MONTREAL — Montreal’s police chief is refusing to blame his officers after many just looked on as demonstrators stormed into city hall and staged a rowdy pension protest.
A full investigation will be held into the ransacking by about 250 municipal workers in the stately building, Marc Parent told a news conference Tuesday.
The interruption occurred Monday evening just as city council was preparing to resume following a dinner break.
Several hundred workers first demonstrated outside city hall, lighting smoke bombs before some entered the building.
Papers were then strewn about and the building was plastered with protest stickers. In the main chamber, demonstrators unfurled a sign calling the mayor a thief. One councillor recounted being struck while others said they were pelted with water.
Municipal employees have been protesting throughout Quebec over a provincial government proposal to overhaul pension plans.
The workers left of their own accord and no one was arrested. It all took place as police officers, who are not in charge of security inside city hall, stood by.
Parent said the investigation could result in criminal charges, while officers found to have been lax or complacent could face disciplinary measures.
But he said not all police officers should be lumped together because some tried to keep protesters under control.
“We can’t say that all police officers did a bad job,” Parent said.
“Unfortunate incidents have shaken Montrealers’ sense of security.
“For a lot of people, the events that went on during the city council meeting have raised a doubt regarding the SPVM (police) officers’ ability to do their job in a total neutrality and with the professionalism rightfully expected by the population.”
Montreal police were out in full force on Tuesday as city council resumed, but no protesters were in sight.
Mayor Denis Coderre denounced the protest as intimidation and bullying and reiterated there will be consequences.
“They (protesters) violated city hall last night, they violated democracy,” Coderre told reporters, reiterating his confidence in the police and Parent.
“They didn’t attack Denis Coderre last night, they attacked Montreal and Montrealers through city hall.”
Some of the unionized employees who took part in Monday night’s protests were Montreal firefighters. A spokesman says the union didn’t order anyone to enter the building and denied allegations of intimidation.
“I think it sends a pretty clear message that members are shocked, but I wouldn’t call it intimidation,” Ronald Martin said Tuesday.
The government is proposing that contributions and future pension deficits be split 50-50 between municipalities and unionized workers, which would entail reworking 170 collective agreements that encompass about 22,000 employees.
The Liberal government introduced Bill 3, its proposal to overhaul municipal pensions in mid-June, saying those plans carry a collective deficit of about $3.9 billion and aren’t sustainable in the long term. Unions say it’s a cash grab by municipalities looking for savings and say the government won’t negotiate.
Tensions have risen in recent days ahead of the beginning of legislature hearings on Bill 3 on Wednesday.