Tuition protest: near-naked march, CLASSE demands, student votes
MONTREAL - Student tuition protests continued apace Thursday with the now-familiar sights of tuition-hike opponents marching, holding meetings and taking votes, but the naked demonstration would have been a first.
Protesters had been invited to shed all of their clothing for a march scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at Place Emilie Gamelin Park.
But protesters opted to strip down to their underwear between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. after police told them that they would not tolerate nudity. Many protesters eventually marched in their undergarments in 16 degree weather.
The demonstrators exposed their points of view, as well as their mostly-red lingerie and undergarments in what appeared to be a good-natured and peaceful event.
"We want the same transparency from the government as we are symbolically showing today," one told CTV Montreal.
"I'm walking the most pacifically I can, which is naked," said another.
One onlooker appeared unimpressed. "It's ridiculous. Look at what they're doing to themselves, they're walking around naked that's horrible," she said.
However the protesters were making no apologies.
"The students that are protesting today are the workers of tomorrow, so we are responsible and our voices have to be heard," said McGill medical student Roxane Heroux-Legault.
The demonstrators walked through the Plateau to Laurier Park. Many then dressed and reconvened at Emilie Gamelin for another demonstration, the eleventh straight night of walking through the streets of downtown.
That group marched to Mayor Gerald Tremblay's house, where some protesters set off fireworks, then threw rocks and bottles at police.
That protest ended around 1 a.m. with the arrests of six people.
Some will be charged with assaulting a police officer, and armed assault.
CLASSE proposal on university management
Earlier in the day the student group CLASSE held a press conference to present what it called a counter-offer to the provincial government, after its 43 member associations unanimously denounced what the Charest government laid on the table last week.
Spokespeople Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Jeanne Reynolds laid out their organization's proposal to steer Quebec toward free university tuition.
- Reducing the amount Quebec universities devote to research by $142 million
- Banning universities from commercial advertising
- Implementing an immediate salary and hiring freeze on university administrators
- An immediate moratorium on new campus construction, and the expansion of existing buildings
- Introducing an immediate special tax on banking institutions of 0.14%, increasing by 0.14 percentage points per year for the next five years
Reynolds said the proposals made by Education Minister Line Beauchamp last week, including stretching the tuition hike over seven years and increasing the amount of bursaries given to students, were made in "bad faith."
She said CLASSE's proposals could save hundreds of millions of dollars in the short term, saying that when it comes to research funding alone, Quebec spends $142 million dollars more than the Canadian average.
Dubois also questioned why universities are spending $18 million each year to recruit students.
"We think that the money that the workers and students of Quebec are putting into our universities should be used to finance teaching and not research, publicity and bonuses for the managers of our universities," said Nadeau-Dubois.
CLASSE also demanded that tuition be frozen at current levels, and should shrink over the next five years.
With regards to the special tax on banks, Dubois said that in five years it would collect $410 million a year -- enough to offset the $400 million university students currently spend on tuition.
Speaking from Quebec City, Beauchamp repeated that freezing tuition was not an option, but said she was open to having more oversight of university management.
"When I talk about university management I will repeat that this is a good suggestion, there is some maneouvering we can do on that issue," said Beauchamp.
Earlier this week the student federations of CEGEP and university students, FECQ and FEUQ, presented their proposal, which included moratoriums on construction, funding increases, a tuition freeze, and a wide-ranging Estates General to discuss the role of higher education in Quebec.
Quebec's 18 rectors and deans (CREPUQ) issued a press release Thursday denouncing the demands as "nonsense" that would weaken Quebec society.
Overall, political observers think the student protest has long since moved past an argument about tuition fees.
"It's never been about negotiating, it's showing that the system, system with a capital S, doesn't work," said Patrick Lagace.
That said, the La Presse columnist thinks that the government will never change its mind about tuition fees, and soon give protesters an ultimatum.
"I think the government will soon issue a deadline, that if you're not back in class by a certain date, you get an F."
Many CEGEP students miss class
Also on Thursday, students at Montreal's André-Laurendeau CEGEP voted to continue boycotting class in spite of the cancellation of summer courses and the possibility that this semester will be canceled.
The CEGEP has been closed for the last 10 weeks. On Thursday, 52.7 percent of voters supported to remain out.
About 630 of 2900 students atetended the meeting. They agreed to allow a few classes to continue, including those of the International schoool.
Meanwhile at the CEGEP de Sherbrooke, a back-to-school injunction was ignored and courses were suspended. Contempt of court charge will be heard May 7 at the Sherbrooke courthouse.
The Sherbrooke student meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. but only took place at around 3:30 p.m. About 2,000 attended.
The CEGEP de l'Outaouais continued to ignore a Superior Court injunction and canceled its courses again Thursday.
The school administration cancelled courses at around 9:00 a.m. after about 250 protesters entered the Hull campus. After some resistance, students who wanted to attend class were allowed in. No arrests were made.
At the CEGEP de Maisonneuve, the 16 students who had won an injuction to attend courses attended class, while others who wanted to attend were not permitted.
With files from The Canadian Press