Dozens arrested in protest outside Palais des congres
Published Saturday, April 21, 2012 5:10PM EDT
MONTREAL - Confrontations between police and protesters continued in Montreal Saturday as dozens of demonstrators were arrested outside a convention centre.
Police said 89 people were arrested Saturday after trying to disrupt the second day of a conference on the development of northern Quebec.
Police say all of those arrested Saturday will likely be fined and charged for breaking municipal bylaws, although some may be charged under the criminal code for mischief.
In the wake of the protest, which was declared illegal at about noon, conference attendees were searched to ensure demonstrators did not enter the event.
Protests against a planned tuition hike, Plan Nord and police reaction to previous demonstrations have raged across Quebec in the past few weeks and appear to be growing more aggressive.
"The problem is that the government has pushed us to our limits. When you're pushed back and you feel there's no issue, no exit possible, you have to act in an irrational manner," said student Fabrice Marcoux.
About 1,000 demonstrators took part from various rights groups, including the independence group Réseau de Résistance du Québécois. The group said in a news release it strongly opposes the Plan Nord, and that the Charest government is seeking to plunder the natural resources in Quebec.
Native and environmental groups, as well as student protesters also attended.
Among them was a small group of Mohawk and Innu, some of whom spent three weeks walking 900 kilometres to Montreal from Sept-Iles to protest Charest's Plan Nord.
"Today we're feeling uneasy about being here. We brought our children (to Montreal), but we didn't bring them out here because we didn't feel good for their safety. They have to wait in the vehicles," said Stuart Myiow of the Kahnawake Mohawk Council.
Student group CLASSE issued a statement Saturday morning saying it would not be attending the event.
Security was beefed up around the area after Friday's protests turned ugly, when hundreds of demonstrators hurled rocks and smashed windows as police unleashed tear gas to disperse the crowd. In all, 17 people were arrested and at least six people were injured, including four police officers.
Some students and their supporters say the violence is detracting from the message.
"It becomes a show of rock throwing and hitting, the bad guys against the good guys. The discourse should be more elevated," said protester Maxime Levesque.
According to Montreal police, no incidents of vandalism were reported Saturday.
Violence will not be tolerated: Charest
For about 10 weeks now, thousands of college and university students across Quebec have been rallying against Charest's plan to increase tuition fees by $325 annually over the next five years.
Charest says his government will not be deterred by increasing violence as protests as police reactions to demonstrations grow more and more aggressive.
"We're not going to accept that," Charest said from inside the Palais des congres de Montreal, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech.
"We're certainly not going to be governed in Quebec because some people think violence and intimidation is the way to get things done."
More calls for a dialogue
After the ten weeks of protest, different voices are joining the chorus asking for a dialogue, including Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
"What's important is to find a solution as soon as possible, and it's only going to happen if there's a dialogue between the students and the Quebec government," he said.
A group of high-profile Quebec intellectuals is also calling for a dialogue.
"We just think about the Oka problem in 1990 where even the chief justice of Quebec was there to negotiate with some people who were masked," said former Quebec minister Robert Burns.
Professor Julien Villeneuve said the students deserve respect, not condemnation, because they are fighting for the next generation.
"Nobody understands that. Nobody respects that. It's the fact they're willing to put their lives on the line nowadays essentially to do something that's not even to their own advantage," he said.
Trade show continued
Despite the disruption, the Montreal Metropolitain Board of Trade kept up the planned activities for the conference Saturday, where 100 companies sought to recruit about 500 workers.
Charest's highly-publicized Plan Nord promises to develop a 1.2-million-square kilometre stretch of the province's north over the next 25 years through new mining and energy production projects.
He says the plan will create 500,000 jobs, but opponents say that's unrealistic and argue it's a sellout of Quebec's resources.
Several hopeful employees stood in a long line in the rain to enter the convention centre, despite heavy security.
According to the Chamber of Commerce, about 2,500 people will meet potential employers -- far more than was expected -- over the weekend. Other candidates will be allowed to send their resume, since they were barred access to the site.
President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, Michel Leblanc, said the publicity generated by the disruption outside may have been a factor behind the high turnout.
With a report from CTVNews.ca Staff and The Canadian Press