Montreal to pay $6M, apologize publicly to protesters arrested illegally

Montreal to pay $6M, apologize publicly to protesters arrested illegally

A Quebec Superior Court judge has approved a $6-million payout by the City of Montreal to protesters whose rights were violated nearly a decade ago.

The city and the lawyers representing the protesters had agreed to the deal in November, but it had to be approved by Quebec's Superior Court. A judge approved it in a decision dated Feb. 22.

It is the end of a nearly 10-year legal process that saw 16 class-action suits brought against the city, stemming from different protests between June 2012 and March 2015, including marches against police brutality and a demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of student protests against tuition increases.

Protesters who participated in the demonstrations alleged that the Montreal police response was heavy handed and the police used techniques that included "kettling" to contain protesters and arrest them. Those tactics violated their right to freedom of expression and their security, they said.

The City of Montreal will also have to post an apology message on its website for 90 days acknowledging that "certain actions" taken by the police and city administrators infringed on "some" of the fundamental rights of "some" of the protesters.

"For this reason, the City of Montreal publicly apologizes to all these people," the apology will read.

Liam Mayes, a participants in one of the class-action lawsuits, said in an interview he felt the settlement was a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion to a long-drawn-out legal process.

"I think any opportunity to make effective change is probably long gone," he said, "but it's nice to have some sort of recognition."

Mayes participated in a demonstration on April 5, 2013, in the context of student protests against tuition fee increases. But he recalled how demonstrators had only barely begun gathering in Place Émilie-Gamelin when police declared the protest illegal and demanded everyone disperse.

There was nowhere to go — police filled every exit.

WATCH | Police "kettle" protesters on April 5, 2013 :

"It was awful," he recalled. "They all have their visors covering their faces. They all have their little batons and shields. We were just packed together."

Officers moved in on the protesters, banging their shields. They had removed their identification badges, Mayes said. They arrested everyone in the square, maybe 80 people, that day, according to Mayes.

Now, he said, he feels little satisfaction knowing he may get a $1,500 payment for his experience that day — his small slice of the $6 million settlement, much of which will go toward lawyers' fees and other costs.

He would rather know that police tactics have changed and other protesters won't go through a similar experience in the future but, given the size of the settlement and the length of time that has passed since the protests happened, he isn't sure it will have any effect.

"They (the police) ended up 10 years later with a little slap on the wrist," he said. "It's better than no slap on the wrist, but come on, right?"