By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
Dec. 5, 2007
Paul Manly's five-minute, 23-second video clip of a confrontation during a summer protest in Quebec is a compelling piece of theatre.
A man wearing a suit jacket challenges three burly men whose faces are hidden behind black bandannas.
“Take your mask off, brother,” he says. “Take your mask off.”
He taps the shortest of the burly men on the shoulder. He then spots a large rock in the man's gloved right hand.
“Put the rock down, man!” the man in the suit orders. “Put the rock down!”
He taps him on the back, swears at him, calls him a cop. He places a hand against his chest to prevent him from moving toward a line of helmeted riot police.
The man with the rock responds by shoving the suited man. Meanwhile, other masked demonstrators begin chanting, in French, “Policier!”
The standoff becomes ever more tense when arms reach in to grab at the masks. In the end, the three burly men press through the police lines to be arrested and escorted away.
Mr. Manly, a 43-year-old Nanaimo filmmaker, captured the scene on a high-definition camcorder while making a documentary. He's going to call it Trading Democracy for Corporate Rule, which means Michael Moore is not about to be challenged at the box office.
Mr. Manly travelled to cover the protests against a summit of the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States held at a luxury resort at Montebello, Que., in August. He rode a bus with members of the Council of Canadians, which he has since joined, a group critical of trade talks taking place without input from ordinary citizens.
The balding man in the suit jacket who confronted the burly men was Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Which explains his use of the word “brother,” as well as some of his riper oaths. (The CEP represents many Globe and Mail employees.)
“It was a pretty intense scene for me,” Mr. Manly said of the confrontation that began Aug. 20 at a police line across from the village's cemetery.
“I was confused because I don't speak French. I thought at first the crowd was saying Dave Coles was police. When I saw rocks, then I got worried. I could see these guys were intent on causing trouble.”
The standoff lasts just three minutes. It begins with the trade union leader trying to shoo away a small contingent of masked demonstrators, at the front of which were the three burly men.
“This is our line,” Mr. Coles announces. “This is for old guys, grandmothers, grandfathers. This is our line.”
Afterward, addressing the crowd and reporters, Mr. Coles accuses the burly men of being police provocateurs, although he rhymes the word with Mousketeers. “They were provocateers with boulders,” he says. “…They're trying to create a riot so they can suck us all in to get beat up.”
Soon after, he left aboard a bus on which Mr. Manly showed him the footage. The documentarian and the trade unionist were well on their way home by the time another confrontation wound up with police firing tear gas.
Mr. Manly posted his video on the Internet that night.
“Putting the video on YouTube made me nervous,” he said. “I didn't know who these guys were. CIA? CSIS? Blackwater [security firm] agents?”
The provincial police denied the three men were police officers. The accusation was dismissed as paranoia.
But the posting got enough traffic to warrant media interest. Brief clips of Mr. Manly's video aired on national TV newscasts. The police came clean and admitted the men were undercover officers. “At no point did Sûreté du Québec policemen act as agents provocateurs or criminals,” the force said in a statement.
In retrospect, the police infiltrators are dressed in costumes that are a comic-book fantasy of the anarchist style. They looked more like frat boys celebrating Halloween. The short man with the rock wore a ball cap sideways on his head, a black T-shirt, camouflage pants and, as Mr. Manly's film showed, the exact same model of boot as was being worn by the police officer who arrested him. Whoops.
Besides, your average scrawny anarchist – a young dumpster diver, or perhaps a self-described tofu-powered vegan freak – does not usually tip the scales beyond the 100-kilogram mark.
Mr. Manly said the infiltration of legal, peaceful protests darkens the reputation of police. He is not without sympathy. His sister is an Ontario Provincial Police constable; an uncle served in the RCMP.
“I do not want to get tear-gassed, tasered, batoned, or water-cannoned,” he said. “I just want to exercise my democratic rights.”
Mr. Manly thinks there should be an inquiry into police activity at Montebello, a demand repeated in the House of Commons yesterday by his MP, Jean Crowder (NDP – Nanaimo-Cowichan). Rocks were thrown that day and he wonders who launched them. Could be protesters. Could be cops. Who knows?
Tomorrow, he will be posting more high-definition images on YouTube showing questionable behaviour by some members of the crowd.
Checking out the 10-minute introductory film to his documentary, which was posted three weeks ago, I was viewer No. 1,518. The video of the police infiltrators being exposed, posted three months ago, had 338,406 hits as of yesterday afternoon.
That's what you call an audience.
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