Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A suggestion, and lots of beer

Funny how it takes reading a stylized French crime thriller of another era to learn a little about local history.

The Mad and the Bad, by Jean-Patrick Manchette, was first published in 1972. The protagonist, recently released from an insane asylum and now implicated in a kidnapping and worse, is on the run, literally, across the countryside of France, and in one small village she ducks into a conference hall where some kind of evangelical rally is underway:
"Would you like to know what happens in a big city when there are no more police? That is what occurred in Montreal on October 7, 1969. The police were on strike. Did citizens respect the law once they knew the police were no longer there to make arrests? Not at all! Right away Montreal became the scene of rioting, arson, looting, and fighting among taxi drivers. The rioters armed themselves with clubs and rocks and engaged in an orgy of senseless destruction. They smashed the windows of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and stole merchandise. They vandalized the fine IBM Building. They plundered the Windsor and Mount Royal hotels. Without police, respect for law and order completely vanished. According to government spokesmen, the city was 'on the verge of anarchy'!"
While the preacher's rhetoric is intended to argue that only God can bring order, the author is no doubt making some kind of commentary on power, authority, and freedom. Meanwhile, I'd never heard of Montreal's night of terror.

Indeed, a taxi driver's union staged a protest regarding unfair competition (a legitimate issue that wasn't resolved till years later). And the police, who were on strike (regarding pay negotiations), weren't around to prevent it from getting out of hand.

(If video does not appear, try Google Chrome.) More facts related to the incident are available in the CBC Digital Archives.
In 1987 Montreal journalist and city councillor Nick Auf der Maur recalled the riot in Saturday Night magazine: "The bunch of us had thrown in our lot with something called the Mouvement de libération de taxi, a group dedicated to ridding the airport of its Murray Hill limousine monopoly... It seems that all it took back then to organize a full-scale riot in Montreal was a suggestion, and lots of beer."

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