Irony is Dead

These two men are protesting the same thing.
These two men are protesting the same thing.

I’m not sure who snapped this photo from a student anti-austerity demo a few days back, but in any case, chapeau Monsieur, whoever you are, for capturing the innate irony and hypocrisy of protest in Quebec.

The cop and the student with his hands up are essentially protesting the exact same thing – cuts to government services.

In the case of the cop, government’s desire to increase fiscal efficiency has manifested as proposed pension reform.

In the case of the student, government cuts to education and proposed increases to the cost of tuition are two parts of the same issue – government is transferring debt onto the backs of students, asking them to pay more for the accreditation and training only universities can provide and that are fundamental to entering and competing in our local job market.

In both cases you can argue the government’s efforts to get back in the green are being done in a manner which is unfair to civil servants and students alike. It’s unfair to ask police, firefighters and other municipal workers to contribute vastly more to their own pensions than was previously the case because at one point in time pensions were mismanaged. Moreover, almost by necessity municipal pensions should focus more on a defined benefit rather than a defined contribution. That’s always been the trade-off for the civil workforce, what you don’t get in pay you make up for afterwards with a generous pension.

This photograph is striking to me because it shows two people who should be united in a common cause, yet one is permitted to protest and the other is not.

Perhaps it’s an indication of what we as a society are willing to tolerate, but that leaves even more questions.

Why is it okay for police and firefighters to play dress up and vandalize public property (let’s call it for what it is) and not okay for students to assemble in public and demonstrate?

Why do we assume students will be violent when time and time again it’s the police that instigate violence?

Why do we give the police carte-blanche to disrupt student demonstrations when they themselves are actively demonstrating their opposition to austerity measures?

And if the students were to adopt the tactics of the police, firefighters and transit employees – such as vandalizing public property with propaganda, dressing in camouflage, starting fires in front of City Hall and then ransacking a city council meeting (etc) – would we tolerate that?

I think not.

Frankly, if the students were to apply any of the tactics used by municipal employees, we’d likely have P-6 amendments to limit the wearing of camouflage in public.

And any effort by the students to congregate in front of City Hall, let alone entering the building, would be resisted with force by the same people who allowed their firefighter friends to do just that.

It’s hypocritical, unfair, illogical and many other things too, but the bottom line is this – as a society, we tolerate strikes and various protest actions by established unions with actual political clout, and do the exact opposite with regards to students.

So with that in mind the students need to change their tactics. They have no hope of repeating the Printemps Erable, and shouldn’t want to go down that route anyways. While protests did allow for a maintenance of the tuition freeze, it did not result in any major changes to benefit the provincial economy, nor did it do much of anything to get austerity measures off the table. Jean Charest did not lose the 2012 election because of how he handled the student strike, but more because of the perceived corruption of his administration. In the end a PQ minority government was formed that lasted about 18 months and ended with the Quebec Liberals returning to power, albeit with a majority government and a presumed mandate to do what was necessary to get Quebec back in the green. The Marois administration did nothing of consequence for Quebec, and after a year and a half of gaffes and poorly thought-out social policies were thrown out of office.

Hope and change may have been the ideal of 2012, but it was far from reality.

Fast forward to today and the students have an even greater battle before them. Couillard is premier until 2018 and doesn’t have the Charbonneau Commission into corruption and collusion in the construction industry dogging him. People don’t want to pay any more taxes and increasingly view the students as entitled if not hopelessly unrealistic.

I don’t necessarily share this view, and personally believe the cost of education should be lower than it is today by a considerable margin. I also believe education access, standards and funding should be nationalized and not an issue of provincial control.

That said, the case needs to be made in a different way. Street battles with police do not and will not change public perception in favour of the students.

Whereas once upon a time a photo like the one above would shock people out of their stupor and propel societal change, the videos and photos of police brutality are now shrugged at. Too many people in this province applaud the police for ‘teaching the brats a lesson’. Too many people in this city see street protests as an inexcusable inconvenience. And too many students seem to believe Paris ’68 is a fait accomplit, waiting just around the corner to happen here.

Dare I say it, it seems too many Quebec students are beginning to view protesting as a legitimate component of the student experience, something no university education is complete without.

Obviously this should not be the case; street protests should be a last resort, not the only card to be played.

I would welcome news from the student associations that they’ll make their case in a different way, one that doesn’t resort to the same tired tactics that basically boil down to disorganized street theatre and opportunities to deploy a ludicrously expensive riot squad. By protesting, students are actively adding to provincial and municipal debt – all those cops on the riot squad are paid bonuses, overtime, danger pay etc.

And they most definitely will be paid. Their unions are stronger than the student unions by a considerable margin.

As was the case in 2012, the students’ grievance is not self-evident and there seems to be a lack of cohesive planning and purpose. If the public doesn’t even understand why students are protesting, or what they’re proposing in lieu of austerity, there’s no hope the students will ever be able to change public opinion in their favour.

The few people who will change their minds after seeing a photo like the one above won’t make waves and won’t result in societal change. If there’s a case to be made against austerity (and there is), it should be clear, concise and to the point.

It also shouldn’t prevent students from attending class.

When trying to educate the public about an alternative way forward, it seems remarkably foolish to me to begin by making enemies first on campus (by disrupting classes, such as we witnessed at Concordia this week) and then with logical potential allies.

How much do you want to bet ASSÉ never reached out to the SPVM or their union?

Montreal’s Impossible Car Chase

Blazing Magnum (1976) 1971 Ford Mustang VS… by Z-cinema

Found this clip on Reddit Montreal.

It’s a car chase scene from an Italian detective/crime flick from 1976 called ‘Shadows in an Empty Room‘.

It’s not quite Bullitt but not bad either.

There are a few ‘goofs’ in this sequence, namely that the car chase route is completely impossible (i.e. turning from Bleury onto René-Lévesque, then winding up in NDG and then the Turcot Yards). According to IMDB you can also spy a cop walking into a sex shop and can further spy a truck advertising Cinévision, one of the companies involved in the production (not exactly goofs per se, the latter a clumsy attempt at product placement).

I’d love it if someone could throw together a sketch of what route the cars took based off the clip above, just to further demonstrate the convoluted nature, but also to see what aspects the cinematographer wanted included.

And that said, we need more car chase scenes filmed on the mean streets of Montreal. As much as I want to get cars off our city streets, this is an exciting city to drive in and car chases seem to make our roads look somewhat more decent and less congested than they actually are.

Operation Gamescan 76

Operation Gamescan 76 by Michael Brun, National Film Board of Canada

Operation Gamescan 76.

Roll that around on your tongue for a moment.

It was a thing. It happened here.

And if you find the name as intriguing as I do, you’re in luck. Operation Gamescan 76 is damned fascinating, especially when you consider it within the context of how we do large scale security operations nowadays, not to mention the actual capabilities of our current military. I say this because I believe Gamescan 76 was a demonstration of a high water mark attained by the Canadian military, at a time many today think it was ill equipped and purposeless.

And if you don’t give a damn about military propaganda, that’s fine too. It’s not exactly a propaganda piece to begin with. If you like archival footage of Montreal in the ‘good old days’ of the mid-1970s, then this video’s for you. The city looked good that summer.

But on to the issue at hand – what was Gamescan 76?

Simply put, during the 1976 Summer Olympics and for several months before it, this city of Montreal was a veritable fortress or modern citadel.

16,000 personnel were deployed just to Montreal and the affiliated sites of the Olympic Games, providing not only security, but communications, logistics, medical and even protocol services for the Olympics. They had combat fighter aircraft at their immediate disposal, in addition to various transports and surveillance aircraft, not to mention a considerable number of helicopters. Several large warships were deployed to provide additional support and elements of the Airborne Regiment, precursor to today’s JTF-2 and Canadian Special Operations Regiment, were on standby, ready to rappel or parachute into anywhere in and around Montreal in a moment’s notice.

Operation Gamescan 76 was and likely still is the single largest peacetime Canadian military operation, ever. What’s particularly interesting to me is that it was done without withdrawing forces deployed in West Germany (Canada had a mechanized brigade deployed in support of NATO, supported by its own air wing and occupying two bases at the time, representing about 5,000 personnel), the Sinai, Golan Heights or Cyprus (three large peacekeeping deployments we were involved in at the time, representing several thousand more troops and their equipment). At the time the bulk of our local air force was operating in support of NORAD and most of our Navy was Atlantic-centric and almost exclusively focused on hunting Soviet submarines. And yet despite this absolutely massive deployment of Canadian Forces personnel and major equipment assets, we could still manage to pull together 16,000 military personnel and provide them all the equipment they needed to ensure Canada’s first Olympic Games would not suffer the same fate as Munich four years earlier.

Munich. The brutal murder of Israeli athletes by masked terrorists, captured live by television cameras and broadcast into tranquil living rooms the world over. What was supposed to be a triumph for liberal, reformed post-war West Germany became a spectacle so tragic and awful some commentators honestly thought the Olympics as an institution would crumble. Who would risk hosting a Games if terrorists could slaughter athletes on the six o’clock news? Who would pay for the security that would be required to prevent such a thing from happening again, who had the expertise to handle such an immense project scope, and who could be reasonably expected to deliver on all fronts?

It was obvious at the time that the Canadian Forces would take on the job so as not to overburden local law enforcement, leaving the bulk of the Montreal police and Sureté du Québec to focus on their day to day affairs.

The military would secure the city, the island, the key nodes of transport, command and communications, and most importantly the Olympic Park and its affiliated sites. The out of town troops took up residence in public schools closed for the summer, the depot at Longue Pointe housed all Games-related equipment and was humming along twenty-four hours a day. The military was deployed to all the airports in the region at that time (there were five by my count, including Mirabel, Dorval, St. Hubert, the Victoria STOLport and the old Cartierville airport, the latter two no longer exist), and patrolled the highways and port as well. Throughout the documentary I marvelled at the fact that the overwhelming bulk of work was carried out by soldiers armed only with walkie-talkies, binoculars and metal detectors.

We had several thousand people employed to literally ‘keep an eye on things’, and several thousand more coordinating and communicating everything they saw.

What really strikes me is how few guns you see in this documentary. When you do see Canadian soldiers well equipped with the latest fighting gear, it’s principally when deployed abroad. Throughout the doc the Canadian Forces look pretty geeky – it seems as though the bulk of the security apparatus in 1976 were lanky young men in their late teens or early twenties, in their dress uniforms (no camouflage), without any prominently displayed guns or offensive fighting equipment.

In other words, it was discrete. Subtle security. The documentary points this out several times.

Quite a contrast to security at the most recent Canadian Olympiad. Fewer than 5,000 Canadian Forces were deployed to two sites at the 2010 Vancouver Games, backed up by 5,000 law enforcement and about the same number of private security contractors. Security was armed, armoured and obvious. I would argue the collective whole of modern public security is menacing and invasive, and based on the video evidence offered here, it seems efforts were made to make the military look and behave truly as an aid to the civil power. It seems that they were keen to demonstrate the military being used differently, and to not offend the public by appearing overly menacing. The images of armed soldiers patrolling city streets during the October Crisis were still quite fresh in people’s collective memory.

So what we have here is archival footage of how they struck a balance. Yes, a massive amount of Canadian military strength was available and operational in Montreal at the time, controlling a security, communications and logistics operation of epic proportions we’d have trouble, I’d argue, doing again today. It just wasn’t particularly intrusive given its size.

It was the era of less is more I suppose. Government didn’t want images of men with rifles in newspapers or on television. Today the opposite is true; remember the G8/G20 Summit in Toronto? That would have been unfathomable in any Canadian city in 1976.

Today our government wants to empower a formerly outward facing spy agency to turn inwards with all the power of your local police force, and quite possibly make dissent a crime worthy of prosecution. Protesting may be considered terrorism, for your security (as the mitten-wearing class in Ottawa tells us day after day – limitations to our freedoms and liberties are always being done for our security…)

Forty years ago the military could provide security with binoculars and radios. Today the police has become militarized while the military and the state’s intelligence services are being used for police purposes. We are told constantly that we are not secure, not safe, and that an attack is eminent. We are even told that recent attacks in Ottawa and Saint Jean sur Richelieu were terrorist attacks, though the culprits in both cases had no ties to international terrorism and both were known to have suffered from severe mental illness.

In 1976 government spent no amount of time trying to convince the people we were threatened by terrorism. They spent their time coming up with films like this to show the discrete and sophisticated ways by which they assisted in actually providing high level security to the nation’s gleaming metropolis.

As I mentioned above I find this film infinitely fascinating, at least in part because it seems to be evidence of a far better use of government resources to achieve a superior end result.

And it wasn’t even that long ago either… how far have we let things go since then?