Montreal Student Protest: Critical Analysis

This article will provide the final analysis of the Montreal Student protest. I will be drawing upon concepts by Hall et al, Rose, and Esmonde to provide this analysis. Hall et al article helps question the common sense approach taking by the state and media during the protest. The concept of transactional perspective provides understanding on why a protest is deemed to be a ‘problem’. Lastly, Hall et al provides insight into the coercion and consent powers of the state. Rose’s article provide an understanding of the downloading of security onto the individual, and how it applied to this protest. Finally, Esmonde’s analysis about breach of peace powers provide an excellent comparison with bill 78, and the similarities between the two legislations. The unjustified criminalizing of the Montreal students will be the major focus of this analysis.

I will be beginning with Hall et al article “Crime, Law and the State” to analyze the Montreal Student protest. Hall et al argues that “it is important to reject the common sense view that, when all is said and done, [dissenters protested], the police picked them up, and the courts put them away” (1978:186). In other words, this common sense approach does not help us to understand protests because they make assumptions that the state is simply responded to dissent. Hall et al argues that the state is an active contributor in categorizing this dissent as criminal through its response to it (Hall et al 1978:185). Another common sense approach that is taken relates to education. We as a society feel that higher education needs to be paid for through tuitions. Anyone who opposes this belief is labelled as having ‘no common sense’. The relationship between higher education and tuition is so tightly connected that this connection is not ever questioned.

These protests have their “own rationale and historical ‘logic’” (Hall et al 1978:185) and to overlook these rationales does not allow us to understand these protest fully. These protest have taken place because they are apart of a larger social context or structure, and “to blame the actions of individuals within a given… structure, without taking that structure itself into account, is an easy and familiar way of exercising the moral conscience without bearing any of its cost” (Hall et al 1978:185). The state mitigated these cost by overlooking the larger structure that students are living in. Tuition has increase 4 fold since 1990; student debt has never been greater. After graduation students are still unable to find jobs within their field or that offer a decent salary.

Transactional perspective is used to construct the relationship between law and law-breakers (Hall et al 1978:185). The state only reacted to the demands of the students after students began to publicly protest. Although, students wanted to discuss the proposed increase months before public protest began (CBC News 2012). After protest began the state ‘labeled’ protestors as law-breakers. “For acts to be ‘deviant’ they must be recognised, labeled and responded to as ‘crimes’” (Hall et al 1978:185). With the limit of existing laws to label protestors as law-breakers, the state introduced Bill 78, which I will discuss in detail below.

Criminalization by the state uses two influences. “The state involved the exercise of … coercion (domination) and consent (direction)” (Hall et al 1978:203). The criminalization of protestors using coercion involves the use of arrests, police, teargas, and pepper spray. It also includes judiciary coercion, for example, fines, court orders, or imprisonment. Judicial coercion is evident in the student protests as Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the leader of CLASSE, faced contempt of court charges. Another example of judicial coercion is Bill 78, which again I will discuss below, but it is important to mention here as judicial coercion.

The other influence is consent. Consent works by creating a consensus about what is criminal and what is not. This shared consensus saw student protestors as criminal. This consensus was influenced by larger socially held beliefs, which are reinforced by the state, bias reporting by media outlets, and the judicial coercion used by the courts.

The state uses two methods of creating consensus. They insisting that they have always wanted to negotiate with students to reach an agreement, but fail to mention that students requested meeting months before protests broke out. They also excused their behaviour by mentioning the debt that the state had incurred and the need to prioritize spending or raise taxes.

The judgments passed by courts also had an influence on creating a consensus. These judgements include the injunctures imposed on protesting students, the contempt charges faced by Nadeau-Dubois, and the use of Bill 78 to control protest. Theses judgments help observer to conclude who was right and wrong before the law, without considering that even the courts are influenced by biases, prejudices, and stereotypes. Moreover, the consensus that is created helps to legitimize the violence that is used against protestors. It also assists with the Othering process by creating an included and excluded group. In this case, the students were deemed to be the excluded group as the government was created as the included group. Othering also creates productive powers for the including group. These powers include the ability to control the optics of their actions in order to favour their position. While, repressing the excluded group by undermining their ability to control the optics and delegitimizes their rationale for protesting (Rose 2000: 326).

I will be using Rose’s article “Government and Control”, specifically his concept of individualization of security, to provide insight into the Montreal Student protests. Rose argues that shifts in society demand that “each person… be obliged to be prudent, responsible for their own destinies, actively calulating about their own futures and providing their own security” (Rose 2000:324). In other words, he argues that security or securing a future for oneself is being downgraded to the individual. If we apply this concept to the Montreal Student protest, education, which can be considered “actively calulating about [one’s] own future” (Rose 2000:324), and the cost associated with it, is being downgraded onto the individual. By downgrading this cost, more pressure is placed on students to secure their future. Taking into account the larger social structure for students mentioned above, it is understandable why students are anxious about securing a future for themselves and also why they are protesting. This downgrading of costs is a pillar of the liberalism ideology that most Canadians support. This support is evident when reading comments posted under new articles about the protest. As most these comments mention that students are spoiled and do not understand the value of money. These comments overlooking the larger social context that students are living in. This includes graduation school with the highest student debt ever in Canadian history. Limited job opportunities in their field of study, and salaries that are not suitable to live a decent lifestyle.

Finally, I will be analyzing Bill 78 using Esmonde’s article “The Policing of Dissent: The Use of Breach of Peace Arrests at Political Demonstrations”. Bill 78 has many similarities to the breach of peace laws. Bill 78 requires that protestors submit route plans and timings for protest 8 hours in advance, otherwise the protest is deemed illegal. Esmonde argues, “One of the most troubling aspects of the breach of peace powers is its potential application to persons engaged in wholly lawful conduct” (2002:253). This is also the case for bill 78. Protests that are peaceful can be deemed illegal using bill 78, even if protestors are not engaged in any unlawful activities. Bill 78 effectively pushes protestors into the realm of criminalization without protestors ever committing an illegal act. Esmonde goes on: the “police have broad discretion to decide when a demonstration has crossed the boundary between lawful and unlawful” (2002:274). The same comparison can be made with bill 78; it provides the police with broad discretion to determine when a protest is illegal. The breach of peace powers, and in the context of the student protest, Bill 78, allow police to legitimize their arrests. The police control the optics of their arrests and consequently delegitimizing the protestor’s reason for protesting.

In conclusion, it is evident that Montreal students have unfairly been criminalized by the state. The articles by Hall et al, Rose, and Esmonde help to conceptualize this unfair treatment, and provide an understanding of how it takes place. It is obvious that the mechanisms mentioned above, to criminalize dissent, will continue to be used against those who oppose the state. It has become our responsibility, as citizens, to educate ourselves about these mechanisms, and to hold those who use them against us accountable.


CBC News. 2012. “Montreal students protest tuition hikes”. CBC News. Retrieved October 14, 2012 (

Esmonde, Jackie. 2002. “The Policing of Dissent: The Use of Breach of Peace Arrests at Political Demonstrations.” Journal of Law and Equality 1(2):246-278.

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.

Rose, Nikolas. 2000. “Government and Control.” British Journal of Criminology 40:321-39



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