 10 officers for every protester on site.  We were detained for over an hour on the bus for a municipal infraction that they could have easily have sent us a ticket in the mail for. They specifically altered the rules of the Square Victoria in order to have grounds to expel us from the site. To think that our name and Identity are unimportant, that what matters is the number we were branded with to render us into a statistic, it leaves me feeling rather much like they treat us protesters like cattle and not like human beings.

In the end the judge ruled that it’s within police protocol to brand us with numbers without our consent and the most terrifying thing is the fact that this case will be reflected on for all future cases of this nature.  This decision sets precedent.  Where can the lines be drawn, what is a step too far across the line?  It’s frightening that these liberties were taken at a municipal level.  What truly is next?  I feel the instant that I was written on and then lied to was a step way too far over the line; that my body had been violated, my trust doubly so.  I have stood meekly waiting for this all to come to an end and now am starting to feel the fire in my belly once again. Their attempts to silence me have ended today and I call out to all of you who read this essay to the very end to share my experience and the outcome with anyone you feel ought to know. They had the power of subterfuge, if the general public knows; we remove some of that power.

Nina Haigh
Occupy Montreal
June 11th 2015

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