Protests marred by violence and detentions in Quebec

Peaceful Assembly

In August 2017, pro and anti-immigrant rallies took place in Vancouver and Quebec. In Vancouver, anti-immigrant groups gathered at the City Hall, while more than 4,000 counter-protesters attended the rally to "stand up for the values of the community". According to a report, five people were arrested for "breach of the peace". In Quebec, the group La Meute initiated an anti-immigrant rally that turned violent after counter protesters clashed with police, who later declared the protest illegal. It was reported that one person was arrested during the protest. 

Others demonstrations took place in the country without incident. On 9th September 2017, more than 500 people gathered outside the Manitoba legislature for the Winnipeg Diversity Rally Against Hate. The demonstration had been organised in response to the rally Worldwide Coalition Against Islam planned in Winnipeg. The latest rally never took place, but a similar event by the same group that was held in August drew about 4,000 counter-protesters.

Hundreds of people protested in multiple cities across the country on 17th September 2017 to show support for the thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The crowds gathered outside of the Myanmar embassy in Ottawa and near the Alberta legislature in Edmonton. In Edmonton, one of the rally’s organisers said they are calling on the Canadian government to “start a coalition at the United Nations demanding that the Myanmar government put an end to all acts of violence” against the Rohingya.

Inspired by the protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota, a group of indigenous people are building homes as part of an effort to halt the expansion of a pipeline in British Columbia. Nearly half of the pipeline project will run through Secwepemc Nation, a large but mostly uninhabited territory. The first tiny house was built in early September and the rest are expected to be completed by the end of the month. The goal, according to Kanahus Manuel, one of the leaders of the Tiny House Warriors movement, is to build 10 homes along the proposed pipeline’s path and send a “clear message” to dissuade investors from supporting Trans Mountain’s pipeline. The protesters anticipate a strong response from the government.

“The way that the government will deal with indigenous land defenders is to criminalize them and arrest them and throw them in a Canadian prison,” Manuel said.

A Vice News expose has revealed how police in British Columbia have seized more than $30 million from residents through a legal process known as civil forfeiture over the past four years and how the police spend that money. Their purchases include over $200,000 for new surveillance devices, nearly $16,000 to a company that tracks social media posts, and a “long-range acoustic device active warning system” that has been used in crowd control. These revelations come soon after a report finding the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been using dragnet-style cell phone spy tools, known as Stingrays, in accordance with an internal policy for almost a decade.

Association

A case involving the rights of private organisations, especially religious organisations, to determine their own membership is now heading to the country’s highest court. The Supreme Court will now consider “to what extent the state can intervene in the internal processes of private organizations”. The original case involved Calgary’s Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses who expelled a member reportedly for inappropriate behavior. Several civil liberties groups, including the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and Canadian Constitution Foundation, have been granted permission by the court to submit legal briefs in the case, and will argue that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of private, voluntary associations to regulate their membership “immune from judicial review.”

Canadian Constitution Foundation Executive Director stated that:

"Canadians who value the strength of our civil society should hope the Supreme Court does grant the Highwood Congregation's application to review the case. The constitutionally guaranteed freedom to associate must include the freedom not to associate, and that right cannot be policed by the courts without an unprecedented intrusion on the privacy and autonomy of Canadians. Where no related legal rights are involved, the internal membership and disciplinary decisions of private bodies are no business of the state".

Expression

Bursts of violence erupted during an anti-immigration rally and counter protest in Quebec city on 20th August, with at least two members of the media being attacked. A masked protester pushed Global News journalist Mike Armstrong down a flight of stairs, leaving him with minor injuries and damaged equipment. Reportedly, the same person also hit Jean-Vincent Verveille, a Global TV cameraman, in the back before smashing his video camera on the ground. Soon after the outbreak of violence, the police declared the protests illegal. Margaux Ewen, advocacy and communications director for Reporters without Borders North America Bureau stated:

“Acts of violence against journalists and media personnel while covering protests undermine the press’ ability to accurately report news that is in the public’s interest”.