Multiple injuries,106 arrests at Victoriaville tuition riot
MONTREAL - A protester reportedly lost an eye after suffering head trauma, one of several injuries that occurred after events got out of hand at a tuition protest in Victoriaville that started at around 6:45 p.m. Friday.
Demonstrators stormed past barriers, tossing rocks and other projectiles, while police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, in a series of skirmishes that ended with 106 arrests. Another three were arrested Saturday morning after being found with objects that could be used for violence.
Three SQ police officers were hurt, two seriously, and six demonstrators were also injured in the clashes.
Maxence Valade, 20, lost the use of an eye and suffered serious head wounds after having been hit by a projectile near the eye. Alexandre Allard, 20, also suffered a serious head injury.
On Saturday a Surete de Quebec spokesman said that he believed that the injuries were caused by projectiles tossed by other demonstrators.
At least two police vehicles were vandalized.
The protesters had been transported in about 30 buses to make their voices heard at the Quebec Liberal Party annual convention, taking place this weekend.
The demonstrators dismantled the barriers, which had been placed far from the convention centre and advanced towards the hotel, tossing projectiles in the form of billiard balls, chunks of cement and rocks.
Police helicopters hovered low atop a cloud of tear gas, as visibility was diminished. Many on the ground, including CTV Montreal reporter Laura Casella were caught in the crossfire and choked by the gaseous fumes (see video at right).
Police representative Jean Finet later confirmed that rubber bullets and other impact weapons had been employed in an effort to push the more aggressive demonstrators back.
The scuffles lasted about two hours and included an exchange in which a police officer was attacked and beaten by some of the estimated 2,500 demonstrators after a police car advanced towards the crowd, presumably to help the other officer. A police official later reported that the officer did not suffer serious injuries.
Protesters were eventually forced to withdraw but tensions remained high after the initial skirmish
Some demonstrators who had hoped to protest peacefully reportedly fought with other of their more aggressive brethren over the direction that the protest had taken.
The situation eventually calmed down after rain started falling and many of the aggressive troublemakers were rounded up.
Eventually people were allowed in and out of the hotel after several hours of all doors being locked.
Provincial police were not immediately able to supply details concerning arrests but busloads of rounded-up demonstrators were apparently being brought for police processing late Friday.
According to several text entries on Twitter, some buses transporting protesters out of Victoriaville after the protests Friday were stopped by police attempting to round up more suspects.
During the riots several student leaders attending a meeting with government officials in Quebec City came out to talk to media and denounced the violence in Victoriaville and urged cooler heads to prevail.
Earlier Friday afternoon, Premier Jean Charest appeared relaxed and reassured at the kickoff of the Quebec Liberal Party annual meeting in Victoriaville, in spite of the specter of massive student protests.
The party's annual general meeting is being held at a convention centre adjoining the Hotel Le Victorin.
Prior to the meeting, the convention centre was surrounded by fences and police officers, in an effort to avoid possible disruption by protesters.
Charest was scheduled to speak at 7:20 p.m. to about 500 party members on a topic entitled, "Together for a Greater Quebec."
Charest, in his speech, said that the tuition hikes are just and equitable. "It's high time the student boycotters return to class," he said.
He also spoke harshly about PQ leader Pauline Marois, who he argued does not possess leadership qualities.
Marois, in turn, denounced what she describe as Charest's "authoritarian" approach to the tuition dispute at the PQ annual general meeting in Quebec City Saturday morning, a meeting attended by about 400 party delegates.
Prior to the clashes, Victoriaville demonstrators appeared pleased by news that student leaders were convening in Quebec City with government officials.
"We are really happy because it's a good moment to talk and find a solution to this crisis but we never know how it's going to end," she said.
Another young woman who had come with her mother sought to demonstrate that many of the protesters were everyday people.
"There's a lot of protesters who look perfectly normal like me and my my mom but there's a lot of police but for nothing," she said.
A luncheon meeting was scheduled for Saturday and to be presided over by Education Minister Line Beauchamp and Finance Minister Raymond Bachand, who were to address the tuition issue. Beauchamp later backed out of that meeting, citing the ongoing discussions in Quebec City.
Victoriaville had been on a war footing for several days and Mayor Alain Rayes outlined the preventative measures the city would be taking, for example, a car dealership near the hotel had removed the vehicles from its lot to prevent damage.
And the CEGEP de Victoriaville, which declined to take part in the school boycott, closed its doors for two days to prevent possible damage.
On the upside, every hotel room in the city was booked for the weekend with the influx of visitors.
With a file from The Canadian Press