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Ottawa Citizen 25 Juin 1998

Pie in William Johnson's face leaves mark on Quebec holiday

MONTREAL -- A pie in the face was the easy part of the day for anglo-rights leader William Johnson.

It ended with the Alliance Quebec president being escorted away by Montreal Urban Community police after his attempt to march in yesterday's St-Jean-Baptiste Day parade sparked a serious shoving match.

Almost as soon as Mr. Johnson joined the public part of the parade heading east on Sherbrooke Street from St. Laurent Boulevard he took pies in the face from the performance artists who recently hit Montreal mayoral candidate and former MUC police chief Jacques Duschesneau.

With cream from the pies dripping down his face, Mr. Johnson kept walking as the mood around him grew increasingly tense and the crush of bodies felt more and more intimidating.

An assortment of sovereigntist and francophone-rights activists, shouting anti-anglophone and pro-separatist slogans, formed a tight ring around Mr. Johnson and his media entourage.

Some started heckling Mr. Johnson and pushing and shoving his handful of supporters and the photographers and reporters around him. Some threw beer at the group and others tried to block Mr. Johnson and his entourage from moving along the parade route.

"They're expressing themselves," Mr. Johnson said at the height of the confrontation.

He said he would not leave the parade because "it would be much easier to give in to blackmail and intimidation. It's important to go right to the end."

But a few minutes later, at the corner of Park Lafontaine and Sherbrooke Street, police stepped in, moving Mr. Johnson and his entourage south along Park Lafontaine Street, below Sherbrooke, and blocking off the street.

Mr. Johnson was removed from the parade because "we saw the situation was getting worse," Const. Jean-Bruno Latour told reporters. "There was a number of women and children present, so we removed Mr. Johnson."

There were no arrests made at the parade, Const. Latour said.

Police met with Mr. Johnson before the parade "to find out his intentions and see if he planned to disturb the parade," Const. Latour said. "We made a recommendation, but we can't stop people from participating in a parade."

MUC police Commander Michel Gagnon said that about an hour into Mr. Johnson's march it became clear something had to be done.

Mr. Gagnon said some people in the crowd were becoming more and more aggressive toward Mr. Johnson as he marched on.

"The situation was deteriorating, and I am sure that if we had let him continue in the parade, something would have happened," said Mr. Gagnon, head of the MUC police communications division.

Police asked Mr. Johnson to leave the parade twice after he was blocked by marchers and couldn't move forward. The first time he refused, Mr. Gagnon said, but the second time he accepted the offer by police to lead him away.

Mr. Johnson said that despite the hostile reception, he was glad he marched.

"I still don't regret it," Mr. Johnson said as he rode around in a police car. "It (the anti-English sentiment) was there, but it was latent. It's important to bring it out in the open.

"I think a few lunatics ruined it for everyone." Riots and vandalism have plagued the event in recent years and political agendas have floated over the event like balloons over a parade.

Seen by most as a nationalist blowout, June 24 began as the religious St-Jean-Baptiste Day in 1922 in honour of Quebec's patron saint.

In the 1960s, it became more political with the rise of the independence movement.

The holiday was renamed Fete nationale by Rene Levesque's Parti Quebecois government in 1977.

One of the most indelible images in Canadian history is that of newly elected Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau facing down a rampaging mob of separatists at the 1968 parade.

While others fled the podium as rocks and bottles flew around them, Mr. Trudeau stayed on the front row, giving a steely-eyed glare to the rioters. Canadians left with the striking image went to the ballot boxes and elected him prime minister the next day.

This year, Quebec police were taking no chances, with beefed up patrols of more than 600 officers from both the municipal and provincial forces on hand. Plainclothes officers began patrolling the so-called problem areas at noon.

By 5 a.m., 25 arrests had been made for misdemeanours, drunkeness and drug trafficking. It was not known whether any of them were related to violence or vandalism.

Several thousand young people massed in a public square in Old Quebec where a group of teens tried to uproot a flagpole flying the Maple Leaf, with chants of "Le Quebec, le Quebec." Firecrackers went off, bottles were smashed and people smoked marijuana as they milled around.

At about 4 a.m., hundreds of teens moved out of the public square and down a commercial street, smashing a restaurant window before they massed outside a liquor store.

Helmeted riot police came out and lined up across the road with their shields and batons, in an effort to disperse the crowd.

Elena CHERNEY
 
 

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