Democracy, government reaction, and resistance during the Quebec Student Movement

In a democratic state dissent should not be criminalized. Furthermore, resistance shouldn’t be dealt with in a coercive manner that only seeks to repress rather than address the demonstrator’s interests and true motives for initiating a strike in the first place. However, negotiating with the provincial government was challenging. It was challenging because the government was persistent on implementing a tuition hike that would assist them in alleviating the financial burden of another costly expense that they could no longer afford. However, rather than using “soft” tactics and promoting a consensus-based approach that would leave everyone at ease the government appeared to have done the opposite. Nonetheless, when the police took the hard approach and responded to the violence with more violence the confrontations between the officers and the students became more severe.

In the Quebec student movement many coercive measures were used and these measures were used in order to maintain social control over the student protesters. The students were labelled and treated as deviants because they appeared to be threatening the existing political authority. The potential risk of having the current social order disrupted is threatening to the state.  The precautions that the state has sought have only gotten more invasive and coercive over the years because of the increase in the possibility of risk (Kennelly 2011: 339) Risk has turned into a central feature of modernity. Therefore, when someone may be a risk to national security they forfeit their rights (Kinsman, Buse, and Steedman 2000:283). For example, in the Quebec student movement individuals with masks or individuals that where promoting the red square, a symbol of the Quebec student movement, on signs or on their clothes were considered a threat to the state (CBC 2012). Nonetheless the state should be able to prove how these students have been threatening the political regime? These students’ have simply accessed the rights that they are entitled to. They have accessed basic rights, such as the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly (Kinsman, Buse, and Steedman 2000:278).  The government wants to appear democratic by giving individuals these rights; however it seems that this democracy is simply an illusion because when individuals access these rights the government seeks to repress any further resistance.

It is evident that in this particular case power differentials exist and students are simply trying to narrow down this existent power gap between these two groups of individuals. The authorities have enough power to decide “what is criminal, how much effort to put into the control of different kinds of crime, and authorities decide what kinds of tactics to adopt in crime control (Starr, Fernandez, and Scholl 2011: 9). If this issue is simply not a priority to the government they can choose to brush it aside until it suits their interests to reopen the matter once again. The power dynamic between the students and the government is quite evident in this movement. The state has labelled and responded to these acts of dissent like they are crimes and this criminal label attaches a deviant stigma to these events (Hall et al 1978:190).  A binary between the ‘good’ citizen and the ‘bad’ citizen is constructed and these constructions begin to become normalized in society. The public is led to believe that what these students are doing is criminal and it is not approved by the government. However, all these students are doing is accessing their rights and opposing government policies that they feel are illegitimate, and there is nothing criminal about that.  These students cannot simply accept such increases because many of them will lose the opportunity to receive education and that is another right that students should be entitled to. The government needs to address these socio-economic issues that have been continuously neglected and not prioritized by the political agenda.

Consequently, danger is also reinforced through the ‘othering’ process (Dhamoon and Abu-Laban 2009:166). Student protesters were viewed as, half-witted hooligans, spoiled brats or frightening extremists. These depictions allowed the public to believe that these students should be feared because their actions are a threat to society. These representations and the ‘othering’ process have helped decide which citizens should be excluded and included from society (Dhamoon and Abu-Laban 2009: 169). As soon as the media and the government create ‘moral panic’ their coercive preventive measures become justified for security purposes (Ericson and Doyle 1999:603). (Click here to view media representations from media analysis).   The government was using this sense of fear as a tactic that could legitimize social control(Hall et al 1978: 190). However, the actions that the students had engaged in and the potential risks were not violent enough to receive the measures that they did in order to contain them (Hall et al 1978:184). The police also have taken on such preventive measures because they wanted to appear legitimate in the eyes of the public and that they are in fact doing their job and controlling any possible risks in society. The police were making arrests, administering charges, there was a lot of police presence at this protest, and simply they were responding with force whenever protesters appeared to be getting violent. However, although it may appear as though the police were doing their job they were simply abusing their discretion and they were also using their extraordinary powers to justify behaviours that were not essential.

The student’s demands and circumstances were of substance and they should have received attention from the government, however the opposite had actually occurred. The government had implemented a new piece of legislation, bill 78. Bill 78 was meant to lay out strict regulations governing student demonstrations, “including having to give eight hours notice for details such as the itinerary, the duration and the time at which they are being held […] Police will also have the right to demand changes in order to keep the peace and maintain order and public security”(Canadian Press 2012). The debate with this piece of legislation is whether the government is infringing upon the rights of the student’s. As Hall mentions in his article, the law was used as an instrument of class domination and authority (Hall et al 1978:190). The police were using their discretion in order to pin any charge that they possibly could have administered to the students. They were using the law to their advantage, by giving out numerous tickets, and they were using it as a mechanism of social control (Hall et al 1978:191). There is a wide discretion in the definition of certain laws that they can arrest with. Even though many students were protesting on public property they still had to inform the police of any marches hours before they were take place, and if they did not report this march it would have be viewed as illegal. Once it is viewed as illegal one can be arrested if they partake in the event, therefore in one way or another students were forced to negotiate with the police and the state but the government by no means had to negotiate with the students. If the students wanted to protest at a particular site because it would be significant for the protest the police had to consent to this because of the conditions under bill 78. For example with bill 78, the law restricts protests or pickets near on the university grounds (Quebec Official Publisher 2012:5). Therefore, it is evident that citizens do have rights but certain laws/bills, such as bill 78, puts limits and restrictions on these rights. It was for this reason that the students had gotten even more aggravated than they were before this piece of legislation made its way to the forefront.

As Neocleous mentions there is a need to deal with the fear of insecurity with security, and this security is to be achieved through pacification. This is the process of reconstructing a new social order where opposition is not just crushed but rather the behaviours of individuals, groups, and classes are reshaped in order to suit the dominant interest(Neocleous 2011: 200-201). The students were challenged time and time again to return to class and cease their behaviour because their behavior was threatening to the pacification process. The solidarity of these organizations and the changes that they wanted to incur allowed the government to believe that this group is in fact a potential risk. These student organizations were even attempting to target a wide range of larger issues such as poverty and economic inequalities. The state of not knowing where this protest could end up allowed the government to believe that they needed to stop it in its tracks before these students have any chance of taking it any further (Clibbon 2012). In order to reconstruct a “new brighter society” the government was to de-construct anything that went against this new social order that was to be created (Neocleous 2011:204).   The state has insisted on itself as the political mechanism for the fabrication of social order (Neocleous 2011:204). However, who would be able to view a society that mainly bases its decisions on political interests as new and brighter? Definitely not the Quebec students because their interests were neglected by the provincial government for many months. The Quebec students had to try and negotiate with the provincial government however their voices were always silenced. The government did try to crush the student’s opposition through their unnecessary coercive force but they also attempted to reshape their behaviour by using their power over the students. They were able to implement bill 78 in order to regulate the student’s behaviour and have them conform to specific conditions.

Many might have believed that this protest was over however in February 2013 Quebec students hit the streets once again because the government has not held up their side of the agreement. They were planning on proposing a 3% increase, which would amount to $70 extra each year. (Coutts 2013) (Click here to view article and video). By attempting to implement these increases once again it is clear that the state does not value a consensus based approach when seeking to resolve this particular issue. The march that was conducted in February 2013 by Quebec students was classified as illegal and by publicizing that the police made arrests because the students were assaulting officers the state and media were only seeking to emphasize the binary that exists between “good” citizen and the “bad” citizen”. We live in a democratic state however with the return of this issue we can see how the government has once again put restraints on the use of our rights. If the government labels such a behaviour as illegal then the public will portray the event as being far worse than what it actually is. It will be interesting to see how things will end this time around? Will the student be victorious for a second time or will the government have no choice but to implement a tuition hike after all? As long as the protest continues the students will be the ones who will be viewed negatively because they are the ones that are allegedly committing “illegal acts”.  If the public is manipulated in believing that their security is being threatened and disrupted once again by the same group even less people will support the Quebec  students’  cause this time around. At this rate the government will just be one step closer in successfully creating their new social order where those who oppose the dominant interests will only be categorized as the “other” that needs to be assimilated back into society in order to be accepted as the “good citizen”. Many articles blamed them for the social disorder and they were shamed with the various representations that they received from the media. The blaming and shaming dualism was used to disenfranchise the Quebec student movement.

Bibliography

Canadian Press.2012. “Emergency bill would see Quebec Student Leaders fined up to $35 k for blocking  classes.” The National Post. Retrieved February 19, 2013.  (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/18/bill-78-quebec/)

CBC News. 2012. ” Striking Quebec Students tattooed with the movement’s red symbol.” CBC: News Montreal. Retrieved Feburary 19, 2013. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/06/15/montreal-student-protests-tattoos.html).

Clibbon, Jennifer, 2012. “How a Student Uprising is Reshaping Quebec.”CBC:News Canada. Retrieved February 18, 2013.( http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/05/29/f-quebec-students-voices.html).

Coutts, Matthew. 2013. “Montreal Students return to streets to protest tuition hike.” Yahoo News: Daily Brew. Retrieved March 14, 2013. (http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/montreal-students-return-streets-protest-tuition-hike-224600669.html).

Dhanmoon, Rita and Yasmeen Abu-Laban.2009. Dangerous (internal) Foreigners and Nation-Building: The Case of Canada.”  International Political Science Review 30: 163-83.

Ericson, Richard, and Aaron Doyle. 2003. “Globalization and the Policing of Protest: The Case of APEC
1997.” British Journal of Sociology 50(4):589-608.

Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John N.Clarke and Brian  Roberts. 1978. “Crime, Law and the State.” Pp. 181-217 in Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order: London:  Macmillan

Kennelly, Jacqueline, 2011. “ Policing Young People as Citizens-in-waiting.” British Journal of  Criminology 51: 336-54.

Kinsman, Gary, Dieter K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman. 2000. “ How the Center Holds-National Security as an Ideological Practice.” Pp. 278-286 in Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies, edited by Gary Kinsman, Dieter K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Neocleous, Mark. 2011. “A Brighter and Nicer New Life: Security as Pacification.” Social and Legal Studies 20(2) : 191-208.

Quebec Official Publisher. 2012. ”  Bill 78-An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the post secondary institutions they attend.” National Assembly: Second session and thirty-ninth legislature. Retrieved March 16, 2013 (http://www2.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/dynamicSearch/telecharge.php?type=5&file=2012C12A.PDF).

Starr, Armory, Luis Fernandez and Christian Scholl.2011. “ What 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.

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