Protesters re-take downtown streets in afternoon rally
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2012 1:26PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 22, 2012 8:31PM EDT
MONTREAL— Students held a march in downtown Montreal Wednesday, attracting over 10,000 opponents to the announced tuition hikes.
The march, held in balmy sunshine, was a relaxed affair, with only one arrest made on the charge of mischief.
But one might be left wondering if the turnout -- considerably smaller than those of last spring -- could be seen as a harbinger of the slow dissipation of the movement.
Those committed to the cause appeared to be following the provincial election campaign with great interest and one student leader expressed regret that the tuition issue hasn't been more prominent in the debates and public discourse.
“We cannot trust these political parties to follow-up on any promises and most of them don't even address the issues or make any promises at all,” said CLASSE spokesperson Jeremie Bedard-Wien.
One student leader who has maintained an official poilcy of neutrality while frequently complaining about the provincial Liberals, was also expressing some concerns about the CAQ.
“It’s exactly the same thing as voting for the Liberals it's a vote for a party that doesn't understand the values of their citizens,” said FEUQ representative Martine Desjardins.
And although the protest movement is no longer new, one demonstrator said that it's important to show that the fire is still burning and the students are still committed to their cause.
“I have a lot of friends in the anglo community that will be watching this and if it I can change even a few of their minds I think that does make a difference,” said one young male protester.
Since March, students and left-leaning activists have taken to the streets of Montreal on the 22nd of every month.
The protests are scheduled to continue every month but not all are convince that they will last much longer.
“I think the strike is over but not necessarily the protests against the tuition hikes. The next government that tries to hike tuitions will think twice, so that’s already a victory," said University de Montreal Sociology student Samuel Blouin, 21.
What organizers now call the “National Day of Action” protests started as an opposition to student tuition hikes but have since become a catchall for groups dissatisfied with the way Quebec is being run.
With all of Quebec’s CEGEPs voting last week to abandon boycotting classes, some schools took the day off on Wednesday to join the protest. At College Bois-de-Boulogne, the CEGEP’s administration cancelled classes to avoid “compromising personal safety.”
Before the school reversed an earlier decision to continue teaching classes several dozen protesters unfurled banners on the steps of the prestigious college. When the school’s population voted to resume classes last Thursday, it also voted to continue the once-monthly protest. While there were no confrontations at the Ahuntsic school, the tense situation led to the cancellation of classes.
Students will catch up on missed classes on Saturday.
Under the controversial emergency passed by the Charest Liberals in the last days of the sitting of the National Assembly, Bill 78, blocking access to schools in an offence. However, the Montreal police have said they will not enforce the law except in extraordinary circumstances.
The number of students on strike has diminished by more than four-fifths since the peak of the movement.
That doesn't mean the issue has disappeared completely; universities are set to reopen in the coming days and it's unclear how smooth that process will be.
Bedard-Wien promised the students would continue striking in defiance of Bill 78. He said the action would persist during, and after, the election.
The group says about 43,000 students remain on strike -- which is about one-tenth of all post-secondary students in the province.
"The strike is continuing in many faculties and many departments and universities and it will continue afterwards," said Bedard-Wien.
"What we've put forward for students is this idea of popular mobilization."
Another student leader expressed some concern about the election outcome.
“We hope to find, on the morning of September 5, that we have a government that is not proposing a tuition hike,” said FECQ President Eliane Laberge.
“Rarely in Quebec have we seen a government as uncompromising as contemptuous as the Quebec Liberal Party. They laughed in the face of Quebec’s youth” she said.
The students will hold a meeting on September 13 to study what steps to take following the election.
-With files from The Canadian Press