This May Day, Montreal’s annual anti-capitalist demonstration organized by the CLAC gathered in Jarry Park under the theme “No old normal, no new normal”. It was a sunny late afternoon, and the energy was high amid the banners and black flags as the demo began to snake through the residential streets of Villeray.
Heading west on De Castelnau, fireworks were set off, and construction cones were used to block the road behind us. The cops seemed confused about the route we were taking, which meant that there were less of them in our near vicinity. Dropping south onto Jean-Talon, the demo continued west through the viaduct beneath the St-Jérôme commuter rail line.
Leaving the Police Behind
Turning south on Parc Avenue from Jean-Talon, the demo excitedly entered a second viaduct under the same rail line. This time, a surprise was in store for the police vans and bike cops waiting for the crowd to pass to the other side before continuing to trail the demo: smoke bombs were set off in the viaduct, and crow’s feet were deployed on the road to puncture the tires of any cop vans that might brave the smoke-filled passageway. These actions effectively blocked the viaduct, a chokepoint in the area, to all traffic.
With the majority of the cops stuck on the north side of the train tracks, the demo took a hard left toward rue Saint-Zotique immediately upon exiting the viaduct. Garbage and terrasse furniture were pulled into the street to further protect the demo, and our pace quickened.
We don’t have to accept the police surrounding our demos, flanking, filming, and harrassing us, or tailing us with a dozen riot vans ready to tear-gas us at a moment’s notice. Some situations may call for direct confrontation, but on this day our best bet was evasion. With a little inventiveness, foresight, and collective intelligence, we can leave the police behind.
Paying a Visit to the Artificial Intelligence Headquarters
About two minutes later heading east on Saint-Zotique, the demo took a right on Saint-Urbain. An assortment of bike cops were observing the demo from about a block away, but their riot cop backup was nowhere in sight, and the bike cops kept a safe distance.
On our right stood the “O Mile-Ex” building, which functions as the headquarters of Montreal’s artificial intelligence sector, as politicians and academics have strained over the past five years to position the city as a global AI hub. The inter-connected buildings at 6650 and 6666 Saint-Urbain house MILA (a research institute affiliated with Université de Montréal that collaborates with Google and Facebook), Thales (a French defense and security contractor), Borealis (the AI lab of the Royal Bank of Canada), Quantum Black (the AI lab of notorious global consulting firm McKinsey), SCALE AI (a “supply chain supercluster” controlled by the Desmarais family), and a couple dozen other labs and startups.
While they talk a lot about “ethics” to distract the public, these companies develop technologies that strengthen the hold of capitalism and authority over our lives. Whether they lead to more efficient supply chains for large corporations, automated video surveillance and facial recognition to protect the government and the property of the rich, or workplace monitoring algorithms that impose dehumanizing conditions on workers, we know who stands to gain from these tools, and it is not the exploited, excluded and oppressed of society. As anarchists wrote recently, “what is at stake is our capacity to have secrets, to resist, to agitate, to attack what destroys everything we love and protects everything we hate.”
In addition, the O Mile-Ex facility with its hordes of tech yuppies is a massive driver of displacement in the surrounding area. Together with the new Mil campus of Université de Montréal, its effects spill over into Parc-Extension, a working-class, mostly immigrant neighborhood under increasing threat of gentrification.
Technology companies have exploited our isolation during COVID-19 confinement measures to increase their profit margins and expand their presence with little resistance, and as the crisis of the pandemic gives way to the next phase of the crisis of capitalism, they seek to shape a “new normal” that cements their power.
The O Mile Ex building with its windows missing
For all these reasons, it was a beautiful sight to see multiple crews within the crowd target these buildings. As MILA’s windows were broken one after another by hammers, rocks and other projectiles, any illusion that these businesses and researchers enjoy the benefit of a social consensus shattered as well. Smoke bombs were tossed into the building through the holes in the windows, hopefully setting off the sprinklers and causing water damage.