By Angela Bischoff, Toronto, Canada.
Angela tells of her liberation in Quebec City.
“Honest Mom, I was just standing there on the street.”
“Well you’re lucky you’re not here right now or I’d give you a lickin’.”
She didn’t get that I’d just spent the most radicalising week of my life. Truly, I’d never felt so alive.
How could she have known through the corporate media filter what I’d witnessed with my own eyes for two days straight: thousands of peaceful protestors — including her beloved daughter — shot, beaten, jailed, and gassed with poisons by her own “democratic” government.
I was standing alongside my bike on Rene Levesque Boulevard blending into the crowd as a wave of protestors came running for their lives. I stood stunned, like a deer in headlights, and before I could blink a throng of riot cops encircled us, batons swinging. Big monstrous testosterone-pumped, raging henchmen beat us to the ground, ripped off my gas mask and helmet, wrenching my chin in the process, and bound together my wrists behind my back with plastic ties.
I could hear my partner screaming out, demanding to be released, and I could see at least three cops sitting on top of him. As I sent a beam of love his way, proud of his defiance and meditating for his safety, my cop miraculously marched me over to stand alongside my man, to witness the assault. In the process, we abandoned my bike and bag (which was promptly stolen).
I was then shoved off to behind the police line where the next round of cops awaited the command from above to attack. As I waited for my mug-shot to be taken, I watched the darkness close in on the peaceful protestors. The poison gas assault continued, luminescent in the night sky.
The courage of the protesters bouyed my spirits, their numbers swelling and receding with every onslaught, seemingly infinite in number. One young man walked right up to a cop near me and offered him a gift — it was refused. Others approached the riot cops standing at attention and tried to initiate conversation. Bebo (her jail name) shouted incessantly “you do not have a right to detain me. I am being illegally arrested” while four robo-cops dressed in full riot regalia took pictures of each other with a little camera — to show their families, I suppose. I wondered if they were smiling for the camera behind their helmet and gas masks.
They held us on the school bus all night long, hands tied behind our backs, freezing in our t-shirts, with no water, no food, and no heat. We weren’t allowed to sit two to a seat. Women were at the back of the bus, men at the front. One francophone was mouthing off at a cop and was removed from us, never to be seen again. One anxious young woman had an asthma attack and was removed from the bus and seen to by medics.
We schemed some jail solidarity tactics, but only six agreed to participate. Others blamed us for inciting the bad treatment from the cops. One cried out “I’m not even an activist. I came with my boyfriend for a vacation.”
At seven the next morning I was taken from the bus, stripped, and “decontaminated” in the shower to wash off the toxic gas from my skin. Given a grey sweatsuit and slippers, I was escorted to my cell. Three of us middle-class women slept like sardines on the single, narrow cot as a homeless teen sat on the cold cement floor. The stale, white flour processed-cheese sandwiches stacked up throughout the day as we all fasted, as much out of necessity as out of conviction. Instinctively, we knew our bodies needed to detoxify from the poisons we had been subjected to.
Continuously, until I was released without charge late that night, we chanted “so so so, solidarite”, sang french nationalist songs, ommmmed in harmony, and banged rhythmically on the doors. The acoustics were mystical, reverberating throughout the cement jail block. We were all incensed. But we were also alive and we wanted the world to hear us.
We shared our stories. I told of my horror when, near the epicentre of the battle, a middle-aged fellow ran toward me, stopped to flush out his gassed eyes with water, and — as he regained his sight — suddenly collapsed beside me, his forehead gushing blood. He had just been shot in the head. Miraculously, a medic appeared. As I gazed in horror toward the battlefront, I noticed my bike flag — “Not For Sale” and a glorious earth emblazoned on it — defiantly blowing in the haze. That’s when I noticed a hole right through the centre, just the size of the rubber bullet that had taken my comrade down.
While some jailbirds chattered and sang, others decorated their cells with orange rinds, while still others decorated their hair with threads from the mattress. Tony flooded his cell by overflowing his sink. His water protest worked — he got to see the human rights representative in the jail and was soon released.
Two guards came to my cell well after dark and said “you are liberated”. They gave me back my toxic clothes and escorted me to the highway, and said “you’re free to go”. I said “where shall I go?” They pointed down the highway claiming there was a bus stop somewhere. I asked them for bus fare as my wallet had been abandoned by the police at the scene of the hostage taking, but they refused. Frozen, as my coat was also abandoned, and close to tears, I asked in desperation if there were any protesters. They directed me to the parking lot. As I approached the camp and realized I was among friends who cared about my welfare, I collapsed in a withering pile of sobs.
The Jail Solidarity Camp was to be my home for the next three days and nights as I awaited the release of my husband. Those three days healed my body, and my soul; they were the closest to utopia I had ever been.
The Solidarity camp spontaneously burst into existence on the second day of the police assaults. As busloads of political prisoners began flowing to the Quebec Detention Centre, dozens gathered on the jail site to protest the brutal detention, and to greet and support the hostages as they were released.
Volunteer legal support arrived. A stove appeared, along with chefs and a cornucopia of vegan food. Sleeping bags, sweaters, tents, and tarps provided warmth. Radical cheerleaders and drums made it loud and clear to the prisoners inside that allies were outside awaiting their release.
The riot cops stood at attention, but the campers used the megaphone to tell them jokes. We imagined them giggling behind their shields and armour.
The camp had regular circle meetings with everyone present, translated into French and English. All decisions were made by consensus. We even wrote a press release by committee.
Two security guards approached us and asked to speak with our leader. We offered them all of us or none. Thus began our collective negotiations with the jail security, which continued daily until the shutting down of the camp on the sixth day, after 456 of the 463 hostages had been released.
We built a bridge over the creek to the wooded area where the latrine was dug. We dug two compost pits near the kitchen tent — the cops were especially intrigued by this. The sleeping tarp protected more than 30 prostrate snorers from the wind and rain. The winnebago (paid for by the Green Party) housed the volunteer legal collective and was used to charge batteries and cell phones.
Civil disobedience training sessions happened regularly after we were tipped off by a reporter that we would be raided. The raid never happened, but we were prepared with a get-away bicycle complete with quarters for the payphone, special warning alarm, media liaison, and a plan of defence that included locking our arms and legs together in a circle.
On Monday morning, five busloads of political prisoners were released between 2 and 5 a.m. Jail security had conveniently lost many inmates’ clothing, boots, and money. The air was close to freezing,
Rather than giving the prisoners the option of being welcomed to our camp, they were whisked out and abandoned on the highway at a bus stop when public transit wasn’t running. We promptly sent out cars to follow the buses, but jail security would give us wrong directions, and tell our drivers that if they left they wouldn’t be allowed back. Nevertheless, our drivers rescued a good many wandering souls that cold, dark morning as they tried to hitch-hike, frozen and frightened.
That afternoon, our lawyers held a press conference at the camp. During the press event, another busload of released prisoners was being whisked off. All the campers ran for the bus waving and shouting at those inside to join the camp. A few media at the press conference rushed in to document the ruckus.
The bus stopped briefly at the exit of the lot because of the heavy police presence. As the campers shouted “Let them go, let them go”, those on the bus chanted “Let us go, let us go”. In the heat of the moment, one of our campers dove in front of the bus and grabbed onto the chassis beneath. Four cops wrestled with his legs, (two on either leg). The chanting continued louder.
Sensing the chaos, the bus driver opened the door freeing the hostages just as the four cops pried off the death-defying activist. This same guy had just that morning been released from jail, and was wearing a bandanna to hide his identity. With cameras in tow, we all returned to the camp, triumphant and free.
After my partner was released on bail at last, we headed back to the city to try to reclaim our missing belongings. As I walked freely though the old City of Quebec that just five days earlier had been a war zone, I could smell the tear gas in the air and see the remnants of the protesters (i.e. graffiti) as well as the fascist state (the fence). I felt jittery, defensive, and emotional as I slowly meandered through the streets, reliving the horror.
I made my way back to Laval University (where thousands of us had slept on massive gymnasium floors) to reclaim our abandoned sleeping gear etc. Much of it had disappeared.
Disappointed and exhausted, I washed my face. My skin burned like fire from the tear gas remaining in the air of Quebec City.
I sobbed as I remembered it all, the pain and the euphoria. My life had changed.