Montreal student protests like all protests consist of two different and opposing positions. The Students’ position is that they are not willing to pay any increase in tuition. They argue that tuition has increased 4 fold in the past few decades and students are in financial hardships because of this. Any increase would contribute to the amount of debt that students must incur to pay for higher education. The CLASSE union holds the position that tuition should be eliminated entirely over the next 5 years (CBC News 2012a). They have also proposed a plan to the provincial government to make it possible for free education. (CBC News 2012b)
The Quebec governments’ position is that the proposed increases in tuition are required because the government is unable to continue subsidizing tuition at the rate it has been. The government faces a large public debt and it needs to begin paying that debt off. Furthermore, universities and colleges are cash strapped and require more funding that the provincial government is unable to provide. The government also argues that Quebec student pay the lowest tuition in Canada and they need to bring their tuition more inline with the rest of the country.
These are the two opposing positions of both parties. The position that has resonated the most among both Quebecers and the rest of Canada is that of the provincial government. The majority of Quebecers and Canadians support the provincial government. It is obvious that the position of the government is the dominant one, but the question is why? This paper will try and answer that question. I will suggest that media in its reporting of the Montréal student protests have directly supported the government and influenced it readers to also support the government.
I will be using 7 media articles and explain the ways in which they support the government. The articles are: “Tear gas used on Montreal marchers defying protest laws”, “Quebec’s tuition protesters are the Greeks of Canada”, “Quebec’s student protest over university tuition increases has gone off the rails”, “The ugly side of the ‘Quebec model’”, “Montreal student protest calls for free tuition”, “Tear gas used on Montreal marchers defying protest laws” and “Quebec student group wants free tuition in 5 years”. All these articles have some common themes that are designed to persuade the reading into sympathizing with the government.
One of the common themes of these articles is that the authors do not take into account the larger social issues causing these protests. As Hall et al argues “to blame the actions of individuals within a given historical structure, without taking that structure itself into account, is an easy and familiar way of exercising the moral conscience without bearing any of its costs (1978:183). In other words, the authors neglect the larger structural reasons that are influencing students to protest. For example, tuition has jumped from $500 in 1990 to over $2,200 today. Also, students have incurred more debt today than any other time in history, and tuition is a major contributor to this debt.
Another common theme that is evident in these articles is that of Othering. The process of Othering requires the “distinction between the Other and the Self” (Dhamoon 2009:167), or an in-group and an out-group. The articles do this by creating 2 different in-groups to ‘other’ the Quebec students as the out-group. The first in-group are other students throughout Canada. Most articles mention that Quebec pays that lowest tuition in Canada. Compared to Ontario students who pay 30%-50% more than their Quebec counterparts. An article states: “we suspect many Canadians outside Quebec are simply baffled… You’re not on strike. You’re not performing a service; you’re buying one, at a discount of about 87%” (National Post 2012). The importance of this is that it creates a distinct separation between Quebec students and other Canadian students. This allows the media to shame Quebec students for protesting against an increase that would still be less than what other Canadian students pay. It also provides justification for the increases, as Quebec’s tuition is not inline with other provinces as mentioned above.
The other in-group is the rest of country, the emphasis being on those who are out of school and working full time. The binary that is created in the articles is important. It tends to ask readers rhetorically if they would be willing to pay more taxes to cover the cost of these proposed increases. It also mentions that Quebec’s lower tuition is “built in part on $8 billion in federal equalization payments” (Toronto Star 2012). These points create sympathy for the provincial government. They also anger tax payers that tax money from other provinces are paying for lower tuition in Quebec, which, provide support for the increases.
Conflict vs. Consensus
The media articles portray Quebec students as taking a conflict or hard approach towards the provincial government proposed increases. They create an idea that the students started protesting these increases without trying to negotiate with the government to eliminate the increases first, which is not the case. In contrasts to the student’s hard approach, the media suggests that the government took more of a consensus or soft approach. The government invited the students to negotiate with them. It is important to note that this invitation was only extended after the protests were underway and had started to disable the city. More importantly, this preserved soft approach taken by the government actually helps justify their coercive actions later, including Bill 78, which I will expand upon next.
Coercion and Bill 78
Bill 78 was introduced to deal with the protest by students, which began to cripple the city of Montreal. The bill introduced some very distinct criteria for a protest to be considered legal. “The law 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.” (Smith 2012). If a protest does not meet the above guidelines then it would be deemed to be illegal and police would have the legal justification to end the protest. There are two main points that I would like to highlight about this legislation: the first, this legislation supersedes The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The right to protest is guaranteed by the Charter, and the Charter itself does not require protesters to submit routes 8 hours in advance to police. “Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey calls Bill 78 a “terrible law” that suspends the freedom to association, express and protest, without sufficient reason” (Smith 2012).
The other point I would like to highlight about this bill is Foucault’s concept of governing through freedom. Freedom is seen as a paradox, where conforming to laws is the only way to practice freedom (Foucault 2009: 336). Bill 78 is a perfect example of this. Only by reporting to the police the information they require are the protesters practicing freedom.
Framing: Entitlement Frame
The media articles also use framing in their depicting of the student protests. Framing is defined as “some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in… a way as to promote a particular problem” (Boykoff 2007:217). I will be using the entitlement frame as my main point of analysis. Although there are other frames being used like the violence frame and the ignorance frame. The media articles present the protesting students as having an entitlement mentality and being out of touch with the reality of the present financial situation facing Canada. The article “Quebec’s tuition protesters are the Greeks of Canada” creates a parallel between Quebec students and the Greeks, Wente states: “I feel much sorrier for the Greeks than I do for the protesting students” (2012). Wente goes on to describe the protesting students as “children of affluence” (2012) a very finalistic assessment. She labels all students as affluent, which is not the case considering the growing debts of students. This entitlement frame can be countered by Starr et al who argue that “‘entitlement’, which is operationalize as “a belief that democratic governments should be responsive to the demands of citizens” (Starr et al 2011:11). The government has not been reciprocal in its responsiveness to students as is required to be in a democracy; this may explain the discontent among students and why they are protesting.
In conclusion, I have suggested that media in its reporting of the Montréal student protests have directly supported the provincial government and influenced its readers to also support the government. This has been done through the process of Othering, the perceived soft approach taken by the government, and the frame of entitlement used by most articles when talking about the students involved in the protest. The main concern for most should not be whether you agree or disagree with the protest, but whether both parties are being heard in the media fairly. The right to protest does not mean that your rationale for protesting also needs to be right. In fact, many people may disagree with your reasons. But these disagreements are the main catalysts that force us to challenge our beliefs, our government, and ourselves.
Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp: 216-47 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press
CBC News. 2012a. “Montreal student protest calls for free tuition”. CBC News, Sept 22. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/09/22/montreal-student-protest-classe-tuition.html)
CBC News. 2012b. “Quebec student group wants free tuition in 5 years”. CBC News, May 3. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/05/03/quebec-student-protest-classe.html)
CBC News. 2012d. “Tear gas used on Montreal marchers defying protest laws”. CBC News, May 19. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/05/19/quebec-tuition-crisis-law-reaction.html)
Dhamoon, Rita and Yasmeen Abu-Laban. 2009. “Dangerous (Internal) Foreigners and Nation-Building: The Case of Canada.” International Political Science Review 30:163-83.
Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp: 333-358.
Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John N. Clarke, & Brian Roberts. 1978 “Crime, Law and the State” Pp. 181-217 in Policing the Crisis, Mugging, the State ad Law and Order. London: Macmillian.
National Post. 2012. “The ugly side of the ‘Quebec model’”. National Post, May 16. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/05/16/national-post-editorial-board-the-ugly-side-of-the-quebec-model/)
Smith, Connie. 2012 “Montreal protesters defy demo law and clash with police” CBC News, May 21. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/05/21/montreal-protests-students-police-teargas.html)
Starr, Amory, Luis Fernandez and Christian Scholl. 2011. “What’s is Going On?” Pp: 1-18 in shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era. New York: New York University Press.
Toronto Star. 2012. “Quebec’s student protest over university tuition increases has gone off the rails” May 15. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2012/05/15/quebecs_student_protest_over_university_tuition_increases_has_gone_off_the_rails.html)
Wente, Margaret. 2012. “Quebec’s tuition protesters are the Greeks of Canada”. The Globe and Mail, May 19. Retrieved December 1, 2012 (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/quebecs-tuition-protesters-are-the-greeks-of-canada/article4186821/)