[ Robert Silverman ]
[ English Texts ]
[ Cybernetically, Bicycle Bob Xe-Dda.p ]
Cons and Cyclists: the Tale of Cell Block A

I have always felt that we city cyclists were political prisoners. Michel Lefevre had already written a poem about that several years ago. We published the poem, "Ma Bicyclette est une Prisonière Politique", in Vers une Ville Nouvelle, the newspaper of our organization, Le Monde à Bicyclette, Montreal's citizens on wheels. And our urban allies in France, La Fédération Française des Usagers de la Bicyclette, in the January 1981 edition of its publication Velo Cité, printed a picture of a cyclist trapped in the grill of a Rolls Royce on the back cover. The Federation later printed this design as a poster called, "Free the cyclists in the city!"

Quebec's Ministry of Education told us two years ago that there were then a million bicycles in the Montreal region. In spite of this we still can't legally cross the St. Laurence river. Bicycles are barred from all bridges and tunnels that cross the St. Laurence river in the Montreal region. However, bicyclists are tolerated on the sidewalks of the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Unfortunately for we cyclists, these sidewalks disappear into the very dangerous Taschereau Boulevard on the South Bank.

The Metro could be a very simple way to cross the St. Laurence River. Unfortunately, MUCTC director Laurence Hannigan has not yet given us the green light in spite of the August ruling of Superior Court Justice Claire Barette Joncas that "there was nothing in MUCTC regulations which make it illegal to be in the Metro system with a bicycle." The recent statement of the caucus of Parti Québécois deputies from the Montreal Region reiterating their support for cyclists also seems to have left Hanigan unmoved.

In the same way we are rejected on bridges and the subway, we are made to feel unwelcome on city streets. Every day we risk life and limb. Although the number of bicycles in use in Montreal equals or exceeds the number of cars, all the city street space is accorded to the dangerous, polluting, spacehogging vehicles while almost no street space is alloted to the simple, accessible, healthy vehicle, the bicycle. Pressure from car manufacturers, oil companies and people insisting on their own street parking combine to retain the automobile's heavily subsidized street space monopoly. Cyclists are imprisoned by "autocracy."

In the spring of 1980, it finally looked like Montreal cyclists were about to get an important commuter bicycle route: the North-South axis. This was to be a bicycle route extending from Henri Bourassa street to Old Montreal. The proposed route would have taken Drolet street south to the CPR tracks. The Montreal Bicycle Path Committee composed of senior civil servants from several city services as well as several city councillors, including Executive Committee member Fernand Desjardins, prepared the project and recommended it to the Montreal Executive Committee. In addition, Municipal Affairs Minister at that time, Guy Tardif, offered to pay the $300,000 cost of the project and in a public display of support was photographed by La Presse bicycling on a part of the path.

In spite of all these factors, the Drapeau/Lamarre administration vetoed the projected bicycle route without explanation.

In June 1980, several Le Monde à Bicyclette activists painted a path on Drolet street themselves to show that there was a great need for the path, the low cost and the extreme simplicity.

Several of the cyclists got caught, rollers in hand. In September 1980, Scott Weinstein and myself pleaded "guilty with justification." Although Municipal Court Judges Stalker and Masse accepted this plea in the cases of other cyclists arrested at about the same time and there was no sentence, Judge Louis-Jacques Léger said in his judgement that "it was a grave crime" and sentenced Weinstein and myself to $25 plus costs of $16 or 8 days in jail. Prior to being appointed to the Bench. Judge Léger gad been the city councillor for Villeray (District 28) for Mayor Drapeau's Civic Party.

Accompanied by 50 bicyclists and friends Scott and I entered municipal jail on Bonsecour Street on Sunday, October 25 at 4 P.M. It was the second time that Le Monde à Bicyclette activists had gone to the "big house". Claire Morissette and Françoise Guay spent two days in Tanguay in January, 1977 for their extremely ardent pursuit of subway access for cyclists.

I'd never been in jail before so I didn't know what to expect. Jail conditions are never described in the travel sections of the weekend papers like the other trips one can take.

At first we were placed in a large room with about ten other men at Post 1 on Bonsecour Street. We stayed there for two hours. Finally at about six we were transferred with two other cons to Bordeaux Jail in panel truck with escape-proof grilled windows. The other wo passengers were going in for not having payed a few hundred dollars of parking tickets. I later discovered that about 112 of the men there were in for auto related crimes; parking tickets, speeding. "I'd rather do time here than have money taken away from my family", I was told several times.

Checking into the big house

That's when I received my first disappointment. I had planned on completing a translation of Claire Morissette's article on bicycle touring which had appeared in a Quebec feminist magazine. But the prison guards stopped it from entering as well as my copy of Kenneth Schneider's masterpiece, "Autokind vs Mankind" which I wanted to read for the 3rd time.

And, after having been fitted out with prison garb, I was outraged to find myself in another cell block than that of Scott. But, it wasn't deliberate. There were simply no empty cells left in Scott's section. Anyway, we did meet at meal times. By around noon on Monday I was almost beginning to feel at home. I had played several games of ping pong and some games of chess. I had skipped rope and lifted some barbells in cell block A's weight room. I watched some other men playing pool. I'm not very good at that pastime, and not being familiar with the etiquette, I decided that, for the time being, I should watch.

Scott had a visitor whom I casually knew and she promised to phone my parents, Le Monde à Bicyclette offices and my friends.

Contact with the outside world is important to prisoners.

And my cell was better than I had expected. Each person detained in Bordeaux has a small cell equipped with a bed, toilet, wash basin and a chair and writing table. Ironically, on my writing table I found a 106 page thriller called: "Acts and Regulations Respecting Imprisoned Persons in English".

Many of the prisoners were English. And the two solitudes existed in prison. There were two television sets in cell block A; one for French inmates; the other for English ones.

Unfortunately, "les Directives", which explained in great detail the rights and responsibilities, was only in French. From this 10 pages booklet I learned that a prisoner could have a battery operated radio and a typewriter in his room. A "detained person" -that's the euphomism that is used in all the literature- has acces to a library of "about 38,500 books". (I was released, unfortunately, before I could evaluate them).

From my cell window I was able to see the skating rink being prepared. And every evening after supper we could go out into the yard and jog. In the yard I was overjoyed to see a volleyball court. I have long been a believer of the therapeutic value of recreational volleyball. I hope I'll have at least one chance to play while I am here.

Many of the people here are only boarders. For job and other purposes, many of the "detained persons" leave at 6 every morning and come back at 8 at night.

Prison frustrations

The directives state that "detained persons" can make only 2 telephone calls of 5 minutes each per week. However, the social worker has a phone and he can make one for you every day. There is always a line up to see the cell block A social worker. I had tried two calls in his office this morning. No luck. On one call there was no answer, and at Le Monde à Bicyclette office the line was busy. I wanted to try another number, bul he wouldn't let me and said: "This is not a hotel, it's a prison". This very same expression was repeated to me by guards on several occasions.

Frankly, what's been bothering me most is the food. You see I'm a vegetarian. Almost even a macrobiotic. I don't consume milk nor dairy products. Unlike the airplanes, there are no provision here for vegetarian meals. So, I had to eat a little meat today and other food I wouldn't ordinarily go near. I got diarhea and I feel groggy.

I had a bit of extreme frustration earlier in the day. My pens and my writing paper had been stopped a the entrance. The guards said I could get pen and pad inside.

It wasn't easy. The guards - really bureaucrats in nattily blue uniform which Quebec Justice sewed on their labels - didn't seem to had either pen or paper. I'd have to order it from the canteen, which opens only on Wednesday. I was getting desperate. Finally, a fellow detained person, a big blond homosexual named Mary, vice-president of our section and reputedly a man of considerable influence, got me both. And that how I am able to write this article. So if you like it, thank Mary.


Except for the meaty food, the telephone restrictions and omnipresent noise from the two Television sets, I've rather enjoyed my two days at Bordeaux. My fellow cons saw my picture in today's Journal de Montréal and indicated approval. Several guards laughed, and one whose wife won't let him get car, said: "lache-pas". Keep on struggling.

Free from constant telephone calls, innumerable distractions and having to make my own meals, I finallv have some time to write. This article was written, on Monday, October 26th, my second day in jail. How ironic, that I could feel so creative in prison.

I could have payed the $40 fine. Anyway, it wasn't me who decided that I should go to jail. It was the coordination committee of Le Monde à Bicyclette, a democratic organisation, that made the deci sion. And it was made to protest and publicise Drapeau's veto of the North-South Axis which would have be an inexpensive and accessible commuter bicycle route from the North end to downtown Montreal. I have no regrets. It was worth it and Bordeaux was also an important "learning experience".

I consider myself fortunate that I don't have to go to Bordeaux. Some of the elderly men there stole a bottle of wine or other trifles so as to get into Bordeaux. For them life there with its three square meals and a clean room is preferable to roughing it in the "free world".

Autocracy has made me pay a price: 3 days in Bordeaux Jail. But that price is a minute one. "Autocracy" has made others pay with injuries or death. Cars kill more than wars and 27 million have perished in car accidents so far this century. In Quebec alone 4 people are killed every day, and someone is injured in Quebec every 20 minutes.

Ironically, from my prison cell AD123, I can see the Ahuntsic bicycle path by Rivière des Prairies. This path parallels that river for many miles and on summer days it's wheel to wheel riding. That path still doesn't turn Southward into the city. But one day it win. And my hope is that our "brief séjour in Bordeaux" will make it turn South even sooner.

Bob Silverman, Bordeaux Jail, Cell AD3/23, Montreal October 26, 1981.

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By Robert Silverman.

Published in the McGill Daily, Thursday, November 26, 1981.

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© Robert Silverman 2002