Who is behind the anti-gentrification violence in Saint-Henri?

  • Posted on: 30 July 2017
  • By: thecollective

From cbc news montreal

Police say attacks are 'quite organized', but a rift is developing among Montreal anarchists over their value

Organized anarchists are suspected of being behind a violent spate of vandalism in Saint-Henri that has rattled residents and left many wondering what's next.

But within the anarchist community divisions are emerging about the strategy behind the recent anti-gentrification attacks.

The latest incident to cause concern among Saint-Henri residents was the deliberate burning of four cars on Léa Roback Street on July 14.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and police haven't explicitly linked it to anti-gentrification anarchists, but Montreal police Cmdr. Sylvain Parent said it fits an established pattern.  

"It occurred in Saint-Henri and it involves an Audi and a BMW, which are usually cars associated with a certain luxury," he said.

"That's what the people who are anti-gentrification fight [against]."

In recent years, a number of Saint-Henri businesses, mostly on Notre-Dame Street, have been vandalized.

Anarchists have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks, citing their opposition to the historically working class neighbourhood's shift towards condominium developments and upscale restaurants.

If police do make the link between the recent arson attacks and Saint-Henri's anti-gentrification movement, it would bring the number of open investigations of such incidents in the neighbourhood to four.

Ludger restaurant

Anti-gentrification radicals smashed the windows of Ludger restaurant on Notre-Dame Street this spring while diners were still inside. (Radio-Canada)

Attacks 'quite organized'

Police efforts to catch those responsible for the attacks have been complicated by their tightly coordinated, highly organized nature.

"They're organized in the sense [the perpetrators] are all dressed in black with their heads covered," said Parent. "There are people doing the job, but there are others watching if police or witnesses come by."

Sylvain Parent

Montreal police Cmdr. Sylvain Parent said the type of cars that were targeted, an Audi and a BMW, suggest an anti-gentrification motive for the arson. (CBC)

He also pointed to tactics used in an incident earlier this year that saw vandals break windows and throw paint into the restaurant 3734 on Notre-Dame Street West.

"When they escaped, they left their black clothes behind and got away," he said.

Such tactics are well-known to officers, both from experience and through a number of open websites where anarchists discuss their actions anonymously.


An image from a propaganda poster detailing anarchist anti-gentrification attacks in the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough. (Anonymous)

Many of the tactics Cmdr. Parent describes are found in an online guide called "A recipe for nocturnal direct actions!"

"Once you've gained confidence in nocturnal actions, maybe you'll want to experiment with day-time actions that are more visible to passersby and thus harder for the authorities to invisibilize, like the looting of the yuppie grocery store in St. Henri last year," the guide reads, referring to an incident last May.

The same website where that guide is found has one recent post, dated July 18, that makes the case for arson "as a tool of social justice."

Tensions emerge, tactics questioned

Lately, however, a philosophical rift has emerged within the anarchist community about the logic and strategy behind some anti-gentrification attacks, and their contribution to the anarchist cause.

The debate has played out in two documents, both published anonymously this spring.

One, entitled "Building Common Grounds," challenges the "disconcerting dogmatism" of those who believe smashing shop windows has stand-alone revolutionary significance.

It criticizes what it calls "action for action's sake" with no concern for strategy or context.

St-Henri vandalism at 3734 Notre Dame West

Bystanders examine graffiti outside 3734 Notre Dame after an attack in May 2016. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

"Building Common Grounds" gave rise to a lengthy response entitled "Putting into Practice: Adding to the conversation on anarchist activity in Montreal."

It dismisses the authors of "Building Common Grounds" as moderates and criticizes other anti-gentrification activists who are focused on alliance building, which is not sufficiently anarchist in their view.

The authors also condemn other anarchists for discussing the identity of those behind the anti-gentrification attacks, saying "it's absolutely unacceptable for such speculative sentences to leave one's mouth, even with close comrades."

CBC News reached out to several members of the anarchist community, but none would speak on record about the debate.

'The real story'

For others involved in the effort to stall gentrification in Saint-Henri, the anarchist vandalism is a double-edged sword.   

Shannon Franssen is the co-ordinator of Solidarité Saint-Henri, a coalition of 27 community groups and institutions fighting poverty in the neighbourhood. She said the anarchist attacks have brought the media's spotlight to what she feels is an otherwise forgotten issue.

"One thing I can say from my personal perspective is that it really gets a lot of media attention, which does help us talk about the negative impacts of gentrification," she said.

Jesse Bowden - co-owner of Campanelli Apparel

Jesse Bowden, co-owner of Campanelli Apparel, had his store damaged in 2015. It later closed. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

"It makes people aware that there are really disastrous impacts of this phenomenon on our neighbourhood, on people's lives, on people's quality of life — it's a really big deal for our neighbourhood."

Gentrification, she says, has driven out small businesses that many residents relied on, driven up the cost of housing, reduced enrollment in neighbourhood schools, and generally left long-time residents of Saint-Henri feeling unwelcome and unwanted.

Being asked to only comment on the violence takes the focus away from those negative impacts, she says.

"Very, very, very few people are resorting to violence, but many, many people are feeling angry," she said. "That's the real story."



So now we have connections at CBC to publicize our insider debates?

Unless CBC has got way smarter reporters with integrity lately, who care looking deep into fringe subjecs instead of being the same old sub-BBC, this smells like that weird entryist buddying games.

Tho that doesn't mean it's bad they're talking so openly of these two text and the supposed melodrama of intestine arguments around them. Just that are we prepared to be sitting on such public tribune, or is there interest to turn it into something that ain't more representation politics?

Still not convinced that my repeated ranting about lack of community and autonomous economics is more of just grandpa's bitching on the youngsters caressless...

You know, like the stuff that can make us live together, without the need for stupid jobs and cash. This is the stuff that tends to escape the politics of (spectacular) representation, and their identity games.

If any of you (in Mtl especially), would provide me with enough *matter* to fight along with -a trench- and not just some externallized CAUSE, be sure I'd gladly be getting into fucking up the yuppies world like you can't imagine. I already got many targets on my list just waiting for a good war rationale.

Are you the same person who commented on the text referenced in this article? Talking as if the anarchist movement owes you food and a place to live?

Thecollective felt I was too mean to you last time but I'll just say it's weird to view the Montreal anarchist milieu as some bizarre alternative welfare state that owes you something.

My comment had some self-sarcasm (ever noticed the pseudonym?) in it, that made it read like more intense than how I really see things IRL... Actually I can't manage to have a decisive stance on the matters - of gentrification and fighting it.

When I am/we are allowed to have a calm and non-judgemental conversation IRL between people on the topic, without pigs in uniforms "securing" the place for us, then yeah I SWEAR to bring more ponderated and reasonable views that go somewhere.

Moreso... I was starting to feel there's something dogmatic and somewhat "forced" with that antigentrification struggle. Not that yuppies cleansing my hood with their reckless, chauvinistic arrogance isn't making me angry... I may be even angrier at it than you are. But aren't you just fighting another spook that relies on externalization logic, like the gentrifiers cannot be also part of your own crowd in the first place? What is this fight about, really?

But sure go ahead trying to isolate and expose me... instead of just doing the ABC of explaining the rationale for this struggle to people who're honestly just being confused or doubtful about it.

I wonder if doubt and critical questioning are a problem to you!?

I'm not even from Montreal, just some random from the other side of the continent who recognized your weird logic.

It's official! By the time the mainstream media is forced to acknowledge the anti-gentrification movement like this, the militants have been vindicated many times over.

Wealth disparity is a ticking time bomb, simple as that. Doesn't matter if you're for or against the attacks, just a question of when.

1- tip one of your gay sauna buddies who work as State media reporter about a bunch of actions and zines you did
2- get your tribune in the State media
3- start out a branch at post-grad academia called "gentrification studies".
4- ???
5- Profit!

Sketchy beginnings for academic careers are just one of the many benefits, look at the classic case with Weather Underground!

people are against these sort of attacks? - not Keating

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