At the end of June, a new squad of the Montreal police swept down and arrested four well‑known activists. By mid‑July, four more activists, this time student leaders, had also been taken into custody. The new squad – Guet des activités des movements marginaux et anarchistes, or GAMMA (which translates as Surveillance Marginal Movements and Anarchists) – has the labour movement, civil liberties organizations, student groups, as well as many other progressive and left‑wing organizations strongly condemning both GAMMA and the arrests, and sounding the alarm.
The new squad has also been denounced by the Communist Party of Québec (PCQ), which calls for its immediate dismantling.
“As the name indicates, this squad targets specific groups of people who question the established social and political order and challenge the resulting social injustices,” a statement released by the party said, noting that the squad is blatant political police unit and a serious attack on democratic rights of citizens.
The establishment of the GAMMA squad two years ago coincided with the adoption of austerity measures by the provincial Charest government and the federal Harper Conservatives.
The government knew that its actions would be unpopular and appears to have limited organized protest, the PCQ notes. But the existence of the squad was brought to light only on June 29, during a sting operation involving thirty police officers, who arrested four left‑wing activists and searched their homes. The four were charged with a series of criminal offenses in connection with a skirmish with cops during a May First demonstration organized bay La convergence des luttes anticapitalistes (CLAC, or the Anti‑capitalist convergence).
A few days later, Gamma arrested another four activists who are militants of a leading student organization in Québec, L’Association pour une solidarité syndicale etudiante (ASSE). Three are members of the ASSE’s executive committee.
The arrests occurred several months after a series of actions in March, including the occupation by students of Québec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s office, and the Conference of Rectors and Principals of the Universities Québec (CREPUQ), to protest rising tuition fees. In a few weeks, a major mobilization of the Québec student movement is expected.
Complaints were lodged with the Commission on Human Rights and the Rights of Youth by individuals and by the ASSE.
“In all likelihood, the mandate of the squad directly contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which specifies that no person shall suffer discrimination, exclusion or preference based on his political beliefs,” the PCQ said, expressing full support for the students’ complaints.
Repression of political dissent on the left is hardly new in Canada.
“The Communist Party of Canada has been a `victim of choice’ by the ruling class since the beginning of its existence,” the PCQ said. “For example, the dreadful Act to protect the province against communist propaganda, known as the Padlock Law, adopted in Quebec in 1937, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1957 because it encroached on the criminal law of a federal jurisdiction. This law allowed up to a year to imprison any person who printed, published or broadcast `any writing propagating or tending to propagate communism or Bolshevism.'”
The law largely served to attack not only Communists but terrorize union activists and progressives.
The PCQ also pointed to the PROFUNC (Prominent Functionaries of the Communist Party) program, administered by the RCMP from 1950 until 1983. It amounted to a massive anti‑democratic plan for internment of all those identified as Communists or sympathizers.
“In total, more than 65,000 people were registered on a list of possible arrests. The list was continually updated, and was used for hundreds of arbitrary arrests in Québec during the so‑called October Crisis of 1970, again in order to attack and intimidate progressive and nationalist movements of Québec.”
The PCQ statement also noted the mass arrests of over 1100 occurred during the G8 and G20 in Toronto last summer. These arrests “have eloquently illustrated the willingness of the state apparatus inCanada to curb dissent today. Likewise, the so‑called `war on terror’ is used by CSIS to justify a comprehensive surveillance and infiltration of popular solidarity and opposition movements.
“The election of a Conservative majority government May 2, 2011 aggravates threats against democratic rights in Canada. The Harper government is making continued efforts to crush all resistance by thelabour movement, as we have seen recently with the special laws against the workers of Canada Post and Air Canada, to make the working class bear the brunt of the capitalist crisis.
“We call on the labour, popular and democratic movements (the main targets of attempts to criminalize dissent in Canada) to demand an end to the political repression of progressive groups.”
The PCQ is demanding repeal of the anti‑terrorist laws, the cessation of secret detention without trial, security certificates and the “no‑fly list”; the cancellation of the “Declaration of Border Security,” which involves sharing information with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and allows U.S. troops to enter Canada in the event of “emergencies”; the prohibition of “racial profiling” by the state; democratic, civilian control over police, prisons, CSIS and the armed forces; abolition of the GAMMA squad, and of all police suppression of political dissent, and the RCMP itself.