Quebec report

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Apr 26 19:50:43 MDT 2001

This was sent as a letter to a number of Canadian media. The author
obviously wants it as widely circulated as possible cheers, Ken Hanly

Testimonial on the Anti-FTAA Demonstrations, April 18-22, 2001 April 24, 2001

I want to write about what I saw this weekend in Quebec City. I volunteered
as a Street Medic for the anti-FTAA protests, from Wednesday afternoon
until Sunday afternoon. In the course of these days I saw so much that I
hope to never see again. I treated hundreds of injured people, got tear
gassed, felt the effects of pepper spray, and mostly felt the kind of
turmoil that a peaceful society ought not to experience. Throughout the
event medics were targeted by the police: wherever my partner and I would
be treating people, tear gas canisters would land right beside us. Some
medics got hit with rubber bullets. On Friday, my friend Sean was on his
knees treating a patient in a tear gas cloud on the front lines, when a
canister fell right under his face and exploded. He inhaled so much of it
right there, then he tried to stumble to his feet only to narrowly miss a
canister aimed at his head.

Another canister hit the wall behind him, bounced and hit him in the back,
knocking him flat. A final canister rolled by his face again and exploded.
He was rescued by another medic team and spent the next two days
recuperating in the medic clinic on Cote D'Abraham. On the front lines on
Friday we began treating people as the gassing began. We kept having to
retreat more and more to avoid the clouds of gas. At one point a canister
exploded right next to me. I can't begin to explain the agony of being hit
head on with tear gas first of all it suffocates you. I began to walk very
quickly, barely restraining the panic, as I coughed and choked. I thought I
would die, that any minute my asthma would kick in. Everywhere we turned
there were more riot cops, more gas, and no safe space to calm down and
decompress. My eyes were fine, being sealed under swim goggles, but my skin
was burning like fire. Finally we managed to find a corner without gas and
I got my breath back. I can't explain the fear that set in afterwards I was
so scared to go anywhere near the cops. But I was in Quebec to do a service
treat injured people who were in pain.

Now that I knew what that pain was like, I also knew I had to go back into
the fray. As we walked back into the chaos, we came upon a girl who had
been hit by a canister of gas, which exploded all over her body. Medics
were treating her by stripping off her clothing and pouring liquids all
over her. The poor girl was crying and screaming, in so much pain. Around
us were clouds and clouds of gas, and cops advancing on all sides. The cops
began shooting canisters high into the air, into the back of the crowd,
where we were. In that area were only peaceful protesters; we were not up
by the perimeter fence, and we were not involved in Black Bloc activities
up by the front lines. Our space was full of individuals being treated for
various injuries, and just trying to recuperate. Yet we were getting hit
with dozens of canisters! We had to watch the sky, hoping the canisters
wouldn't land on us.

We had to continually stand in the center of the action, yelling at people
to walk, walk, walk to avoid a mob scene and tramplings. It's so hard to
stand still or walk slowly when tear gas canisters at a temperature of
hundreds of degrees Celsius are being shot straight at you or above your
head. I broke down so many times in the fracas, because the emotion just
ran so high. I thought I was either going to die or be incapacitated or
arrested. At one point we were in the middle of a city block when a fire
truck came through and the protesters attacked it. At the time I couldn't
understand why, why would they attack firemen, but later on someone helped
me realize that the truck was going to be used as a water cannon, so people
wanted to trash it. Finally the truck went through, after having all its
water emptied and the equipment taken. Later a row of riot cops formed at
one intersection, and lobbed gas canisters to block off the end of the
block. There was no escape route for my partner and I and the dozen or so
protesters still there. Again I began to choke and almost panic, but we
ducked into a driveway. When I saw the pain the others were in the
adrenaline kicked in, and I began to treat them. I didn't even think about
my state, because I didn't feel it once I saw the injured people that
needed my help.

We managed to escape through backyards onto another block. This weekend was
a war zone. I felt like I was in the middle of civil war and urban warfare.
I treated so many burned hands, from people who wore thick gloves to throw
tear gas canisters back at the cops or away from the crowd, yet got their
hands burned. I saw third degree burns. I flushed hundreds of eyes with
water and sometimes with LAW liquid antacid mixed with water in a 1:1
ratio. When we were safely away from gas, I did MOFIBA skin decontamination
treatments (mineral oil followed immediately by alcohol) to take away the
pain. I treated so many injuries from people hit by tear gas canisters and
also those hit by rubber or plastic bullets. I saw back injuries, head
injuries, broken fingers, leg wounds, and so much more.

On Friday night we ended up under siege in our medical clinic as the cops
advanced down Cote D'Abraham, firing rounds and rounds of tear gas. The air
was so contaminated that we had to breathe through our vinegar-soaked
bandannas INSIDE the clinic. We had all the lights out and were speaking in
whispers. It was so scary. I thought we were for sure going to be arrested.
Finally we managed to evacuate down the stairs outside, and get away. On
Saturday night it was a different story. I wasn't there, I was at Ilot
Fleurie under the highway, in the middle of the big party. But I heard from
many medics who were there, and here's the story: The cops advanced down
Cote D'Abraham, shooting tear gas like crazy and shooting rubber bullets
down alleys and driveways. When they reached the clinic they marched
everyone who was in the alley (the decontamination space) out at gunpoint.
This included many medics and their patients, even seriously injured ones.
The cops forcibly removed all the protective gear from everyone, including
gas masks, vinegar bandannas and any goggles, saying "No more protection
for you guys!".

They also took all the medical supplies and equipment that was in the alley
or being carried by the medics. They then marched them, hands in the air
and at gunpoint, out into the gas. They made them walk one way, then
changed their minds and marched them another direction. My friend Sean said
that one guy next to him was hit in the head with a rubber bullet, and the
cops wouldn't allow him to stop and treat the person. Finally they let the
group go, without any arrests. Needless to say, the clinic was evacuated
and set up in a different location. Other injuries I heard about from
medics were: Derek and his partner treated a guy who was severely beaten by
police. He had a skull fracture, was in serious shock and had a compound
leg fracture that made it almost severed. They waited in clouds of tear
gas, with more and more canisters being hurled at them, for the ambulance.

Another medic treated a guy whose finger was cut off as he tried to scale
the wall. One girl's shoulder was dislocated. I treated a guy who got hit
in the back with a tear gas canister. One guy got hit in the Adam's Apple
with a rubber bullet and underwent an emergency tracheotomy. My teammate
Leigh had a serious asthma attack in the clouds. There were many victims of
beatings at the hands of police serious injuries from police batons. One
guy had his earring ripped straight out of his ear by a riot cop. There
were so many more, I just can' t remember them all. And the funniest thing
is, the mainstream media (i.e. the Montreal Gazette) reported only 300
injuries total hahaha that's laughable, since I must have treated that many
MYSELF!!! And there were probably 50 medics treating that many injuries
each! In the midst of all this chaos and fear and pain there were bright
moments. On Thursday I was present at the start of the Women's March, which
was colourful, beautiful, peaceful, magical. There were huge puppets and
decorated artwork that the women wove into the Wall of Shame.

That night I walked with the Torchlight Parade all the way from Universite
de Laval to Ilot Fleurie. Along the entire route, for many countless hours,
the group sang songs, chanted, drummed and danced. Slogans such as "This is
what Democracy looks like", "Whose streets? Our streets?", "Ain't no power
like the power of the people and the power of the people won't stop" and
"So So So, Solidarite!" were repeated over and over. There was a festive
atmosphere, with many residents waving from their homes and calling out
their support to the crowd. On Friday things went bad as soon as the next
march from Laval reached the perimeter, but I saw some beautiful things
through the clouds of gas. A group of women joined hands and danced in a
slow circle, singing beautiful songs about peace and nonviolence. They were
angelic, young and old, a space of quiet in the midst of a thunderstorm of
pain. Starhawk led her Pagan group with blue banners and an aura of calm,
straight into the tear gas. I saw them go by and felt safe for just a moment.

I heard later that they went straight through the gas and the bullets, and
sang and danced right by the row of riot cops. Apparently some were later
treated for injuries. Their courage and faith was inspirational to many,
including me. On Saturday down at Ilot Fleurie a party was going on all day
long. In this space, supposedly the "Green Zone" (safe,
non-confrontational, nowhere near the perimeter) had a booth set up for
Food Not Bombs, a group that fed us all weekend long. Everyone was welcome
to come and eat for free any time of day, and there were containers to eat
out of with a washstation nearby that everyone was expected to wash their
dish out in after eating. There was also an art space set up where artists
would fashion their work to use in the protests. By late afternoon there
was a huge fire going in the street, with people dancing around it. Many
people ripped down street signs and used them as musical instruments a
steady beat went on for hours and hours, late into the night. There was a
group dancing to the beat, and everyone felt so free and beautiful. It felt
like the kind of society I want to live in at least until the cops arrived
and the fear set in. A whole phalanx of riot cops stood their ground at the
top of the stairs looking down on Ilot Fleurie, and were an intimidating
presence for hours on end (from approximately 5 pm until they gassed us at
2:30 a.m.). Six choppers circled overhead as well. Getting back to good
moments: while we medics were holed up inside a shack that was being used
as a "Free Space" in Ilot Fleurie (they let us use it as a makeshift
clinic), a guy was brought in with a serious asthma attack. He had been
having the attack for about a half hour, and his breathing was extremely
laboured. I sat him down and attempted to calm him down, but it only got
worse. I could hear the wheezing and feel his body shaking with every
effort, and I knew the pain he was in because of my own experiences with
asthma. I recognized his panic.

He also didn't have his ventolin inhaler. As I sat there by his side I went
over my options in my head and realized I had none. An ambulance wouldn't
come into such a "hot" area, our clinic had just been busted by the cops,
and I had no ventolin or adrenaline for him. So in a moment of clarity I
realized I should try my only other option an acupressure point I had
learned the week before, that supposedly stops asthma attacks immediately.
I admit that before Saturday night I was very skeptical of these
techniques, but when I was confronted with this guy' s obvious need, faith
just kicked in. I knew it would work, I just knew it. Maybe because I
believed it so much, maybe because of something else, it worked. Within
seconds of my pressing that point on his hand, his breathing began to slow
down. Within a minute he was calm, and walked out of the clinic!!! That
moment for me was magic without any Western medical techniques or
medication of any sort, I managed to take away this man's pain.
Unbelievable. I began to cry as soon as he walked out I was so shocked and
so relieved.

What I saw this weekend, what I went through, what I saw people going
through it made me realize how much stronger I am than I previously
thought. I kept saying to myself if you can get through this moment, you
can get through the next, and the next, and then whatever life drops on
you. And I got through it all. Without serious injury, without arrest. But
I have to say, I didn't get away scott-free. My heart hurts. My mind hurts.
Most of all, my soul is aching with pain and disbelief.

I can't believe how people hurt each other. I am shocked at the violence I
saw in the span of two days, Friday and Saturday. I can't believe the
ferocity of chemical weapons, and that a government would allow its police
force to use such arms against its own people. I am angered that a) the
Black Bloc, formed of a handful of protesters at any one point, attacks the
police and that b) the police react by gassing the thousands of peaceful
protesters!!! I fully appreciate the cops need to defend themselves against
the concrete and plywood wielding Black Bloc-ers, but each of these cops is
heavily armed and protected, and a handful of them could have easily
surrounded the Black Bloc and dealt with them instead of affecting the
peaceful demonstrators. Tear gas was being shot deliberately at the
peaceful demonstrators at the back of the crowd!

I know all this because I was there. I am not spreading misinformation or
propaganda of any sort, because I saw the majority of this with my own two
eyes. The information that I heard from other medics is 100% reliable
because I worked with these people all weekend, and much of this was talked
about in our debriefings at the end of every night. No one in those
debriefings was lying, and none of these stories are without two or more

I am sending all of you my story because I believe that the mainstream
media is very biased. I want you all to know what really went down. I
haven't even told you the half of it in this letter, but I've tried to give
at least a taste of the pain I saw all weekend. I am having a very hard
time processing and dealing with this the feelings I am experiencing are
similar to those I had when I came back from the death camps in Poland. I
cannot function adequately right now, and this letter is part of my healing
process. If you have any questions, please ask me. ASK ME! I want to spread
this message to as many people as possible. I want the world to know what
went on in Quebec, how undemocratic and unfair and immoral and oppressive
the situation was.

Yet I also want people to know that a better world is possible - through
the gas and the pain and the fear I also glimpsed the possibility, the
hope, of that new space. People from all walks of life, backgrounds, ages,
races, and more came together in Quebec to fight against corporate rule,
and to fight for basic human rights, environmentalism and fair trade. We
have a vision of a future where things will be better. I don't stand with
the anarchists who want to break this society in order to form a new one,
and I don't stand with the protesters shouting "Revolution" in the armed
sense. But I do stand with the ordinary individuals, grandmothers, kids,
labourers, environmentalists, humans, who want to change things.

So I went to Quebec City as myself, and I came back as myself but with eyes
washed clear by tear gas and pepper spray. As the song says, "I can see
clearly now the rain has gone I can see all obstacles in my way". I can
see, but at what price to my psyche? I still don't know. I find myself
asking, would it have been better to have stayed home and watched it all on
TV??? It would have saved me the pain and heartache, but it would also have
left me in my little bubble of idealism. Not to say I am not still an
idealistic, romantic, optimistic woman I am but I am also just a little bit
more realistic.

I hope that you have read this far, and if so I congratulate you on being
an open-minded and intelligent individual. Please send this letter on to
whomever you may choose and send my email address along with it so I can
field any questions.

As we said in Quebec City, Be Safe.

Love, Sara Ahronheim

Biology 2001, Queen's University

Louis Proyect
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