'Savage' pension protest at Montreal city hall condemned by mayor

Montreal's chief of police says he is 'disappointed' in his team after they allowed municipal workers to barge into city hall Monday evening to protest against proposed pension changes.

Montreal police chief 'disappointed' in his team after demonstrators allowed to barge into city building

Mayhem at Montreal city hall

8 years ago
Duration 2:27
Montreal's police chief criticized his own force for not intervening enough in Monday's pension protest at city hall

Montreal's chief of police criticized his own team for its lack of intervention during Monday evening's pension protest at city hall.

Hundreds of municipal workers stormed Montreal city hall and trashed council chambers in a protest against Bill 3 — proposed legislation to change municipal pension plans.

No one was arrested.

On Tuesday, Marc Parent said he is "disappointed" in members of his team for allowing demonstrators to barge into council chambers. 

Protesters blow whistles and horns inside Montreal council chambers, interrupting a council meeting. (CBC)

"Of course, I cannot help but notice that there were shortcomings in the security at city hall," Parent said. 

Parent said he has reminded officers there are not "two classes of protesters" and that they must maintain public peace and security, regardless of their personal opinions. 

He said some officers did make an effort to keep the demonstration under control.

Parent said he has assembled a team of investigators to look into how the police force handled the protest, and he said they will review surveillance footage to determine exactly how events unfolded.

Montreal police officers are among those who would be affected by Bill 3, which would force municipal workers to shoulder part of a $4-billion provincial pension shortfall.

Montreal politicians describe 'mob rule'

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Mayor Russell Copeman was at city council on Monday when it was invaded by municipal workers.

Montreal police chief Marc Parent says he reminded his officers that they are required to maintain peace and public safety, regardless of their personal opinions (Ryan Hicks/CBC )

He described what he saw as “mob rule.”

Shortly before the council meeting was about to begin, the angry workers burst into city hall — some of them jumping through windows and others forcing open the door to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre's office. 

Protesters, some of them masked, littered council chambers with papers, knocked over chairs, throwing glasses of water about and jostled city councillors and security guards.

"It was totally savage and unacceptable," Coderre said. 

"There's no way I'm going to allow any attack against democracy." 

City councillor Marc-André Gadoury said he was punched by one protester for taking pictures of the scene.

“These were strong, healthy-looking young men. They were pretty intimidating. They were moving past us, around us. This was a clear act of intimidation toward elected officials,” Copeman told CBC Radio’s Daybreak.

Copeman said he’s never seen anything like it in his 15 years as a politician.

“It felt as though city council had been violated,” he said.

The whole incident lasted about 45 minutes, Copeman said.

Union coalition calls incident 'unhelpful'

Marc Ranger, head of the coalition of municipal worker unions that is at the forefront of the protests, said the disruption was an autonomous action by one of its member unions. 

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough Mayor Russell Copeman said last night's takeover of city council 'violated' the elected chamber. (CBC)

He said the protest was not representative of the anti-Bill 3 movement as a whole.

“It shouldn’t have happened, it was not helpful. We’ll now have to talk about this instead of the real issues of pension reform,” he told CBC's Daybreak.

“I can’t control individual actions,” he said, pointing out that the coalition represents 65,000 municipal workers.

Ranger called for calm, adding that a conversation needs to take place between the City of Montreal and protest leaders to discuss what happened.

Ronald Martin, president of the Montreal Firefighters’ Association, also formally appealed for calm among members.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Martin said he “strongly deplored the few ugly incidents that occurred during the protest on Monday night.”

Martin said the association’s intention was to hold a noisy rally, but to respect democratic rules and the holding of the public council meeting.

Coderre says there will be consequences

Coderre is warning that the city employees who engaged in the vandalism and "pillaging" of city hall will face consequences.

"That kind of intimidation is totally ludicrous. It’s nonsense. It’s totally unacceptable," Coderre said.

He said he was proud that city council decided to proceed with the meeting as scheduled, following the interruption.

Coderre said the city is considering its response and all options are on the table, including asking the Sûrete du Québec to police city hall.

"Yesterday wasn’t an attack on Denis Coderre. It was an attack on Montreal," he said.

Premier taking situation "very seriously"

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called an unscheduled news conference on Tuesday to address the situation. 

He said the city hall incident "dishonoured" Quebec's democratic institutions and "diminished" the moral authority of its police forces.

"The public's confidence in the police has to be absolute," Couillard said.

Referring to the student protests of 2012, Couillard said the public confidence is shaken when police treat their own one way, while cracking down on other protesters.

Quebec's Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau told CBC Radio's Daybreak that the province is taking the situation "very seriously" and condemned the protesters actions.

"It is totally unacceptable in a democracy like Quebec to see union members getting into city hall chambers and preventing elected officials from doing their job. We have to condemn such a situation," he said.

Moreau said such actions are not the way to push for changes to Bill 3.

"Intimidation or violence will not change the proposed bill," he said.

Moreau called on unions challenging Bill 3 to condemn tactics like the storming of Montreal city hall.

"We are willing to listen to arguments, to ideas on how we should proceed with Bill 3... but first and foremost, we have to do it in a peaceful manner because we are living in a democracy and democracy should not tolerate the way those people acted."