Friday, September 21, 2007

Police Harassment of Immigrants in Cote-des-Neiges: Filipinos Not Allowed To Protest In Their Own Neighbourhood

For immediate release
Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights
September 21, 2007

Filipinos driven away from their own community by Montreal police intimidation

(Montreal, Quebec) During a peaceful demonstration yesterday in front of the Plamondon metro station in Montreal's Cote-des-Neiges area, peace-loving Filipinos and Canadians were driven away from their own community by the Montreal Police.

This rally marked the 35th anniversary of then President Ferdinand Marcos' declaration of Martial law on September 21, 1972, a period of fascist dictatorship and gross human rights violations by the Philippine government.

"The Marcos regime violated every human right imaginable including torture and displacement of communities. In Canada, where we have an international reputation as a defender of human rights, it is inconceivable that the police would disrupt, intimidate, and harass a peaceful demonstration in favour of human rights and against authoritarianism," states Cecilia Diocson, Eastern Co-ordinator for the Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights (PCTFHR).

Two officers of Station 25 harassed and intimated the protesters, even following them across the street when the protesters agreed to move away from the metro station. The officers claimed that they had received complaints from the Montreal Transport Commission and from commuters, and instructed them to keep their placards down and the bullhorn off, despite support of nearby community members who readily took flyers and gave encouraging comments to the protestors.

This protest was part of national actions to be held in Vancouver and Toronto later today and an international campaign to stop extra-judicial killings and human rights violations in the Philippines today under current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. KARAPATAN, a human rights group in the Philippines, has documented 886 extra-judicial killings since the Arroyo presidency in 2001.

A Filipino ghetto, the Cote-des-Neiges district of Montreal has become a hotbed of police intimidation, harrassment, and brutality particularly against newly-arrived Filipino youth. "'Racial profiling' is a common experience in our community, and is part of a growing fascisation around the world. Rather than intimidate us, we see a greater need now to further assert our democratic rights and freedoms." says Neil Castro, member of Kabataang Montreal, a Montreal Filipino youth organization. Nearly 60% of Quebec's Filipino community reside in the Cote-des-Neiges area, a multicultural neighbourhood where 40% of residents live under the poverty live.

The group of activists plan to file a complaint against the Montreal police for the intimidation and harassment during yesterday's action.


Media contact: Josie Caro (514) 678-3901

Some context: Cote-des-Neiges is a mixed class neighbourhood tucked behind Montreal's "mountain", pretty much the northwest edge before you hit what begin to feel like suburbs. It is also one of the city's most heavily immigrant neighbourhoods, with a majority of people over age fifteen having been born outside of Canada. In recent years most of these people have come from Russia, the Philippines and the Caribbean, but the neighbourhood is home to folks from all around the world.

All across Canada, immigrants' first years after arrival in this country are often filled with hardship, but after then ones fortunes can begin to improve, but more and more this "bounce back" phenomenon is reserved for those who are white. For those who come from the Third World, even those with professional qualifications and middle class aspirations, a variety of factors conspire to proletarianize them, maintaining their communities as sources of cheap and flexible labour for the city's service and manufacturing sectors, normally without any benefit of unionization.

So when the Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights talks about 40% of Cote-des-Neiges residents living beneath the poverty line, you have to understand that while initially this may hit all immigrants hard, in the long term it's hitting people hardest based on the colour of their skin.

One aspect of this racist proletarianization is police harassment, which singles out young Blacks and Asians in the neighbourhood for identity checks, questioning, tickets and arrest. Especially over the past twelve months, Station 25 has repeatedly found itself in the news, its cops charged with racist harassment, arrests and beatings of Black people in the area. Many, though not all, of these cases were attributed to "Project Advance", an anti-gang unit of some sort which has been set up in the area, but about which no real information seems to be available. It led to a situation where the local city councilor said that he had received more complaints about police this summer then in the previous ten years.

It is within this context that members of the Filipino community have also began coming forward, telling of how they are harassed and abused by the local police. Like all immigrant communities, people who come to Canada from the Philippines have there own class and political characteristics. Specifically in Cote-des-Neiges, where over 65% of Montreal 20,000 Filipinos live, these are mainly working class people, and many live in households headed by women who entered Canada as part of the ultra-exploitative Live-In Caregiver Program, whereby each year 2,000 people (mostly women, often with training as nurses or other healthcare providers) are "allowed" into Canada on condition that they work as live-in help for two years, receiving minimum wage for a "forty hour week" while in fact being on call 24 hours a day, week in and week out.

Once these women have worked for the required period of time, they are allowed to stay in Canada and their children from the Philipines are allowed to come and join them; these kids often arrive, having been part of the middle class back home, only to find that here all kinds of mechanisms are working together to push them into a new immigrant proletariat. Often, in order to help make ends meet, they must leave school and take on precarious forms of employment. As they get harassed by police in parks or on the street, there is a real fear that if they lodge a complaint or go to the media that they and their parents will be forced out of the country. When Kabataang-Montreal held a press conference last week about a young Filipino woman who was brutalized by the police, the woman and her family were too intimidated to show up, canceling at the last minute. This is the effect of racism in Montreal, and this is one of the challenges to those hoping to organize against racist police harassment in the area.

So police harassment of Filipino youth in the Cote-des-Neiges area is both part of the police's ongoing racist repression of people of colour, and of the police's ongoing oppression of working class people. An example of how, as my comrade J. Sakai has said, "'Class' without race in North America is an abstraction. And vice-versa. "

It's difficult to say how things will progress from here. While problems with police do seem to have spiked recently, it would be false to point to this as a new phenomenon; it is here that cops from Station 25 killed the young Mohamed Anas Bennis in 2005. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that this problem has been spoken of much more recently, and is much more in the public eye. Aggravating the situation are the hints of gentrification one sees in the area, still at a slow pace, but you can see it happening here and there. As police are agents of class control, the dislocation and dispossession which accompany gentrification are bound to give rise to more incidents over time.

It remains to be seen how the various lefts will respond. While certain groups do have organic ties to the community, the most politicized elements remain separated from each other, and the focus is often, understandably, on struggles in peoples' countries of origin. At the moment, the Filipino left seems exceptional in the degree to which it is focusing on people's local problems with Canadian capitalism. Grounded very quietly in a marxist leninist perspective, groups like Kabataang Montreal, SIKLAB and the Philippine Womens Centre do tie their work around people's oppression here to an anti-imperialist view of people's struggles in the Philippines.

This seems to be a good strategy, but i don't know how far it will be able to go, and how it will relate to the proletariat of tomorrow. For instance, it made me wince to read Cecilia Diocson saying that "In Canada, where we have an international reputation as a defender of human rights, it is inconceivable that the police would disrupt, intimidate, and harass a peaceful demonstration in favour of human rights and against authoritarianism." But this rhetorical strategy of trying to play up Canada ("defender of human rights") in order to win sympathy is a common one for organizations which have a narrow focus on rallying opposition to Regime X elsewhere in the world. Even in a press release protesting against police harassment this kind of ploy can re-appear almost as a knee jerk reaction.

It remains to be seen where all this will lead...

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