Frustration and violence as two arrested during downtown clash
MONTREAL - Two demonstrators were arrested on Thursday morning after a protest against the government's plan to increase tuition turned violent, leading to a confrontation between riot police and student supporters.
Pepper spray and riot shields were deployed as over 200 demonstrators blocked streets in downtown Montreal in a bid to shut down the area.
While police found an incendiary device along the protest route, they are investigating an incident where a woman's car was swarmed by protestors.
"We are taking this very seriously," said Montreal police spokesman Daniel Fortier. "The woman's car was surrounded by protestors on Peel St. They jumped on the roof and forced the woman out of her car so that they could use the horn."
The protest was part of a "mega-action" meant to create disruptions as the Quebec government is preparing to meet with two of the three main student federations.
The CLASSE distances itself from violence
Speaking with CTV Montreal, spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois distanced the Coalition large de l'association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante from the morning's protest. Unwilling to denounce violence during the 10 weeks of tuition protests, CLASSE was not extended an invitation by Education Minister Line Beauchamp.
While Beauchamp was willing to meet with the students as early as Friday, both federations have given the CLASSE a chance to take a stand on the violence and perhaps get invited to the talks.
"This was one of the numerous autonomous protests that we have seen multiply over the past weeks," said Nadeau-Dubois. "I think it's a little bit inevitable, people have been on strike now for ten weeks, they are getting more impatient and they want to be heard by the government."
After putting forward a package to revamp the province's financial aid program, making it more generous for a large portion of Quebec's population, Beauchamp has invited students to meet with her and discuss the administration of universities.
While blocking the CIBC on Sherbrooke St. protestors called for Beauchamp to give CLASSE a seat at the table.
"People want a dialogue with the government," said Nadeau-Dubois. "Madame Beauchamp and Mr. Charest, by systematically refusing to have a dialogue with these students, have contributed much to raising the tension in this movement."
Death threats as violence escalates
One of the most active and visible voices in the student movement, Nadeau-Dubois has become the target of death threats and intense criticism from some quarters.
"I've been receiving these kinds of threats for a few weeks now, but when I knew this person had my personal address I was seriously worried with my security," said Nadeau-Dubois.
With the government calling for CLASSE to denounce violence, the spokesman has been the face of a movement that has unapologetically held motorists and commuters hostage.
"I don't have any power over these students on strike. At this moment, 170,000 students are on strike and those people want things to go forward," said Nadeau-Dubois. "The only effect I could have on the movement, by denouncing these violent actions, would be to multiply them.
"If people began to feel that the movement was denouncing them, they would become increasingly angry and create more of these actions. The only call for calm that can work now will come from Madam Beauchamp, by opening a real and constructive dialogue with the entire student movement."
With the student movement seeming to fracture, as some groups have denounced violence and accepted the government's offer to talk, Quebec's public security minister has called for the violence to stop.
"It's your fault if you decide to be violent and in a democratic society it's not acceptable," said Robert Dutil.
Later on Thursday, a busload of protestors arrived in Gatineau to support students clashing with the Surete du Quebec as they tried to enter the Universite du Quebec en Outaouais. Another protest is scheduled for Friday before some student leaders meet over the weekend to plan their 11th week of protests.