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Montreal streets turn chaotic as protesters clash with police May 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Democracy, Education, Quebec.
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Published On Mon May 21 2012

www.thestar.com

Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal, Sunday night. The protest led to clashes with police and more than 300 arrests.Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal, Sunday night. The protest led to clashes with police and more than 300 arrests.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Benjamin ShinglerThe Canadian Press
 
MONTREAL—Quebec’s student protests took a dark, angry turn over the weekend following the introduction of an emergency law aimed at restoring order in the province, while the movement gained a number of high-profile supporters on the international stage.

For the second night in a row, police clashed with protesters repeatedly into the late hours Sunday in a chaotic scene that left at least 300 arrested and 20 injured, including 11 police officers. At least one person was taken to hospital with what emergency services called “non-life threatening injuries.”

Windows were smashed, construction cones and signs tossed into the streets, and there were reports a fire hydrant was burst open at the same spot where a bonfire was lit a night earlier.

Riot police used tear gas and sound grenades to try to break up the protest, which was deemed illegal moments after it began for not complying with the new law. The result was a series of violent exchanges between small groups of protesters and police in pockets throughout the downtown core.

One video circulated online captured what appeared to be a police cruiser moving forward briefly with a protester on the hood, before the protester jumped off to the side and the cruiser sped away. Police later denied a rumour that a person had been run over.

Two journalists from local newspapers also reported being arrested and later released.

The legislation passed Friday was intended to put an end to three months of student protests, but it appears only to have given the movement momentum.

“I think the government put the police in a difficult situation,” said protester Nino Gabrielli, who got his Master’s last fall at a Montreal university. “I think the population is mobilizing around this thing.”

As the scenes of unrest played out in the city the movement also gained some celebrity support.

Montreal’s Arcade Fire wore the movement’s iconic red squares during an appearance with Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live. Activist and filmmaker Michael Moore also gave his support to the students, featuring links about the issue prominently on his website.

“Their uprising is inspiring,” he tweeted to over a million followers. “One of the most amazing mass protests of the year.”

The global hacker collective Anonymous took an interest as well, releasing two videos denouncing the legislation and the planned tuition increases. The group, which regularly hacks into government websites around the world, warned of future actions in Quebec.

“Resistance is futile,” a computer-modulated voice stated in one video. “The hour of war has come.”

The website for the Quebec Liberal party and the province’s Education Ministry were down for portions of the weekend in an apparent cyber attack. Anonymous, however, did not claim responsibility.

The newfound support came during a weekend marked by violence and vandalism. The unrest reached a climax with a blaze of plastic traffic cones and construction materials lit Saturday during a melee on a busy downtown street.

Meanwhile, police came under criticism on Sunday over an altercation caught on video that shows patrons on a bar patio getting pepper sprayed.

Surveillance footage, played in a loop on one of Quebec’s all-news stations, shows several people sprayed by riot police at close range. Customers are seen scrambling to get inside the bar as a police officer knocks over tables and chairs.

Another video from a local TV station shows the officers took action after one was hit by a flying chair. The chair was then flung back toward the patio. The bar owner said police went too far and he’s considering taking legal action.

“People were falling on each other running inside to get away from the pepper spray, breaking things, and then people left by the back exit,” said Martin Guimond, who runs the Saint Bock brasserie in the city’s lively Latin Quarter. His waitress was initially going to call 911 after it happened.

“And then she said, ‘But wait, it’s the police that are doing this,’” Guimond recalled. “That’s when you realize there’s a total loss of security.”

Police didn’t return a request Sunday for comment about the incident, which occurred only steps from where the fires were set.

Police were newly armed on the weekend with Bill 78, which lays out regulations governing demonstrations of over 50 people. It includes requiring organizers to give eight hours’ notice for details such as the protest route, the duration and the time at which they’re being held.

The City of Montreal also adopted a new bylaw that threatens protesters who wear masks with heavy fines. But it failed to deter dozens of protesters from wearing masks Saturday or Sunday night, and police said they would use the new law with discretion.

Montreal police took a tougher stance on the weekend than previously seen during the nightly marches. The march was almost immediately declared illegal on both Saturday and Sunday because, police said, they weren’t provided with a protest route and bottles and rocks were thrown at police.

Quebec Students Ignite the Popular Imagination May 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Education, Quebec.
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By Stefan Christoff, rabble.ca | Report

Thursday, 03 May 2012 09:32

(Photo: Robin Dumont / Flickr)

Vibrant nightly protests over the past week in downtown Montréal, in solidarity with the Quebec student strike, are sparking global attention. As the Quebec-wide strike continues – it has now been going for over 11 weeks – a new energy is apparent in the city.

All across the city spotting the symbolic red square patches is easy; on any city bus or métro car patches are proudly pinned on jackets or backpacks.

Despite repeated incidents of police brutality, strikingly hostile mainstream media coverage and a sustained refusal by the Quebec Liberal government to negotiate in good faith, popular support and energy toward the strike is growing. Beyond surveys, or poll numbers, the Quebec student strike is historic in nature, a sustained mass protest movement creating political space to debate not only rising tuition fees but also fundamental questions of social justice.

A clear shift is occurring on the streets, as protests are now expanding to highlight environmental justice and the growing economic inequities in Quebec at a time of austerity-driven economics.

Today in Quebec the earning gap between the wealthy and the rest sits at a 30-year high, according to a recent study by Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economiques. Economic injustice in Quebec is increasingly a focus of student protests and the upcoming May Day protests will illuminate points of unity between striking students and larger social movements on the streets.

Last week Aveos airline maintenance workers in Montréal, fired last month without due process, joined with striking students in a morning protest outside a shareholders meeting of Air Canada in downtown Montreal. On the streets, la Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), a major union federation in Québec with a history of strong links to grassroots activism, has consistently joined striking students on the street.

In Québec the student strike is igniting the popular imagination.

Recent night protests have been starting at Émilie-Gamelin square, close to Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), taking to the streets for hours on end, as many join the protests spontaneously as the protest weaves throughout downtown Montreal districts. As the night protest moves the size grows, tens of thousands marching in the cool spring air, waving red flags in the rain. The student strike is crossing many political barriers at a rapid speed and turning into a social movement.

Despite the growing protests, the movement does face incredible challenges, beyond just the usual cynical commentators across the mainstream media in Quebec and Canada.

Police repression has at times been extreme, with hundreds of students arrested and disturbing physical violence by police toward the protest movement. On the streets police often launch flash bang grenades. To take just one example, last week in Montreal one of these grenades exploded over a night demonstration, unleashing toxic CS gas on the protest.

Montreal police use the flash bang weapon, made by Defense Technologies, a subsidiary of the world’s second largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, despite the obvious danger to student protesters. Striking student Francis Grenier suffered a serious eye injury in early March due to an explosion close to the eye while playing harmonica and is still recovering.

Unity within the student movement is another major challenge, the more institutional Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) are consistently facing divide and conquer offers by the Québec government pushing to exclude the protest-driven Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) from any negotiations. Despite a history of division in previous student mobilizations, the major student unions today are remaining strongly united in this mobilization to halt tuition hikes in Quebec.

Calls for a broader social strike, an effort to transfer the energy of student protests into larger struggles for social justice is strongly backed by CLASSE, a network of student unions that supports direct action and openly rejects the capitalist economic system.

Over recent years CLASSE has actively supported anti-poverty struggles in Quebec and international solidarity campaigns like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in solidarity with Palestine.

Protests will continue in Quebec over the next days, from May Day to the upcoming Liberal Party general council meeting, scheduled to take place later this week. The Liberals have in fact announced they are moving their meeting from Montreal to Victoriaville, due to fears of mass protest.

As the momentum of the Quebec student strike continues to grow, with nearly 180 000 students remaining on strike, many open questions ring out beyond Québec.

Can the Quebec student movement, clearly a collective struggle against austerity-driven economics, spark or inspire broader mass struggles for social justice in Canada?

Stefan Christoff

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer, musician and community activist who contributes to rabble.ca. You can find Stefan at http://www.twitter.com/spirodon/

 
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