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Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2001 at 3:37 PM
This is a detailed look at the kinds of gas and bullets used by Canadian police in Quebec.
Chemical Agents and Plastic Bullets-
I can't speak for all that happened, but here is what I witnessed-
* The tear gas they used was a mixture with OC (capsicum.) I saw three types of round:
1. small hand-tossed
2. small gun-launched. These made a low "pop" when launched, and a loud "pop" when they landed and blew open. One blew open at my feet, an explosion loud enough to make my ears ring, covering my shoes and trousers with a white powdery residue.)
3. big shell-propelled cannisters which blew open after launching, sailed in an arc trajectory over fifty meters (they had vertical slits on their sides which were what got opened mid-launch.) These were launched from the tops of buildings on Fri 4/20 in the vicinity of Cote d'Abraham and Union, and fogged the intersection so that if you were without a gas mask (me) you had to leave or be overcome.
Launching them made quite a boom.
* I saw three kinds of bullet:
1. plastic with a flat nose (about 3cm across and maybe 10cm long),
2. plastic with a hollow nose (same dimensions, but not a flat nose,
just a hard plastic circular edge, meaning the same force impacts you on a smaller surface area, inflicting a more concentrated blow),
3. small round hard rubber balls (about 1cm dia.)
The plastic bullets were roughly the shape of an old-style soda-pop bottle, with a long narrow end (maybe 6.5cm) and a shorter blunt end (3.5cm.) They were light in weight, but very hard. All measurements are approximate, from memory.
* Police carried large OC "fire extinguishers" but I did not witness them being used. I estimate their capacity at 3 to 4 liters.
* Two water cannon tanks were used afternoon of 4/21 at the perimeter near Rene-Levesque. We couldn't agree on whether 1) the water was laced with OC, or 2) was kicking up tear/OC residue, but what happened was this: during the time the cannon were firing, I recall there wasn't tear gas being used at that time. However, myself and most of the people doused were immediately overwhelmed by the effects one gets with
OC and OC-tear gas.
On the other hand, the cannon operators appeared to be using the spray to wash down the area around police, so I would guess this wouldn't happen if the water contained OC, which need not be breathed in order to have an effect (police wore respirators.)
The bagpipe activist (with his bagpipe handmade from thick, apparently water-proof rubber!), also wearing a gas mask, was knocked over and overwhelmed. Ultimately, the water cannon were not terribly effective, as they had to aim at people's feet and hydroplane them over.
* And most insidious was the OC tank machine, used at the end of Cote d'Abraham on Fri eve: it made a thrumming noise and emitted a huge cloud of OC fog -its effect was to clear the area immediately.
The Injustice of Using Chemical Pain Agents-
Beyond the immediate and impersonal brutality of the police force's use of chemical warfare agents, beyond any personal pain caused, was the anger I felt, as a journalist covering the event and witness to police actions, that:
1) No commands or warnings were given to people in the vicinity(protesters or not);
2) Everybody in the vicinity of the security perimiter, and by vicinity I mean up to 1 km away, was subject to the summary judgement and punishment inflicted by police use of chemical pain agents;
3) The punishment was, in my opinion, cruel and unusual. If you've never been a victim of OC or tear gas it is extremely painful and is reminiscent of what I experienced being in a car accident;
4) Opportunity for presenting an expression of opposition to the policies under negotiation inside the compound was taken away by the use of chemical agents, which were used to keep the area near perimeter openings clear of people. The perimeter openings were the only place a protester had a chance of being seen or heard by FTAA participants.
5) Journalists alike were punished just for being present. This seems an attack on the press.
Prior encounters with police and soldiers tells me that this level of interaction is something different. These don't feel like police or infantry, but some kind of weirdly impersonal phalanx of human stink bugs (let's call them HSBs) that gives off its chemical detractant each time
you get too near.
There were times I attempted to interact individually with them, like when my car was trapped behind the lines, or when I wanted to leave the combat zone but was essentially surrounded (for a quarter hour) by cordons of HSBs. What I got for my efforts was defensive body language response and
The chemical agent response to protesters was planned, of course. It was generally in reply to taunts, perimeter approaches, perimeter breach attempts, and to the hurling of rocks or bottles, but sometimes it seemed just in response to people gathering near the perimeter.
About Protesters' Violence-
At no time did I feel threatened by "violent" protesters or their actions (although seeing a molotov cocktail preparation did cause me to move rapidly away.) I don't believe this is because I've spent time around protesters or have sympathies, it's because there really wasn't much of a threat.
Much of the so-called "violent" action carried out by protesters was, in my estimation, largely symbolic.
- The dismantlement of a fence: what happens afterward, do you hand-fight through 100's of armed soldiers to say 'hi' to Chretien and Bush?
- The throwing of rocks and bottles: the soldiers were heavily armored and padded, it seemed to be taunting, unlikely to cause injury.
- The breaking of shop windows: symbolic, and, to me, tragically misguided. Harms innocent bystanders who do not share the same anti-capitalistic dogma, but quite possibly do share anti-"Free"Trade beliefs. Now they are angry toward protesters.
- The throwing of molotov cocktails: This, on the other hand, is very anti-pacifistic. It is a notch or two higher than what the securityforces did: flaming volatile liquids can immediately cause death,disfigurement etc. Killing or hurting one of them has no positive effect in the struggle against imperialism or whatever you're against. It simply becomes a news headline that works against protesters.
And, although the corporate media has begun to distinguish protesters into "violent" and "non-violent" groups, there is still (and probably always will be) a tendency on their part to lump all together for editorial and headline purposes, with the lasting effect of shaping public opinion.
peace and love,
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