Silenced by a Plastic Bullet

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at tao.ca
Thu May 17 15:16:37 MDT 2001


 Silenced by a Plastic Bullet

His throat crushed, Eric Laferriere wants justice for the pain he's
suffered

By TOOKER GOMBERG

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ste.-claire-de-bellechasse, quebec --
I'm sitting in Eric Laferriere's basement apartment, and his cellphone
is ringing. He looks at it to see who's calling. He doesn't answer. He
cannot speak.

Democracy is about the right to speak out, but our country is now
responding to peaceful protestors with unprecedented clouds of toxic
tear gas and a new form of repression: plastic bullets.

The cop who fired at Laferriere was no more than 20 feet away from him,
near the wall surrounding the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. The
bullet hammered into his throat, crushing his larynx, which contains the
vocal chords, as well as the trachea, the thumb-thick wind pipe that
brings air to the lungs.
[Eric Laferriere, with a steel plate in his throat, holds the plastic
bullet that hit him.]

Eric Laferriere, with a steel plate in his throat, holds the plastic
bullet that hit him.


He now has a steel plate in his throat and breathes through a small
metal hole. He speaks in a faint whisper and with difficulty, wincing at
the pain from the 6-inch stainless steel pipe stuck in his throat. Every
breath burns.

"It's like someone is grabbing me by the throat and trying to choke me.
How could a cop do this to me?" he asks angrily, holding up a white
4-inch piece of plastic -- the very bullet that hit him.

"Here, take it, knock it against your head lightly," he tells me. It's
hard, like a rock. "That's what hit me squarely in the throat. It was
travelling at 300 feet per second. And somehow I had the reflex to reach
down and grab it and put it in my pocket."

In the corner of his living room sits a table stacked with hospital
supplies, packages of plastic tubing and a machine to suck out the
liquids that build up in his lungs. "I am going through two boxes of
Kleenex per day. It's not every day that you can find it on sale.

"I can't go swimming or take a bath. I have a hole in my throat. I can't
even make love -- I can't get excited. I have to remain calm."

***

As the Summit of the Americas story moves from front page to invisible,
one story sticks in my mind. A man was shot in the throat by a plastic
bullet. What happened to him?

NDP MP Svend Robinson's office sends me an article about Laferriere, and
I search the Quebec City daily newspaper Le Soleil for info. I call one
of the journalists who has been writing about the use of plastic
bullets, and from him I get the number of Eric's hospital room. I call
repeatedly over many days, but there's no answer. Eventually, I learn
that he has left the hospital.

One of the articles mentions the town he lives in:
Ste.-Claire-de-Bellechasse. I scan the 600-plus Laferrieres in the
province listed at Canada411.ca, but none matches the town. No leads.

I then search the town name and have just one hit: a company that makes
tractor bodies. The person who answers tells me that Eric used to work
at the foundry in town, and gives me that number.

The receptionist is friendly, but company policy dictates that she
cannot give me his number. She's happy to deliver my messages to Eric,
though, who agrees to what turns out to be a three-hour interview.

I walk through the still graffitied streets of Quebec City, and then hop
a boat across the wide mouth of the St. Lawrence River to Levis. A local
bus and a taxi carry me 45 kilometres, first through the globalized
landscape of Tim Hortons and 99-cent Jr. Whoppers, and then past rolling
fields of corn and hay. I'm left on a quiet street in front of a
four-plex.

Down the stairs, I'm welcomed into Eric's home, where he lives alone,
the sunlit walls decorated with small paintings he did as a child. He's
proud of his youthful talent and shows me a 20-year-old clipping from a
La Tuque newspaper that recognized his childhood skill.

Later, we leaf through the piles of more recent clippings. This time
he's front page, with a bullet.

***
The Summit was barely a month ago, but so much has changed for
Laferriere since he heard on the news that 25,000 people were expected
for a march in Quebec City. "It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to be
part of something large like that -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience,"
he says.

"My mother saw me leave home that morning, and all I had was swimming
goggles, a spare bandana and a bottle of water. I am not a Hell's Angel!
I am not violent. I have no dossier. I'm clean."

On Saturday afternoon he stood alongside other protestors on Boulevard
Ren=E9 L=E9vesque some 20 feet from a double or triple row of fully
decked-out riot police. Nothing much was happening. It was calm.

Then, all of a sudden, clack, clack, clack, the cops started firing tear
gas canisters at the protestors. "There was absolutely no reason for the
cops to start firing that tear gas."

The gas was so thick, he couldn't see the person next to him. Some
people ran, others got angry. He mimed his outrage. "I went like this,"
he explains. First the middle finger, then a finger pointed at his head.
Fuck you, what you're doing is crazy, he was saying, but without words.

Suddenly, he was doubled over in pain, on the ground. "My hand no longer
worked. What did they do to me? I didn't know what hit me."

Without thinking, he grabbed an empty tear gas canister that was lying
nearby and was about to pitch it at the cops. It never left his hand.

"I tried to speak, but nothing came out."

There was blood streaming out of his mouth. Gobs of blood. People around
him were panicking. Others shouted for a medic. The Red Cross called for
an ambulance. Laferriere could barely breathe.

Before the ambulance arrived, police fired more tear gas in their
vicinity. They had to evacuate him. The ambulance was directed to a
different location, and from there Laferriere was rushed to the
hospital. Since then, he's been bawling. Bawling like a baby.

***

Who fired the shot? And will he face the music? "For attempted murder a
person should get 15 years," Laferriere tells me.

After caring for him for two weeks, one of Laferriere's nurses, Sylvie,
confessed to him that her husband is a cop and that he was on duty
during the Summit. After a couple of minutes of silence, Laferriere
asked: "Did I deserve that bullet?"

Lawyers have been hovering, offering to help him pro bono. "They know I
will win and that they will make money," he says.

But he's not rushing into a legal battle just yet. "I am not just going
to charge the Quebec Police or the RCMP. I'm going after the cop who
shot me. I want to see the cop who shot me in front of me."

For now, he drives. In the last few days he's travelled 1,200
kilometres. Next month he'll go under the knife again. Then, if all goes
well, he'll go travelling. "There are so many things to see across
Canada," he says. "The CN Tower is in Toronto, right? Where is Niagara
Falls?"

They succeeded in crushing Eric Laferriere's voice. Will you use yours
to speak out against the chemical and military attack against peaceful
protestors?

-------------------------------------------
Macdonald Stainsby
Rad-Green List: Radical anti-capitalist environmental discussion.
http://lists.econ.utah.edu/mailman/listinfo/rad-green
----
Leninist-International: Building bridges in the tradition of V.I. Lenin.
http://lists.econ.utah.edu/mailman/listinfo/leninist-international
----
In the contradiction lies the hope.
                                     --Bertholt Brecht





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