Rally for community centre squat ends in eviction

Last Friday, a group called the “Centre Social Autogéré” stated their intent to occupy an abandoned building and appropriate it as an grassroots community centre. The CSA describes itself as opposed to capitalism, hierarchies and imperialism and autonomous from political, religious or economic authorities.

Photographer Tristan Brand and I attended the event where about 500 people gathered in park St-Gabriel to support the groups’ appropriation of the space. At the assembly, CSA organizers spoke about resisting gentrification, reclaiming spaces from “privatized hyper-capitalist development” and creating grassroots projects to meet local needs. Both spokespeople had tiny babies in slings and spoke of opening an autonomous daycare in the future.

The CSA has been active in Pointe-St-Charles for the past 2 years, organizing courses, movie nights, bicycle sharing, communal meals, urban agriculture and other activities. They planned to make the abandoned building – which is slated for condo development – into a permanent headquarters for their activities.

“Its with pride and dignity that we reclaim this building” said a CSA spokesperson, before outlining how to behave in the case of a confrontation with police.

The crowd marched through the streets of Pointe-St-Charles, following the upbeat – if rather macabre – minor key marching tunes of the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble.
Deuil pour le café la Petite Gaule

In front of 2525 rue du Centre, marchers were invited to light a candle to remember the Café de la Petite Gaule, a community space that had to close when their rent was raised to $3000 per month. The commercial space remains empty.

Arriving at the corner of St. Patrick and Argenson, about 60 CSA core members entered an abandoned candle factory. The crowd sang and cheered as two members hung a banner reading “espace libéré” from the roof. Others unpacked food, gardening implements, and a composting toilet. (Somewhat ironically, the group of autonomous squatters did their best to prevent us from entering the premise).

"espace libéré"

When we left the rally around 7pm, the police were keeping an eye on things from a respectful distance. One police officer explained that it was not clear whether or not the CSA had a legitimate right to access the property, but that since no complaint had been made they would not interfere. However, he added that if the crowd were to light a fire or receive noise complaints the police would intervene. He also said that he was a bit concerned about the presence of one group whose members had been involved in with violent protests in the past.

None-the-less, Friday night’s festivities went over without a hitch and were deemed successful.

But the very next day the truce was broken. Radio Canada reports that the property owner asked police to evict the squatters. When negotiations between police and CSA members failed, a riot police squad was called in. No arrests were made and the police deny the group’s allegation that pepper spray was used to smoke the squatters out of the building. You can read the CSA’s version of their “brutal eviction” here.

I can absolutely relate to the CSA’s desire to take concrete community action without jumping through hoops to get government support. But squatting a private property slotted for development comes across as more of a confrontational act than a realistic means of finding a sustainable community space. And it was pretty evident that at least some of the organizers were prepared for a clash with police to escalate.

The CSA plans to continue their activities, beginning with a protest outside of the borough office on June 2nd.

Top and bottom photos by Tristan Brand. See his series on the Launch of the Autonomous Social Centre.

25 comments

  1. I think that all these loonies should be forced to get jobs and pay taxes.

  2. This is crazy, is this blog endorsing this?????

    If this blog is against private property, then this blog should be renamed CommunistMontreal or something like that.

  3. Samir, just to be clear, this blog dosen’t unilaterally endorse or condemn other groups’ actions. I’m just reporting what I witnessed and have read in various sources. As I stated in the article, I personally remain skeptical about the effectiveness of squatting a private property as a means to obtain a community space.

  4. God I hate hippies.

    Using babies as human shields so you can point your finger at the police… Classy.

  5. What’s wrong with squatting a private property as long as it’s empty? These fine gentlemen and ladies have a right to improve their community by borrowing what is not being used, in order to better it and themselves.

    I am being sarcastic, of course, referring back to how private lands and green spaces are seen as perfectly fine to appropriate as a community park or thoroughfare, according to most of the posters here.

    It’s either private property or it ain’t, regardless of it being a building or empty lot with grass on it.

  6. See this has brought all the right wing out to redbait and support the rights of speculators to push people out of neighbourhoods where some of them have lived for generations (see St-Norbert posting). By the way, a cursory read of CSA materials would indicate that they are more anarchist than communist.

    Hopefully some means can be found of establishing this community centre, which has some very progressive and interesting projects. And there should be a moratorium on condo conversions, until there is adequate provision of affordable housing.

  7. Au début, j’étais pas très chaud face aux actions et à la mission du CSA, mais en lisant les commentaires laissés ici, je me suis rendu compte que je suis beaucoup plus près des idéaux de la CSA que des petits Reagans juniors qui viennient ici et qui disent “I hate hippies/communists”.
    Bravo les gars, belle argumentation simpliste, vous avez grandi sur un ranch au Texas ou quoi?

  8. Communities need to be empowered and not subject to the whims of land speculators who neither live nor give a crap about the local environment. And sometimes circumstances force people to take a stand in a manner not understood by others. The strategy used here is sort of the opposite of being expropriated and is a time honoured tactic used around the world. Hopefully this will all lead to some good things for The Point.

    And I agree with Maria. This story seems to have brought redbaiters out huffing and puffing and ready to rant. No one is going to be well served by engaging in a debate based on negative stereotyping that paints everyone with one brush. Montreal is a big city and we should be celebrating it’s diversity rather than engaging in the politics of exclusion.

  9. La propriété privée est un concept (donc inventé) que nous avons intégré dans nos sociétés, notamment à travers les lois. Je ne crois pas que contester la façon de voir la société dans laquelle nous vivons(occidentale) doit automatiquement être considérée comme mauvaise ou erronnée. Les CSA font partie d’une autre façon de voir le monde et de penser la vie en société.

    Est-ce que la construction d’unités de condos à une ou deux chambres seulement (excluant de facto les familles) est automatiquement légitime parce qu’elle est légale? Et encore là, la Ville a dû déroger à son plan et ses règlements d’urbanisme pour accepter le projet du promoteur-propriétaire.

    http://montrealmetropoleculturelle.org/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/ARR_SO_FR/MEDIA/DOCUMENTS/DOCUMENT%20INFO%20ST-PATRICK.PDF

    Le pouvoir de l’argent ou le pouvoir du nombre?

  10. La Ville ne veut plus rien à faire avec les squats depuis l’histoire de Préfontaine. Pierre Bourque a eu l’air d’un parfait hypocrite dans toute cette affaire et son administration a été complètement discréditée. Les médias ont fait un travail épouvantable en dressant un portrait sombre et déformé des squatteurs. Le public semblait en grande partie hostile au projet.

    Montréal est une ville progressiste à plusieurs égards, mais il y a un truc que les politiciens y ont compris: on n’est pas en Europe et le droit au squat n’est qu’une illusion. On peut le déplorer, mais si ce squat n’avait pas été évacué hier, il l’aurait été dans un mois, avec le gaz, les matraques, alouette…

  11. Well in celebrating that diversity, the politics of exclusion shouldn’t only be limited to those that need social assistance. You seem to have no qualms about limiting the ability of those who want to move into the neighbourhood, into quality housing, to do so. Let’s always pander to the lowest common denominator. Occupying a private building, using children and babies as shields to avoid police intervention is by no means a method. The bureaucracy is heavy on both sides, building a community center takes just as much work as getting approvals etc. for a condo development.

  12. First: I want to say I really enjoy this blog, and thank you for reporting on this! This is my first comment here, and apologize that this comment is too long.

    Second: I have to concur with the people admonishing all the right wing “stupid hippies get a job” huffing. It is definitely not conducive to an effective debate.

    I have to say I am not a big fan of confrontations, and I am guessing from the inferences in this post, that the organizers wanted a confrontation. I guess it would have gotten more attention in the news had that happen, however, again not conducive to the debate, it just encourages entrenchment of people’s positions.

    As a protest and an act to draw attention to an important issue, I think it was quite good. I have to say that while I am all for development and encouraging business, I think it is quite important to always take into account the people who are less well off and need strong advocacy. There are condo developments all over the bloody city, you can’t go into a neighborhood, and not see some condo development, we aren’t short on those. Places for communities to organize themselves and help themselves, on the other hand, is not exactly ubiquitous.

    I think though when I saw this first on Friday, I knew they were going to get kicked off. As I said as an act of protest it was important, but they seriously couldn’t expect to be allowed to remain there, and should not be indignant that they were kicked off the land. Private property is important. A modern liberal democracy, can not function if private property is thrown out. That is my opinion at least.

    Oh and while I am not a big fan of Montreal Police, if people want to talk about police brutality, they should check out places in other parts of the world, where there is real brutality.

  13. >Les CSA font partie d’une autre façon de voir le monde et de penser la vie en société.

    So, would you consider it Ok then for the squatters to take over your appartment/house under the same pretense that private property is “another way to see things”?
    The fact is that private property and the rule of law are cornerstones of our modern societies which provides us with all the societal advancements that we enjoy now.
    When it is time for the squatters to get services from society (healthcare, education, welfare, etc…), are they relying strictly on their own means or are they not using the services from a society they do not want to contribute to?
    Seems to me that want to have their cake and eat it too…

  14. GDS, people who have the wherewhithal to afford what you call “quality housing” have no trouble finding it. I’m not opposed to private condos per se because I favour densification and urban life rather than sprawl. The problem is protecting the people who are pushed out by gentrification, if there are no safeguards. By no means are all these people on social assistance. Many are low-waged workers (the service workers you buy your groceries and coffee from) or precarious workers (me)…

    Et “on n’est pas en Europe”, c’est une variante de la rengaine de la droite “on est en Amérique du nord”, comme quoi ce serait impossible de mettre en oeuvre des politiques sociales progressistes de ce côté-ci de l’Atlantique. Perché?

  15. to JC: Squatters, by definition, take over unused buildings.

    Nous pouvons nous questionner sur les bienfaits de la propriété privée lorsqu’un propriétaire n’utilise pas sa propriété mais ne veut pas en faire profiter ceux qui pourraient en bénéficier (le café de la petite gaule est un excellent exemple) ou lorsque le propriétaire veut profiter de son terrain au détriment de ses voisins (voir le cas éloquent de ciment St-Laurent) ou des valeurs véhiculées par la majorité des gens habitant le même quartier (i.e. gentrification, casino…).

  16. ” So, would you consider it Ok then for the squatters to take over your appartment/house under the same pretense that private property is “another way to see things”?”

    C’est dommage que tu n’aies pas le jugement nécéssaire pour faire la différence entre une usine abandonéé et une résidence habitée…
    Essaie encore!

  17. People have the right to “jouissance paisible des lieux” in their own dwelling whether or not they are the owner, a tenant or a member of a co-operative. That does not depend on who the owner is. Even in our law, there are many distinctions drawn between property rented as a dwelling and property rented for a business or for some other reason – look at the sad case of the café in the neighbourhood that saw its rent jacked to an extent that it had to close. This often happens to small businesses and alternative venues, and can be very tragic to people who have indeed invested money and time – closer to me the Argentine café Volver has also closed for similar reasons.

    In France, which is a western capitalist country, there is a “droit de réquisition” under which unoccupied buildings can indeed be taken over by the authorities or by groups of citizens – usually that would mean a form of squat that would be “regularised”, that is the occupants would have to pay rent and utilities. Buildings left empty for speculative purposes are a major cause of housing crises in many cities and countries.

  18. “C’est dommage que tu n’aies pas le jugement nécéssaire pour faire la différence entre une usine abandonéé et une résidence habitée…”

    Ton argumentaire serre me convaint completement!
    Essaie encore!

  19. >In France, which is a western capitalist country, >there is a “droit de réquisition” under which >unoccupied buildings can indeed be taken over by the >authorities or by groups of citizens – usually that >would mean a form of squat that would be >“regularised”, that is the occupants would have to >pay rent and utilities.

    Sure, that is fine and it is done ‘within the system’. That is; there are legal ways to achieve the desired goal and all the parties agree to that ‘social contract’. And, in the end, the squatters have to pay for what they use. Very different from what the CSA is trying to achieve here. As was written above:
    “CSA describes itself as opposed to capitalism, hierarchies and imperialism and autonomous from political, religious or economic authorities”

    They have a problem with the system, they are not interested in working within it in any way.
    That is what I find hypocritical: You can’t claim to be autonomous from society, yet expect protection/support/recognition from it.
    There are also strict ethical rules to civil disobedience which I am less than sure the CSA is concerned about…

  20. JC, Ce que tu dis, en gros, c’est que “squatter” une usine abandonnée, ce serait la même chose qu’envahir violement un domicile privé et habité? J’aimerais te voir élaborer là dessus.

    Je te rappellerai que ta “rule of law” nous a donné l’esclavage et l’apartheid, entre autres, qui étaient tout deux inscrits dans un code de lois et de législations. Est ce que tu défends encore ta position du “ce qui est légal est moral et inversement”?

  21. Great blog. I also like Parkash’s rational comment above and shame on the person with the same name as me (“I hate hippies” – I think we can consider being a bit more open minded even if we disagree) This is a tough debate… there are also potential legal risks involved to consider once the owner finds out he has squatters. Since this was in the news, it would have been unwise for the owner to let this go on as he could then be liable should anything happen. If they are tresspassing, there is usually a warning sign that protects the owner, but if he/she knowningly allowed them to live there afterwards, that’s an entirely different story.

  22. jasmin this is for u…. KARMA do u belive…u should start i thing u have a ok concept of life but in north america it is not possible so check ur laws before protesting them…. and by the way the diffrence between a house and an unoccupied building ?? their is none their both private propreties so its no buisness wats going on inside ITS PRIVATE and just to finish off jasmin u should reread jc comment on juin 1st 7 32 p,m cause if u dont get that then u just wil never get life…. so saddd

  23. Jasmin, ecoutes, peut-etre que je n’aurai pas du embarquer dans ce debat du tout; on quitte pas mal le contexte du site mais pour repondre a ta question (une derniere fois):
    ce que je dis, c’est que si quelqu’un veux changer la societe telle qu’elle est presentemment (une societee moderne qui offre TOUTES les ressources a l’individu pour s’exprimer exprimer son desaccord. Rien avoir avec le passe.), il y a des facons de le faire civilement et le vol de proprietee n’en est pas une.
    Si on etait en Afrique sous l’Apartheid, au Venezuela sous Chavez, ou en Russie sous Poutine, dans une dictature, je ne dis pas. Mais ce n’est pas le cas. On a un etat de droit, libertee de presse, elections, etc… C’est platte qu’on tienne tout ca pour acqui.

    Et que deuxiemement, si la gang desire vivre en dehors de la societe, ben qu’elle s’assume et qu’elle vive vraiment en dehors de la societee (pas de BS, pas de soins de sante, pas de “building abandonne” qu’ils n’ont pas construits). Sinon, j’appelle ca libertaire opportuniste…

    Finalement, je tiens a dire que je respecte la difference de leur ideologie mais pas leur moyen.

  24. ouep et une cie de construction appeler dhmr opérant sous le nom de eco-habitat achète les maison les moins cher et en font des condos et cottage de luxe sous la baniere ”ecologique” rien d’écologique la dedans c’est des rénovation de luxe vendu au gros prix si vous voulez voir les emplacement http://www.eco-habitat.ca

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