The Montreal Student Protests

The Quebec student protests began in March of 2011 and ended in September 2012. The main issue that caused these protests was the Provincial Liberal government’s proposal to increase tuition fees from $2,200 to $3,800 over the next 5 years. These protests have been a contentious issue among both Quebecers and residents of other provinces. However, this controversy provides us with an interesting case study to expand our understanding of the core concepts of criminalization of dissent.  This blog will make an effort to explain the issues that led to the protests, the main stakeholders involved in the protests and the government’s response to the protests.

The first main group involved in these protests was the students. Their concerns were voiced by 3 student unions, which represented students from colleges and universities within the province. The first of these unions is the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), which is led by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (CBC News 2012d). They have been described as the “most militant”(The Canadian Press 2012b) of the 3 unions. This description is used because they have used more aggressive measure, for example, they have locked themselves in certain buildings at the University of Montreal to prevent classes from taking place and students from attending those classes. (CBC News 2012c)

The other 2 student unions are the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), led by Martine Desjardins, and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), led by Léo Bureau-Blouin. (CBC News 2012d) These unions have been depicted as having taking a more diplomatic approach to negotiating with the provincial government to come to an agreement about tuition.

The other party involved in these protests was the Provincial Liberal government, led by Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp, who was later replaced by Michelle Courchesne, which proposed the increases in tuition fees from around $2,200 to $3,800 over the period of 5 years (CBC News 2012a). This initiated protests that began in March 2011 to September 2012. The provincial government proposed these increases to alleviate the added burden on themselves to subsidize tuition fees, and to bring Quebec’s tuition in line with the rest of the country. (CBC News 2012d)

The government began negotiations with the student unions to end the protests and get students back to school. One proposal made by the government was to extend the increases over 7 years as oppose to 5 years, which was initially planned. All 3 student unions rejected this, and the stipulation for no increase was their counter offer (CBC News 2012b).

The protests were beginning to disable the province and in particular the city of Montreal. Protesters would form blockades on major bridges to hinder traffic, and to create a commotion and evoke emotions from both residents of the city and the government. The intent of this strategy was to get media attention and to create pressure from local residents on the government to end the protests. (The Canadian Press 2012b).

The government responded to these road blockades by using both the police and the criminal justice system to criminalize the students dissent. The police were called in to move the students. Students were moved physically if they did not move on their own and arrested if they resisted (The Canadian Press 2012a). These police measures pushed these students into the criminal realm for their dissent.

The municipal government passed legislation that made it unlawful to wear a “face mask” (CBC News 2012a) while in a protest within the city of Montreal.

The provincial government also passed Bill 78, which “makes it illegal to hold a rally of more than 50 people without consulting at least eight hours ahead of time with police about its route and timing” (CBC News 2012a). These strategies pushed more students into the criminal realm for what the government believed to be dissent or illegitimate protests. The point of analysis here is that the government is the one to determine what is considered to be dissent along with the responsibility and legitimate right to punish those who protest against the government. The government makes the rules for a protest they played a role in creating. The governmental response will be critically analyzed in depth through the evolution of this blog.

The protests continued until about September 4, 2012, which was the date for a provincial election. The liberal Party and Jean Charest lost the election to the Parti Québécois. The Parti Québécois promised to eliminate the proposed increase if elected into officer, which they have done after taking power.

Although the students were able to eliminate the proposed increase, CLASSE has stated that they are fighting to eliminating tuitions altogether in Quebec. They have even created a plan as to how they would achieve such a mandate. They “propose a tax of 0.14 per cent per cent this year that would rise to 0.7 per cent by 2016. The tax would generate $400 million” (CBC News 2012a), which, covers the cost of tuition.

At the present moment students and teachers have returned to classes as scheduled and are paying the same tuition as previous years.

References:

CBC News. 2012a. “Quebec student group wants free tuition in 5 years”. CBC News, May 03. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/05/03/quebec-student-protests-classe.html)

CBC News. 2012b. “Montreal students protest tuition hikes”. CBC News, May 24. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/montreal-protest/)

CBC News. 2012c. “Quebec university students’ return to classes thwarted by protests”. CBC News, Aug 28. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/08/27/montreal-university-courses-resume-disrupted-strike.html)

CBC News. 2012d. “Ex-student leader Nadeau-Dubois awaits contempt verdict”. CBC News, Sept 28. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/09/28/montreal-gabriel-nadeau-dubois-contempt-charge.html)

The Canadian Press. 2012a. “Thousands of students gather in Montreal for rally”. CTV News, Mar 22. Retrieved October 14, 2012  (http://www.ctvnews.ca/thousands-of-students-gather-in-montreal-for-rally-1.785802)

The Canadian Press. 2012b. “Quebec student protesters resurface in Montreal”. Macleans, Aug 23. Retrieved October 14, 2012  (http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2012/08/23/quebec-student-protesters-resurface-in-montreal/)

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