SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — A group of about 200 demonstrators has formed in downtown Montreal right next to a street party for Grand Prix revellers, while a protest march of another several hundred people tries to head toward the same location.
Montreal police and officers from the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial force, were blocking the second group's approach to the area try to prevent a confrontation between demonstrators and Formula One fans.
The contested area is between de Maisonneuve Boulevard and Ste. Catherine Street along Crescent Street, which is closed off for Grand Prix street celebrations. Dozens of truncheon-wielding police have formed a line at both ends of the street party, across from the demonstrators, while the resounding boom of party music plays behind them.
Shortly before 10 p.m. ET, officers arrested a half-dozen people who tried to cross the police line. David Gentilly, who is at the scene reporting for CBC's French-language news channel RDI, called it "an extremely delicate situation" as hundreds of F1 revellers party within eyeshot of protesters.
Two more men were arrested at 10:35 p.m. after a group of masked protesters tried to penetrate into the party zone.
Gentilly said police were undertaking the difficult talk of trying to sort out protesters from Grand Prix fans to let the latter into the street party. A few of the hundreds of officers patrolling downtown Montreal on Friday night were carrying weapons that launch rubber bullets and tear gas.
Montreal's 46th straight nightly demonstration, comprising people supporting striking students and others opposed to Quebec's Bill 78, heads toward the Grand Prix party area downtown. (CBC)
For weeks, protesters have been promising to disrupt the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix, one of the biggest annual tourist events in Canada. Race-week festivities typically include thousands of wealthy tourists who pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for tickets to the F1, and also spend time sipping cocktails amid parked Lamborghinis on Crescent Street and Peel Street.
Teams of police and security guards spent Friday afternoon and evening patrolling the public Grand Prix street parties in downtown Montreal, blocking people wearing red squares — the symbol of the province's ongoing student uprising — from entering and ferreting them out if they slipped by.
Grand Prix weekend organizers have increased security measures to counter possible clashes with protesters.
In one case caught on TV, a high-school-aged teen waving a red Che Guevara flag while walking down de Maisonneuve, which is not closed off for Grand Prix events, was accosted by security guards and made to leave the area.
Protests on Thursday heightened organizers' concerns after students attempted to crash two separate Grand Prix celebrations, on Notre-Dame Street Ouest and on Crescent.
Police apprehend a protester in downtown Montreal on Friday. Security measures around this year's Canadian Grand Prix events are unusually tight. (CBC)
The Société des Transports de Montréal, which operates the city's public transit, has also doubled its security inside the metro for the weekend. Most spectators take the metro to get to the F1 race site on Île Notre-Dame, where dozens of police were deployed Friday, including a canine unit, to keep things under control.
Student protestors have been taking to social media platforms to plan disruptions on the metro system on Sunday, which is race day.
"We work very closely with the police service who are in charge of the security in the metro but we have been preparing all these days with them and are still working with them for the weekend," said Marianne Rouette, a spokesperson for the transit agency.
Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said the ongoing student protests against tuition fee increases not only affect the Grand Prix, but city's future.
Tens of thousands of Formula One racing fans headed to the Gilles Villeneuve track on Île Notre-Dame on Friday to watch the drivers' practice runs.
Thirty-nine people were arrested in Thursday's skirmishes for breach of the peace and allegations of a variety of offences, including assault. Police spokesman Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière said a few demonstrators threw things at officers and one had a Molotov cocktail.
The Grand Prix race usually attracts 300,000 people to Montreal. Among the guests at this year's F1 weekend event are Grand Prix boss Bernie Ecclestone and Michael Fortier, his co-president for the event. Fortier, a Montreal businessman, is a former senator and minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet.
A student confronts a policeman during a demonstration to disrupt the F1 Grand Prix gala party in Montreal on June 7, 2012. Public nudity has been used to bring attention to a range of causes, from animal rights to economic austerity measures. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
He said the protest at the F1 gala on Thursday was "targeting the wrong people" because it was raising funds for hospitals. "These people are sharing the wealth," Fortier said.
CLAC, an anti-capitalist group, has promised that over the weekend it will repeatedly target Crescent Street, which is traditionally the most active bar and restaurant strip during race week.
"Nightly protests will disrupt this crass elite at play in [the west part of] downtown every night," the CLAC group said on its website.
Marc-André Cyr, a historian of social movements and columnist for Montreal's Voir weekly, said CLAC's targeting of the Grand Prix is part of its campaign to disturb society's wealthy classes.
"They would say they're resisting the imposition on people of the Grand Prix, a 'turbo-capitalist festival,' as they'd call it," Cyr told CBC's French-language news channel RDI. "They would say these kinds of events are part of the cult of wealth that are the opposite of democracy."
This year's F1 event has also become a flashpoint in Quebec's nearly four-month-long student uprising, which began as a battle over tuition fees but has evolved into a broader ideological and social struggle.
One-third of the province's post-secondary students have walked out on their classes and Montreal has been the site of daily, occasionally turbulent, street demonstrations.—www.shafaqna.com