Police arrest five at ‘Casserole’ Quebec solidarity demonstrations in Vancouver

Published in rabble.ca & Media Co-op | June 23, 2012 | Circulation: 250,000 unique monthly readers

Two separate ‘Casseroles Night in Canada’ demonstrations in solidarity with Quebec student protests ended in arrest last night in Vancouver, with five arrested for mischief and obstructing police officers.

Detainees said they were locked in a pitch-black garage for an hour, intimidated and banned from being downtown until August. One of the demonstrators added that she was forced to remove her bra and skirt and stared at by all-male jail staff.

“When I was processed, I was made to take off my bra and skirt, and was thrown in cell,” said Anushka Nagji. “I’m completely uncomfortable to be a woman in this situation.

“All the jail staff were male – I’m not wearing a bra, and it was freezing. I’m really, really, really angry, because I feel like we were repeatedly lied to by police officers and jail staff … and literally having to be subject to the male gaze by all-male officers.”

Nagji was one of four demonstrators arrested while blocking traffic roughly a block from the Burrard Street Bridge around 5 p.m. last night, after walking in a group of 25 pot-banging protestors from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

She was released after several hours – but only after being fingerprinted, subjected to a mugshot, and signing a “promise to appear” undertaking which included a blanket ban on being in downtown Vancouver.

“I’m angry and fucking traumatized,” she said. “How does this happen for protesting?!”

“The worst part of it was sitting in a paddy wagon for an hour in pitch-black darkness. They left us in the back of the paddy in the (police station) garage for one hour. The car was turned off; all the lights were off. It was pitch-black – no ventilation, nobody asked us if we needed to go to the washroom or if our cuffs were too tight.”

Another demonstrator arrested on Burrard Street, who asked to remain anonymous, was in the darkened paddy wagon as well. He refused to provide his name to police and was released at 10:30 a.m. this morning (June 23) with no charges. But he said guards banged his cell door every 15 minutes to keep him awake, and took away his hoodie and vest after he complained his handcuffed arms were cramping, leaving him in a cold cell without a blanket for much of the night.

“There were five people arrested for a benign, peaceful protest last night,” he said. “It was ridiculous.

“Particularly egregious was the hour we spent locked in a paddy wagon in the dark, with our hands cuffed behind our backs… They turned off the engine and the lights in the back and just left us there.”

Although his charges were dropped, he believes the other four people arrested will also be vindicated.

“These members of the community have jobs, no criminal records,” he explained. “It was clearly a political rally so there’s almost no way (the charges) could stand. I think the Crown’s just going to drop the charges.”

The demonstrations – dubbed “Casseroles Night in Canada” on account of clanging pots and pans – have been held weekly in Vancouver, joining months of enormous Quebec rallies against tuition hikes, government austerity policies, and Bill 78, which clamps down on protest and civil liberties, critics say. The four Vancouver detainees who signed undertakings will have to appear in court on Aug. 2 – until then, they are all completely banned from downtown, Nagji said.

“The conditions we all signed were a blanket prohibition from being Downtown,” she said. “If I am in downtown Vancouver and a police officer accosts me, it’ll come up that I have an undertaking. I’ll be arrested for not obeying the undertaking. I can’t be downtown at any point of time, for any reason.

“It was a ridiculous response to what we were doing – banning us from downtown. I have legitimate reason to go downtown – I have to see a doctor downtown, and I may want to get a job at a law firm there. A blanket prohibition from downtown is not an appropriate response.”

Nagji said she plans to have her conditions overturned by another judge on Monday. But with protests heating up in Quebec and a growing “Casseroles Night in Canada” spreading to hundreds of areas across the country, it is unlikely that the movement will cease now that the thousands arrested in Quebec are joined by detentions elsewhere.

“Whether the whole country is actually catching up (with Quebec) – we’ll see,” Nagji said. “We are living in a disgusting system, which is inherently oppressive.

“Not only am I protesting tuition being high and austerity measures, but I’m protesting the illegal authority being meted out, and having to exist in an oppressive society.”

A Legal Aid lawyer representing a detainee were not returned in time for publication, but a Vancouver Police Department spokesperson said he did not have information about the incident at this time.

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