Protesters target Concordia, government buildings
Published Tuesday, March 27, 2012 9:58PM EDT
MONTREAL - Widespread student protests continued Tuesday at government buildings across the province, as well as at Concordia University in Montreal.
Protesters opposed to university tuition hikes began soon after dawn, as hundreds gathered to stand on the steps in front of each entrance to the building at 905 De Lorimier Ave., at Notre Dame St.
Montreal police observed the situation from their squad cars, and intervened after a shoving match began between a security guard and some protesters. Police used pepper spray on the crowd.
One protester was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
"We had to intervene because of a request from the owner of the location," Lt. Ian Lafreniere, a Montreal police spokesman.
"There was a lot of physical resistance. The young people didn't want to leave. So there was an intervention with the tactical squad, and eventually we had to use chemical irritants."
Students are up in arms over the Charest government's plan to nearly double tuition fees over five years, to $3,800 per year. The government will reach its target with a series of $325-a-year increases which, it says, will still leave the province with among the lowest fees in Canada even after the hikes.
Once police convinced the crowd to move on, the demonstrators blocked trucks along Notre Dame St. for a few minutes as they walked around the neighbourhood.
By 10:30 a.m., some SAQ employees gave up on entering the offices and left for the day.
Final exam cancelled at Concordia
Meanwhile during the lunch hour, about 3,000 protesters marched through downtown Montreal, stopping near Concordia University.
Students have informed CTV News that because of the ongoing student protests, at least one class's final exam has been cancelled. One student, who preferred to remain anonymous, shot this video inside Concordia Tuesday showing student protesters blocking a teacher from entering class. The teacher chose not to cross a picket line, and class was cancelled.
Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota, however, said she had received no information about cancelled final exams, and in fact no arrangements have been made regarding final exams, as that they are not yet taking place. She said it was possible individual exams had been cancelled, but the university wasn't yet aware.
The anonymous student said he received an email from his professor explicit stating his final exam had been cancelled.
The course assessment will be restructured, stated the professor, and will include a final online quiz.
Mota said no arrangements have been made to make up any missed classes, and that there has been no significant loss of class time.
Students also demonstrated in front of the Loto Quebec offices at 500 Sherbrooke St. W., said police via Twitter, where they are tracking the demonstrators' movement.
Demonstrations across the province
Other demonstrations took place Tuesday in Laval, Saint-Hyacinthe, Sherbrooke and in Quebec City.
Students reportedly blocked access to a Hydro-Quebec building in Rimouski. Meanwhile, in Quebec City, about 75 people cut off access to offices of the provincial Finance Department. Some civil servants needed a police escort to get into their offices.
Marie-Christine Trottier, a spokeswoman for the group in Quebec City, says the goal was to disrupt work at the offices.
"It's an office with 400 employees and making them lose a few hours of work might have a significant impact," Trottier said. "We hope that by disturbing the office it sends a message to (Finance) Minister (Raymond) Bachand."
The protests come as the various factions that make up student representatives say they will concentrate on disrupting government actions.
"There's going to be more protests and there's going to be more disturbing protests and those protests are going to have more and more people," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesman for Coalition Large de l'Association pour la Solidarite syndicale etudiante (CLASSE).
Nadeau-Dubois says people can expect protests from students several times a day until the government changes its mind on the $1625 tuition hike.
Student federations estimate they have the support of 130,000 CEGEP and university students across the province.
I won't back down: Charest
Premier Jean Charest said he's still listening to the students -- but has no plans to backtrack on the fee hikes.
One thing he did do Tuesday was leave open the possibility of increasing the loans and bursaries program.
"Is it possible to make the system better? The answer is always yes to that, no matter what day you ask the question," Charest told reporters.
But the premier took a pointed jab at his principal opponent, the Parti Quebecois, which has sided with the students in agreeing the fee hikes should be cancelled: "Governing Quebec doesn't always mean saying yes," Charest said. "Being premier of Quebec means making choices that aren't always popular."
The PQ has put forward a motion in the National Assembly asking Charest to sit down for a dialogue with the students.
"Last Thursday, there were 200,000 people in the streets, peacefully protesting with a clear message: the Draconian increase is unacceptable. The impressive mobilization was created mostly through student networks. The Liberal government has had deaf ears for too long. It's time to start a dialogue," said Marie Malavoy, PQ critic for loans and bursaries.
With files from The Canadian Press