Dissecting the Longest Student Protest in Quebec History

Many representations, general public opinions, and discourses are used in order to dissect and critique the longest student strike in Québec history. Many mainstream articles from the Toronto Star,  The Gazette , The National Post, and many others seek to portray the event through a series of frames. A frame chooses “some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, casual interpretation, moral evaluation, and or treatment recommendation for the item described” (Boykoff 2007:217).

The Gazette contained an article that portrayed the Québec student movement as a disturbance (Aubrin 2012). Viewing this social movement through a disruption frame would have set down the foundation for further negative representations of both the protestors and their cause (Boykoff 2007:227). “The protestor’s disruptive actions had repeatedly stopped metro service, by causing inconvenience to thousands of commuters. The media has also stated that the protestors have helped to alienate the public from the student boycott and to undermine the cause” (Aubrin 2012).  The author failed to note, that placing such an emphasis on the acts of vandalism and giving it attention, rather than analyzing what issues students were bringing to the table this would undermine the cause even further. Peaceful protest did exist however this was not the protesting that was making headlines. The student organizations that were trying to negotiate with the government were even criticized and represented through a violent, disruptive, and ignorant frame. Aubrin mentions in his article that, the vandalism that has occurred during the student strike has not been effective by any means rather they have slowed down the process of negotiating anything with the government (Aubrin 2012).  Again, the author failed to address how protesting may have been one of the only options that could have facilitated contest towards laws and rules that were implemented to constrain and limit the protestor’s actions. This was proved in the Toronto Star’s article; “Quebec Students hail their movement’s victories”, by documenting that the government even failed to listen to these students when there was peaceful protesting (Robert and Reynolds 2012). Also, it needs to be clarified that the severe acts of disturbance were very minimal and not a real reflection of what the student strike really meant to demonstrate. Aubrin stated, “And applause, to the vandals paid pre-dawn visits to the Montreal offices of four Quebec cabinet ministers, spraying the walls with symbolic red paint and tossing an malfunctioning Molotov cocktail into one office […] They’ve made the Charest government look like the sympathetic victim of goonery” (Aubrin 2012). Understanding the context in which this confrontation had occurred would have been beneficial in understanding the protestor’s motives. Also who were these individuals protesting? Where these individuals apart of the student movement or where they engaging in these actions because it was amusement for them and they actually had no idea of what the student strike signified? The author’s narrow-minded view of this incident in his article leads to further devaluing of the protestor’s strike. These actions have helped the media construct this social movement through a violent frame (Boykoff 2007:222). The media has portrayed the student protestors as both “violent” and “radical” (Robert and Reynolds 2012).However, the media has labeled graffiti and a few broken windows as violent (Boykoff 2007:226).  All of these representations within these articles may have led the public to believe that officers need to repress this event because it is too violent and could potentially be dangerous. This sense of danger has manipulated the public into believing that the student strike movement was far more violent than what it was.

Quebec was already considered as the province that has the least expensive tuition yet they are still fighting for tuition freezes, and furthermore CLASSE is fighting for free high quality education (Cross 2012). The ignorance frame can be used to review the work of Cross. Although this article may have believed that the Quebec students are not considering the rest of the population and the circumstances of those individuals that lay outside of their geographical borders (Cross 2012), the author fails to note that the Quebec students may not have the same opportunities as their colleagues outside of their borders. This increase would be detrimental to Quebec students because it is not what they have been accustomed to all their lives. They are just seeking to demonstrate how the tuition hike would affect the lives of Québec students. Students have a right to an education and the government is putting a barrier that makes this right hard to access. Protesters have even looked outside Canada’s borders. They noted that some jurisdictions offer tuition-free education and they called the issue one of societal priorities (Harding 2012). Due to all the alleged violence that was documented by the media the public may have believed that these students should not have their demands satisfied. The public needs to be understanding of the realistic circumstances that students face. However, the author fails to address public perceptions and how government responses may have affected public opinion. Before you can view the students through an ignorance frame the government should also be viewed through this frame because they are not being respectful of student interests. Capitalism has been given importance over the interests of hard-working residents that simply want to access basic rights that they should be entitled to. Quebec students are fighting much more than just the tuition hike. They are fighting to create change in a society where “There’s always money for corporate tax cuts. There’s always money for corporate grants. There’s always money to fight wars that end up benefiting corporate interests. And there’s always money for more police and jails […] yet there is no money for better education, there’s no money for better health care, and there’s no money for better Old Age Security”(Harding 2012).

In order to maintain dominance the government had used laws in order to repress resistance and dissent. Media representations that revolved around the “violence” of the protest helped legitimatize the need for laws such as bill 78 (Martin 2012). The media was able to construct the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality through both their visual and written representations. Through the terminology that they used and through their pictures they were able to construct the ‘good’ citizen and ‘bad’ citizen. The pictures within this article (click here to view) showed demonstrators throwing tear gas and others had masks over their faces (Muise and Curtis 2012). There was a sense of blame for all the violence and the blame was on the Quebec students that were protesting.  For example, “four police officers were injured during the protest — two seriously after being hit in the head with rocks. Seven protesters were also injured, most after being hit by objects being thrown by other demonstrators”(Muise and Curtis 2012). The author discussed the violence of these events however the peaceful protests in the beginning of the student strike where students were carrying around posters and marching on the streets were neglected. This article was stating that most of the injuries were incurred because demonstrators were being too violent. However, the violence of the police were not thoroughly outlined, and when the police’s actions were outlined as being violent there actions were justified because of security purposes. It was stated that the police wanted to push demonstrators away from the Victorian hotel and conference center where the Quebec liberal party was holding a general meeting (Muise and Curtis 2012). Therefore, were the interests of the government and the safety of these individuals more important than the rights of the students, their interests and safety? This author was making the students appear as though they are a threat to society when in reality all the student organizations really wanted was to negotiate. Therefore, why is the violence being exacerbated and why are the student’s interests not being publicized. These groups do not support violence however they are upset at how lightly the government has been treating their suggestions. Earlier in the afternoon before this confrontation the premier was asked if he was concerned about possible violence outside the Liberal meeting, Charest said he was “not too concerned. I think everyone hopefully is chilling out” (Muise and Curtis 2012) Why did the author fail to analyze this comment? With this comment does the premier believe that this is simply some charade that these students are engaging in because they have nothing better to do. Individuals will not “chill” out because to them this tuition hike is a serious issue and it also is an issue that extends to other societal problems. The government does not seem to be taking the demands of these students seriously and this neglect is what brought this protest to this level. Dealing with this protest seems more of a hassle and an inconvenience than a societal issue that should be prioritized. They are procrastinating in their negotiations and every negotiation attempt did nothing in attempting to satisfy students.

In Harding’s article we can see that this strike can also be viewed through a sympathetic frame. Harding mentions that; “As a working Canadian, it is very hard, in fact impossible, to condemn the “violence” that is being used by members of the student protest movement in Quebec […]The real violence is the day-to-day violence of the people who run Canada against the rest of us at home and those who are “in the way” abroad. The kids fighting in the streets in Quebec see that very clearly” (Harding 2012). After reading about all the violence it may seem hard to be sympathetic of these students actions especially those individuals that reside in Quebec. For example Aubrin states, “Monday’s antics could prove to be the tipping point in this 10-week boycott of classes – that is, the time when public opinion finally says resoundingly that enough is enough” (Aubrin 2012). Aubrin blatantly failed to view the purpose of the Quebec student movement in a sympathetic frame. Harding understands the issues that are underlying this movement therefore he is able to indicate how the sympathetic frame applies. One should be able to be sympathetic because these students were neglected at a time when they were seeking to negotiate in a democratic country, where their needs should have been listened to. Aubrin chose to focus on the violence and negativity of the protests and does not mention the need of the protestors and the lack of acknowledgment the protestors received from the government and criticized their actions immediately. The importance of capitalism and political power has once again far surpassed the importance of any provincial problem. The sympathetic frame is heightened in the Toronto star article and the student’s victory is also documented in the Toronto star however the articles from Quebec focused more on the violence. Perhaps, because the student movement was happening in Quebec the violence had more of an impact than any other underlying issue. It would be hard to view these students in a sympathetic frame in Quebec because of all the negative representations that they are reading about within these articles. However, it seems interesting to me that in Toronto where tuition is much higher a sympathetic frame can be recognized. Some might think that Quebec articles would be more sympathetic because the individuals in Quebec are being directly affected. However, if someone is not a student it would be difficult to feel sympathetic or become involved. Individuals that are not students do not seem to care; the only thing that they care about is the violence that is being displayed in front of their homes.

Bibliography

Aubrin, Henry. 2012. “Students may have gone too far; Yesterday’s vandalism doesn’t help the   tuition-hike protesters and strips movement of any moral superiority.” The Gazette.Retrieved November 31, 2012. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/1002769723?accountid=15182)

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard,” Pp. 248       60 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK   Press.

Cross, Allison. 2012.”Canada’s ‘Maple Spring’? Dissecting the longest student strike in    Quebec’s history.” National Post. Retrieved December 1, 2012.  (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/03/quebec-student-strike/)

Harding, Richard. 2012. “Sympathy for Quebec students: Tuition protest gets rowdy.” Toronto Star. Retrieved December 1, 2012.      (http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/1009023229?accountid=15182)

Martin, Robert. 2012. “The Organizations behind Québec’s 2012 Student Strike.” Canadian   Dimension, 46.5:27-32. Retrieved November 31, 2012(http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/1124526335?accountid=15182)

Muise, Monique and Christopher Curtis.2012. “Protest at Quebec Liberal Party Convention Turns Violent.” The National Post. Retrieved February 15, 2013(http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/04/victoriaville-violence/)

Robert, Camille and Jeanne Reynolds. 2012.“Quebec students hail their movement’s  victories.”   Toronto Star. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1260832–quebec-students-hail-  their-movement-s-victories)

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One comment

  1. Greetings Pmangiard09,

    Just read your comment and your analysis on the protest. It seems to me that the reason Quebec residents do not care about students’ interests is because: 1) they are the ones who are being affected directly by road closures, blocked streets, and the perceived “violence” that is rampant in the streets. 2) these same residents were former students but when they were students tuition was significantly cheaper, they paid off their loan and may be under the impression that current students should be able to do that same.

    I do agree that the sympathy that should be shown to students is not always there. But for me the issue that I believe should concern more Quebecers is that of Bill 78. It has been introduced to deal with student protests but it can be used to stop any protest that may happen in the future, and considering Quebec’s protest history I’m sure it won’t be long before another protest happens.

    I liked the analysis of the “Good” vs. “Bad” citizen. It really highlights the paradox of freedom, where we are only practising freedom when we practise freedom in the way that the state tells us we can. In the case of the student protests these laws are illegitimate and supersede our charter.

    I enjoyed your analysis, and you did do a good job with the different frames. Regarding some of the question you had of my analysis: the governments’ response to the protestors was initially to ignore them, but only after they closed a bridge did the government to negotiate using a soft approach. This has some benefits to both sides but is a bit stacked in the governments favour. The reason for this is because if talks do break down the government is able to say they tried to reach a deal, also it justifies the a harder approach if protests continue.

    I did hear that the protests have continued again this year. But I don’t believe that the government was being insincere with there promise not to raise tuition. It hurts the government reputation in the long run and the parti quebecois currently has a minority government, which usually does not have a very long shelf life in canadian politics.

    Sincerely,
    Nav

    Like

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