Student protest shut down bridge, Young Liberals behind pro-tuition groups
MONTREAL - Student demonstrators briefly blocked access to the Jacques Cartier Bridge at rush hour on Thursday as part of ongoing protests against the Quebec government's plan to hike tuition-fees in the province.
With over 6,000 students taking to the streets of Montreal, a crowd of less than 100 blocked the south-bound lanes of the bridge in the afternoon.
The students blocking the bridge were quickly dispersed by riot police, some of the students linked arms. Those who got too close to the baton-wielding police were pepper-sprayed or shoved aside.
Despite being a relatively peaceful protest throughout the day, one student was arrested by the Montreal police near Berri-UQAM metro. According to the SPVM, the student refused to comply with a direct order.
Organizers say they planned to take their protest to Quebec City next week, all the way to the steps of the National Assembly. Across Quebec, 55,000 students have agreed to support the ongoing general strike.
College and university students are nearly evenly split in joining the ranks of those who have already left their classrooms.
Those striking students oppose the provincial government's move to nearly double tuition fees over a five-year period, to $3,800 from the current in-province rate of $2,200. They say the increase will limit access to education, which should be a fundamental right.
"Increasing tuition fees means rejecting thousands of people from the universities of Quebec—persons who have the talent to study but may not be able to pay," said protest spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
"We think education is a right, we think everyone should go to university if they have the talent to do it and increasing tuition fees that fast is totally blocking that right."
Pro-tuition group headed by Young Liberal vice-presidents
Some students have refused to join the protest, going so far as to voice sympathy for the tuition increases. Those students are now claiming that they have been mocked, ridiculed and jostled in hallways.
On Thursday, Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp urged students to condemn intimidation against students who oppose the student strike.
"The debate must take place in a respectful climate," said Education Minister Line Beauchamp, denouncing the student protesters.
Despite the minister's pleas, many student leaders were shocked to discover on Wednesday evening that many of the pro-tuition advocates were actually members of the Quebec Young Liberals.
The most vocal pro-tuition group, the Movement of Socially Responsible Students, which claims 2,000 members through Facebook, has at least two Young Liberals among its members.
Marc Antoine Morin and Jean-Francois Trudelle, two of the Movement's spokespeople, are vice-presidents of the organization's Montreal wing.
"I acknowledge that education is a wonderful investment and that where the tuition fees will be after the increase, is still very reasonable," said Trudelle to CTV News.
Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir will introduce a motion of non-confidence in the National Assembly next week to attempt to force the government to step down from its plan.
"Do we want a system of education that resembles what has happened in the United States," asked Khadir.
The number of students protesting is expected to grow in the next few weeks as more votes take place. Student groups say that the votes are attracting roughly 75 per cent of students, with some votes supporting the strike action receiving up to 90 per cent support.
Votes are underway or planned at Concordia, McGill and the University of Sherbrooke.
The student protesters promise that their unlimited strike will paralyse Quebec's educational system over the coming weeks when more student associations join.
With files from The Canadian Press.