Masked Avengers©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

The Quebec Summit... It Was a Gas, Then a Disappearing Act.

Report: Linda Dawn Hammond

Saturday, April 21, 2001


I was going to leave the scene after experiencing a particularly bad attack of teargas, which had left me momentarily panicking that I'd never breathe again. Then I somehow found myself in area where members of the Black Blok (I prefer that spelling) were engaged in a battle with the SQ* (*Quebec provincial police). At least I think they were the Black Blok. I just recently read a bloc manifesto which had a pretty strict idea as to what they're 'allowed' to wear. Definately not stripes or punk band references! Anyway, if they're real anarchists, they don't have to listen to THAT either!

Discharge: Fight Back©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

The Black Blok darted in and out, diving at the tear gas canisters as they were propelled towards their bodies, attempting to pick them up and return them from whence they came before they exploded. Some blasted in their hands, scalding them- others arrived at their preferred target, which provoked great cheers from the scattered onlookers. The agile Blok boys twisted and arched in their efforts like players in a modern dance piece.

Retrieve©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

Return Volley©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

The squad were holding position in a narrow space between two buildings, fending off an onslaught of small rocks and larger pieces of concrete. Their metal shields gave off the occasional thunk and ping when hit, which added to the rhythmic beat some members of the Blok were providing on drums and by beating on metal signs. Someone mentioned to me later that the Blok uses this method to tell its members when to advance and retreat. It was astoundingly surreal-- and almost beautiful. I can't say I was afraid.

Blok Party©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

Black Blok Drummers©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

Gas Cloud©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

The air was filled with gas clouds. The cops reminded me of goalies guarding a net. Even the nearby street sign provided commentary on the jeu- Ligne D'Arret- STOP LINE.

Ligne D'Arret©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

Passive Resistance©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

A small cluster of protesters holding a protest sign in their midst lay curled on the ground nearby- offering support through passive resistance.

Passive Resistance©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

Their sign reads-- An Army of Principles Will Penetrate Where an Army of Soldiers Cannot.

Black Flag©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001

It was the endless game. I watched for a while longer, and darted in and out myself, photographing them, and then finally left.

It wasn't until later when I got back to the CMAQ (Indymedia press) offices and removed my coat that I saw the physical results of the teargas- never mind what I'd inhaled. It had crept up my sleeves (make a note to close off sleeves with elastic bands next time) and coated my hands, arms and exposed areas of the face in a black, sticky film that I couldn't wash off. It was strange- I was the only one in the women's bathroom with this and wondered if the police had been using a particular kind of propellant in the Black Blok location. Further research into the effects of CS gas later revealed that the propellants used are also carcinogenic, and this residue may have been from the propellant rather than the gas itself. I had also been wearing a rubber rain jacket which may have trapped moisture inside, allowing the substance to stick more easily to my skin.
The aftermath was that it burned my skin to the point that the fat beneath the surface appeared to dissolve, leaving it hanging in folds and wrinkled. It especially affected areas where hair follicles were in abundance, and later caused the skin to peel off. It took me days to wash off the greyish film which remained and each time I applied even water, it burned like hell. I eventually treated the area with organic shea butter but the burned area is still apparent.
Another possible side effect was that within 3 days of the gassing, my thyroid started to malfunction. 2 weeks later, it had reached such dangerously low levels, I was incapacitated for 2 months and had to go on a thyroid replacement drug. As there are virtually no statistics on the effects of CS Gas, one cannot prove even an indirect connection. The doctors I visited just kept repeating, you're getting old- ignoring that 2 weeks before the Summit I had not displayed any of the above symptoms. The dermatologist at the hospital suggested not only this, but that my burns were probably because I am white and people like me have "thin skin", and furthermore, the burns were more likely the result of driving- never mind that I don't drive and it was on both arms. The same dermatologist became so frightened when I later returned to his office carrying what medical information I could uncover regarding CS gas and Dermatitis, that he cowered and asked, "You're not going to hit me, are you?" "No, I replied, I just brought you some xeroxed information on CS gas. You're probably going to be seeing more of this in the future." Pretty funny, his reaction, as I hardly think I looked or acted threatening- he must have had a bizarre impression of what environmental protesters are capable of. And yet when I'd told him of my experience being gassed by the police and worries regarding the possible health risks, he had said, "You don't actually think your government would do something to hurt you, do you?" No- only beat us , shoot rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at us and jail people without cause or recourse to lawyers- but hurt us? Why would I even think THAT? It had been very hard to uncover any information pertaining to the toxicity of the CS gas, but what I did find suggests that the Canadian government has possibly unleashed a legacy of illness upon the Summit protesters. They subjected us to the poisons of over 5,000 teargas canisters within an enclosed space. There has been no testing under those specific conditions, and it is considered unadvisable (if not immoral and illegal) to target people directly with the canisters.
A long time friend of mine, the photographer and activist David Barker Maltby (November 12, 1962 - May 17, 2001) subsequently died of meningitis upon his return to Toronto. His infection may have also been unconnected to his presence at the Summit protests, and was attributed to another (yet unproven) source by health officials, but consider this. Quebec City had recently experienced Meningitis outbreaks in their high schools which had resulted in several deaths. It was unwise of the government, therefore, to even consider blasting the public with tear gases which will result in mucus being expelled in the form of coughing, spitting, vomiting and tears. Teargas compels people to do things they would ordinarily consider unsanitary- such as picking up used, discarded dust masks and handkerchiefs in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from the gas. As I left the CMAQ office in a dash for the car, I too picked up a used mask from the floor of the journalism office. I wondered afterwards if my friend David Maltby had perhaps done the same.

Still hungry for more? Have a big C MAQ ATTAK!

Masked Avengers©Linda Dawn Hammond 2001


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