Montreal to pay $6 million, apologize to settle protest class-action lawsuits

Click to play video: 'Global News Morning headlines: March 1, 2023'
Global News Morning headlines: March 1, 2023
Andrea Howick has the Global News Morning headlines for Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The City of Montreal has agreed to pay $6 million and apologize to protesters who say their rights were violated when they were arrested during demonstrations against various causes, including rising university tuition fees and police brutality.

A judge authorized the global settlement last week, which will end 16 class-action lawsuits against the city. An estimated 3,119 people who were encircled by police during various protests between 2012 and 2015 and arrested or detained will each be eligible for around $1,500.

Montreal has also agreed to publish an apology to the protesters on its official website and keep it there for 90 days.

The wording of the apology says the city acknowledges “certain acts taken by police forces and the municipal administration towards participants in the protests covered by these class actions violated some of their fundamental rights, causing them harm.”

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“For this reason, the City of Montreal is publicly apologizing to all of these individuals.”

The 16 lawsuits were settled in three groups, with the final class actions settled in November. The global arrangement and the total compensation awarded by the city required judicial approval.

Between 2012 and 2015, Montreal was home to scores of protests, many of them tied to the provincial government’s plan to raise university tuition fees — a decision that was reversed when the Parti Québécois beat the Liberals in the 2012 election.

During the so-called “Maple Spring” protests of 2012, thousands of students took to the streets in Montreal against tuition fee increases, and some demonstrations turned violent, with protesters damaging public and private property. In reaction, city police often used a tactic called “kettling,” in which police surrounded protesters and arrested them en masse. All the lawsuits claimed that police kettled the plaintiffs — often without warning or orders to disperse — and prevented them from leaving police custody, sometimes for hours.

The lawsuits involve several demonstrations that were part of the 2012 protests, as well as others marking anniversaries related to those protests. Other demonstrations tied to the lawsuits include protests against police brutality and the Formula One race.

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Plaintiffs claimed that the indiscriminate mass detentions and the many arrests that followed were illegal and prevented citizens from exercising their fundamental rights.

In some of the 16 class actions, only protesters who were ticketed are eligible for compensation, while in other lawsuits all protesters who were detained are eligible.

In his decision authorizing the settlement, Justice Martin Sheehan wrote that the length of time it would have taken for the cases to be tried, as well as the time that had passed since the events, favoured the approval of the settlement.

As well, court decisions would have likely been appealed, which would have further delayed compensation for class members, he said.

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