Union cash flowing into Quebec to fund prolonged student protests
People gather at the start of a protest to mark the 100th day of a students strike, in Montreal, Tuesday, May 22, 2012. (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2012 3:19PM EDT
MONTREAL - Out-of-province money is flowing toward Quebec student activists amid warnings their protest movement could persist into the summer.
Trade unions based outside Quebec have already confirmed sending more than $36,000 into the bank accounts of the province's largest student federations.
Union leaders in the rest of Canada say they're now asking their memberships to vote on new donations for the student groups.
In another gesture of support, several union delegations headed to Montreal for a large protest Tuesday, while sister events were scheduled in different cities inside and outside Canada, including New York and Paris.
The executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers said Tuesday that his union could approve a financial contribution for the students in the next day or two.
"We're actively considering it," said James Turk, whose association represents 66,000 teachers and other academic professionals across Canada.
Turk said there's added urgency to help out after the Quebec government adopted an emergency law -- Bill 78 -- last week that sets some restrictions on protests.
"We don't want the main issue obscured, and that is the desire to have accessible post-secondary education," he said, referring to the issue that ignited the strike movement several months ago: the provincial government's plan to hike tuition fees.
"We've been really strong on that and now we're looking at concrete ways we can be of assistance to the students financially."
Turk said his group could help support student court challenges to Bill 78, which he called "repressive" and "worrisome."
The law requires organizers to give police eight hours' notice of when and where the protest will happen -- and imposes fines for offenders. Quebec's public security minister defended Bill 78 on Tuesday, naming several cities he says have equally tough, or tougher, rules for organizing protests. Robert Dutil's list included Toronto, New York and Los Angeles.
Quebec students have been holding regular protests across the province since February to denounce the Charest government's plan to increase tuition fees, some of which have become violent. Hundreds of people were arrested over the weekend in Montreal alone after clashes with riot police.
The movement has already prompted unions based outside Quebec to open their wallets.
In recent weeks, two Ontario locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees gave a total of $30,000 to the Quebec student movement.
The local representing some workers at University of Toronto contributed $20,000, while the local at McMaster University gave $10,000.
"The size of the donation is absolutely unprecedented by our local," said Diana Zawadzki, vice-president of local 3906, which represents teaching assistants, seasonal faculty members and post-doctoral fellows at McMaster.
"When we discussed making the donation at our local, everyone was really excited about the student movement in Quebec and thought it was a really fantastic cause."
The national president of Canada's largest private-sector union said his group matched $3,000 in donations raised at a recent meeting of Quebec members.
Ken Lewenza of the Canadian Auto Workers union said the leaders of the province's three main student federations each gave "inspiring" presentations during the late-April gathering in the Quebec town of Montebello.
He said around 150 delegates present immediately began reaching into their pockets and gave a total of $3,000 -- an amount matched by the union. In the end, the student groups each received $2,000.
Lewenza said the assistance is about supporting future generations and indicated he would ask members across the country for more help, if the Quebec branch of his union requests it.
"I'm not at all hesitant to call on CAW locals throughout Canada to join in on bonds of solidarity and provide whatever support is necessary -- whether it's financial, whether it's moral," Lewenza said in a recent interview.
"I certainly encourage the local unions to support, in whatever mechanisms they can, the student movement in Quebec."
Another major union outside Quebec has also contributed to the students' cause.
A spokeswoman for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada said Tuesday that it has donated money to the movement, but she could not immediately provide the amount.
At least one other Ontario union local said it fully expects to offer money to Quebec student activists.
Jaime Brenes, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees local at the University of Guelph, said it's basically a question of asking members how much to give.
He said the local will hold an emergency meeting in the next two weeks to specifically discuss this matter. Brenes expects the amount of the contribution to be similar to the $10,000 and $20,000 donations given by the other two Ontario locals of the union.
"They are representing something that we all want -- a fair tuition fee," Brenes said.
"They are doing the work, something that we all wish that everyone in Canada (was) doing."