A largely peaceful downtown march against government austerity programs degenerated into conflict three hours after it began when some of the remaining demonstrators tossed projectiles at police officers, leading to a showdown at the corner of Clarke and Sherbrooke at about 5 p.m.

Most of the estimated 5,000 marchers walked without incident through city streets but police reported that six demonstrators were arrested, five of whom will face criminal charges and a sixth who allegedly violated a city bylaw.

One bystander, reportedly a man in his fifties, was struck in the head by a flying projectile. Police later reported that a second man also suffered undisclosed injuries while leaving the scene with his bicycle. Both were transported to hospital to receive treatment for minor injuries. 

Anti-riot squad forces employed what they described as a dispersant, in the form of sound grenades and smoke grenades, against the protesters. The crowd then mostly dispersed but some stayed on until as late as 6:15 p.m.

The six arrested included two who were taken away for preventative purposes at the start of the demonstration, as police believed that the pair had criminal intentions, while four others were arrested during the demonstration for a variety of alleged infractions. 

The marchers were demonstrating against government austerity measures, in an event organized by the ASSE student group.

Future government warned

ASSE representative Benjamin Gingras said that the marchers were sending a signal against government belt-tightening, objecting specifically to most recent PQ budget.

"Austerity is dangerous and unnecessary and will be fought," he said. "Whoever is elected April 7, we will be there, all of us, and we’ll show them at austerity will not be tolerated in Quebec.“

Gingras also criticized former student leader Martine Desjardins, who is now running for the Parti Quebecois. “It’s absurd and incomprehensible to see her run for the PQ, a party that raised electrical rates and school tuition, she’s doing exactly the opposite of what she was doing two years ago.”

“We are asking for the rich to do their part,” said ASSE spokesperson Justin Arcand. “There’s enough money, we’re asking to get it from where it is.”

Police declared the protest illegal at its outset, as it kicked off from Place Emilie Gamelin at 2 p.m., because organizers declined to provide their itinerary, as required under a municipal bylaw.

Police warned the demonstrators three times but tolerated the march nonetheless, which travelled west towards the premier’s office at Sherbrooke St. W and McGill College Ave and then continued east.

The ASSE held the demonstration against what it calls a “dangerous ideology,” adding that the PQ is using a debt it says is “enormous, but actually isn’t,” as an excuse to implement its austere measures.

The group rebuked the Parti Quebecois for wanting to raise the cost of public services, saying big businesses, banks and the rich should contribute more in taxes to finance those services.

Some police officers sported helmets equipped with video cameras, in what is believed to be a local first. As of 3:30 p.m, police had made no mention of any arrests. 

The march led to considerable traffic snags in the downtown core as early rush-hour traffic was reduced to a white-knuckle crawl in certain areas.