Montreal Loses $1.2 Million in Fines as Controversial Anti-Protest Bylaw Quashed

With thousands of bylaw infractions now thrown out, what will the city of Montreal do next to crack down on protests?

By Simon Van Vliet

Vice News February 27, 2015, 4:14pm

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre announced this week that the city would drop all of the pending cases against protesters resulting from its use of the controversial bylaw P6, following a court ruling.

Nearly half of Quebec’s student population went on strike to protest rising university tuition during the « Maple Spring » of 2012. The frequent, occasionally massive, rallies led the city to create the P6 bylaw, banning protesters from wearing masks and requiring organizers to file itineraries to the city ahead of the demonstrations. Thousands ended up being arrested during the protests.

On February 9, Judge Randall Richmond ruled in favour of three self-represented defendants arrested on March 22, 2013 who asked that their charges be dismissed by the court. By choosing not to appeal, the City of Montreal acknowledged that the ruling basically tore apart the prosecution for nearly all P6 cases.

A city official confirmed to VICE that, based on the Richmond decision, 245 additional cases were dropped on Thursday, and that 1,700 more cases will be dropped in due time. Last month, the city’s prosecutors had already abandoned the prosecution against 83 defendants.

In his ruling, Judge Richmond wrote « the trivialization of breaches of the law by senior SPVM officers » was « appalling. » Notwithstanding such harsh criticism by the judge, Mayor Coderre claimed the Richmond decision was only a « technical interpretation » of the bylaw and that it highlights a mere « problem with evidence. »

After a thorough analysis of the bylaw’s content and form, the judge concluded that the charges did « not correspond to any offence established by applicable law » and added that, even if there had been an actual offence, « false testimonies on the statements of offence renders them legally worthless as proof of the disputed facts. »

Projet Montréal Councillor François Limoges, vice-president of the Public Safety Committee, says it shows that the « bylaw was poorly written. »

« It’s not just a matter of application, » Limoges insisted in an interview with VICE. He said that P6 not only opens the door to police arbitrarily targeting specific groups mostly for political reasons, but also that it is so vague that it remains open to all sorts of interpretations.


« Apparently, the police and the judiciary don’t have the same interpretation, » Limoges noted.

This decision renders the bylaw mostly ineffective. Meanwhile, approximately 80 percent of all P6 charges laid by Montreal police (SPVM) since the bylaw was modified in 2012 have been dropped, despite the relentless efforts of police officers and city prosecutors to process the 3,400 cases resulting from at least 24 mass arrests. Only a yet unspecified number of people have plead guilty and paid their individual $637 fine.

Having dropped over 2,000 charges so far, that’s $1.2 million in fines that the city will never see. On top of the combined costs of massive police crowd-control operations and the administrative costs of processing thousands of cases at municipal court, the city has spent over $100,000 in legal fees. The City of Montreal has also been hit with several class action lawsuits asking for $21 million in compensation for hundreds of protesters arrested under P6.

For Limoges, this underlines the argument that the whole process might be nothing more than the Coderre administration’s « ideological fight at the taxpayers’ expense » to enforce a useless bylaw « that infringes on fundamental freedoms. »

Mayor Coderre has been adamant about P6 still being valid and said he would give instructions for the SPVM to keep on applying it, presumably in accordance to the law.

The question everyone asks now is: what’s next?


For the past few months, trade unions, student unions, community groups and environmental activists have been working towards province wide anti-austerity and anti-oil movements in the spring.

In the past few days alone, the Coalition opposée à la privatisation et à la tarification des services publics organized dozens of actions across the province, including street protests and occupations in Montreal.

Additionally, even the police union is in open conflict with the City of Montreal, regarding a pension reform imposed by the provincial Liberal government as one of its first austerity measures. Last June, several on duty police officers even participated in an illegal protest where a bonfire was lit in front of City Hall.

Nonetheless, it is likely that police will want to shut down the annual anti-police brutality protest coming up on March 15—which has often ended in clashes due to the combination of aggressive police tactics and confrontational Black Bloc types.

To get around the technical issues raised by Judge Richmond’s recent ruling, SPVM officers could use article 500.1 of the Quebec Highway Safety Code instead, as they have successfully done in the past. This article, introduced in 2001 after a truckers’ strike in Quebec, prohibits any « concerted action intended to obstruct in any way vehicular traffic on a public highway, occupy the roadway, shoulder or any other part of the right of way of or approaches to the highway. »

Another option would be for the police to go back to using Criminal Code provisions against unlawful assemblies and riots, but this has proven very difficult for the Crown because it puts a much heavier burden of proof on the prosecution. New legislation at the federal level, such as the high-profile C-51 anti-terror bill or more obscure bill C-639 designed to amend the Criminal Code for « protection of critical infrastructures » might eventually provide police forces with new repression tools at the criminal level.

At the municipal level, « P-6 has been defeated, for now, by street protesters who defied it, and by self-represented radicals who fought it in the courts, » as activist Jaggi Singh, charged twice with P-6 tickets, stated in a February 25 press release. This is undoubtedly an important victory, but the battle for the right to protest in Quebec is far from over.