(Photo by Philip Miresco)
Quebec is in the throes of mass protests. A prolonged student strike over tuition hikes triggered a law placing broad restrictions on the freedom to protest, and giving the police the power to arbitrarily declare even "approved" protests to be illegal. Over 500 were arrested in a single Montreal protest, after a prolonged and totally unjustifiable kettling incident. Kate McDonnell of the Montreal City Weblog was on that march, and she's graciously written us a piece on the experience:
Downtown Montreal midday Tuesday, thousands upon thousands of people
poured into Place des Festivals and the surrounding areas to begin a
march. Montrealers march more readily than most Canadians, but this
was a special day – the 100th day of the student strike against the
tuition increase ordained by the Quebec government under Jean Charest.
Charest has been premier of Quebec since 2003. A Conservative at the
federal level, he jumped for the chance when the Quebec Liberal Party
needed a new leader. He has nudged the party steadily rightward ever
since. In recent years his government has been rocked by multiple
charges of corruption and collusion, but it was the party's planned
increase in university tuition fees that sparked the real furor in
Early 2011, Charest announced his intention to end a tuition freeze
with an increase of $325 per year until a university year (two terms)
ends up costing $3,793 in 2017. Sporadic protests were held, but the
demo of February 17, 2012 was the beginning of daily protests, mostly
in the evenings, most peaceful but with occasional outbreaks by
"casseurs" breaking windows, throwing rocks and bottles at police,
painting things red.
Concerns about access to education were foremost: yes, Quebec still
has some of the lowest tuition fees around, but Quebec taxes are very
high, a fact that's tolerated because Quebecers have nearly European
expectations for collective health care, education and other services.
Statistics show that fewer
Quebecers progress to higher education than other Canadians,
probably the legacy of a time when the Catholic Church dominated the
culture (a hegemony that only ended with the Quiet
Revolution of the 1960s). Pundits are in disagreement whether
rising tuition rates will lower university attendance.
The most recent ratcheting of tension was last week's passage of a new
law, Bill 78, the
loi spéciale which limits freedom of assembly, protest, or
picketing on or near university grounds, or anywhere in Quebec without
prior police approval. A more vaguely worded part of the bill would
criminalize the act of encouraging people to demonstrate.
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