Growing Protests in Montreal: No longer about tuition fees

Montreal is witnessing “biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history,” according to protest organizers quoted in many local sources of News. [All pictures in this post are taken from the internet (see the text for sources)].

A year and a half ago, the Quebec’s government decided to increase tuition up by 75 percent over five years.  In response to student efforts to negotiate the deal, in February 2012 the government finally revised the increase up to 82 percent over seven years.  The alternative was described an insult by students’ leaders. On February, student groups launched what they expected to be a short strike, but instead it turned to a limitless, open-ended one.  In the coming days and weeks “strike turned into a rolling, day-and-night demonstration, while protesters were surrounded by heavy presence of riot police and met with tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets.” Village Voice

Before going any further let’s get something out of way. A lot of people say Quebec has the lowest tuition fee in Canada. So why are they complaining!? The answer is plain and simple. They have the lowest fee because they have fought for it and they earned it. That is, each time the government proposed increasing the fees or cutting financial aids, students vigorously objected because they saw education to be their right. To learn more about Quebec history of activism and unionism, have a look at this article.

For Timeline of the events pertaining to Quebec students protest tuition hikes, this is an excellent source.

On Friday, May 18th the government of Jean Charest passed the Emergency Bill 78. Under this law an assembly of more than 50 is forbidden, unless police is notified of the itinerary in advance; people should not gather in close vicinity of universities and are not allowed to wear masks! Defiance of this law is punishable by heavy fines.

Just two days after the Bill went into effect, on Sunday thousands of protesters filled the streets, this time in defiance of the “unlawful law” and staged what has been described “the largest protest yet.” The protesters and police clashed violently, over 500 people were arrested, at least 20 injured (Source). May 22, marked the 100 days of protest.  Thousands more filled the streets of downtown Montreal and dozens more were detained. On 23 May, people in several cities in the USA demonstrated in solidarity with Montreal’s student strike and the news was practically all over the world (source).

The passing of the emergency law seems to have backfired.  Anger at the new anti-protest is spreading; the nightly student protests have expanded to include other groups (of various age and social class); and the issue has clearly gone beyond tuition fees. Amid student unrest, Quebec turns up heat with corruption probe, as “a long-anticipated public inquiry gets under way into the shadowy workings of the province’s construction industry.”

“I didn’t really have a stand when it came to the tuition hikes,” said Montrealer Gilles Marcotte, a 32-year-old office worker who used a vacation day to attend the event. “But when I saw what the law does, not just to students but to everybody, I felt I had to do something. This is all going too far.” (source)

Meanwhile, the protesters are now defying the bill in peaceful almost festive gatherings, both in Montreal and in smaller cities in Quebec.  “Since Premier Jean Charest passed a law last week limiting protests in the province, defiant demonstrations have popped up in cities not known as hotbeds of activism. Small groups from Granby, south of Montreal, to Jonquiere, north of Quebec City, have joined Montrealers in taking to the streets with pots and pans to protest Bill 78. … In recent days, between 50 and 200 people have been gathering to protest the law in Trois-Rivieres, an industrial city roughly halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. “This has gone beyond the student movement,” said Gaetan Bouchard, a local blogger and long time social activist. “Bill 78 has brought out many citizens and workers,” Bouchard added. “The group has been about 50-50: half students, half people of all ages and all horizons.”  (source)

See here at Huffington Post a beautiful black and white video of protesters with their pots and pans. People are now walking the streets, every night at 8:00, under rain, or in storm, making noise, or as the article has it “sounding like aluminum symphonies.”

As for the general public’s reaction? Well, according to a recent poll released by cbc, people are blaming both sides, with the majority of those polled doubting Bill 78 will do much good:

  • 61 per cent of Quebecers think Bill 78 won’t resolve the crisis.
  • 44 per cent think the government is responsible for the deadlock.
  • 36 per cent point the finger at student groups

On the other hand, Student leaders vow protests through summer.  probably not promising news for business owners. And I personally know people who are actually complaining about protesters “disturbing traffic”! But hey, this is history in the making: According to a the Gazette, Montreal’s nightly marches have grown in size since the bill was passed, including a demonstration on Tuesday in which more than 100,000 are estimated to have taken part.  This is HUGE and it is not over yet!

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