OTTAWA — A protest that started out peaceful took a violent turn Tuesday as police confronted more than 100 demonstrators protesting election results in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At least three people were arrested by the RCMP and Ottawa Police after demonstrators threw rocks, fired air guns and used spray paint on the DRC embassy on Range Road. One man was apparently injured by a thrown rock.
City police used pepper spray at one point to disperse the protesters when they tried to force their way past the police lines in front of the embassy. Protesters scurried away after the pepper spray was released, with some splashing their faces with water in an effort to mitigate the harsh sting of the chemical. Paramedics at the scene treated several people. In another instance, the RCMP had to use a “conducted energy weapon” — a stun gun, in other words — to make an arrest. An RCMP officer suffered minor injuries and police vehicles were damaged.
The demonstrators had marched from Radio Canada headquarters on Queen Street to the U.S. Embassy on Sussex Drive and then planned to work their way down to the DRC embassy. Traffic was blocked off between Osgoode Street and Laurier Avenue as the marchers passed.
Despite the police presence, protesters managed to spray the embassy’s wall with paint and break a window before they were pushed back. Protesters sometimes charged the police line, stopping just in front of officers dressed in riot gear.
“Violent protests and violent behaviour are not tolerated,” RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak, the officer in charge of the force’s protective operations unit in the National Capital Region, said in explaining the police response. “We encourage those who wish to express their Charter Rights to do so peacefully and without resorting to violence.”
Some in the crowd weren’t so willing, justifying violence as a way to draw attention to their concerns.
“Violence doesn’t accomplish anything, but you have to understand, some of us are frustrated that this has not been covered by the media at all,” said Louise Jessica Ngog, 22, explaining that protesters began to throw rocks at police and the embassy because nothing has been done about the violence and corruption in the African country.
Ngog criticized the Canadian government for not being more involved in the situation in DRC. “We’re tired of this complicity, this silence from the international community and we want something done about it,” she said. “The fact that the Canadian government isn’t saying anything proves to us the corruption and everything that’s going on.
“We’re so fed up. Here should be media. Here should be cops trying to understand.”
A similar demonstration in Toronto also turned ugly when a police car was swarmed by a group of 150 protesters and dirt was thrown at officers, prompting an emergency radio call for backup. More than 30 police cars responded and roads were cordoned off around the protest.
Like the demonstration in Ottawa, the Toronto protest “started off peacefully” in the morning on the lawn of the legislature. But as Toronto police spokeswoman Const. Wendy Drummond put it, “something changed in the crowd” when they later marched toward the U.S. consulate. “Dirt was thrown at police officers and one of our police cars was surrounded.”