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‘Biggest Act of Civil Disobedience in Canadian History’ May 23, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Education, Quebec.
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Published on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 by Common Dreams

Marchers defy Bill 78; Neighborhoods fill with sound of banging pots and pans

- Common Dreams staff

“The single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.”

That’s how yesterday’s Montreal protest is being described today. Hundreds of thousands red-shirted demonstrators defied Quebec’s new “anti-protest” law and marched through the streets of downtown Montreal filling the city with “rivers of red.”

Tuesday marked the 100th day of the growing student protests against austerity measures and tuition increases. In response to the spreading protests, the conservative Charest government passed a new “emergency” law last Friday – Bill 78.

Since Bill 78 passed, people in Montreal neighborhoods have appeared on their balconies and in front of their houses to defiantly bang pots and pans in a clanging protest every night at 8 p.m.Bill 78 mandates:

  • Fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution or who participate in an illegal demonstration.
  • Penalties climb to between $7,000 and $35,000 for protest leaders and to between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations.
  • All fines DOUBLE for repeat offenders
  • Public demonstrations involving more than 50 people have to be flagged to authorities eight hours in advance, include itinerary, duration and time at which they are being held. The police may alter any of these elements and non-compliance would render the protest illegal.
  • Offering encouragement for someone to protest at a school, either tacitly or otherwise, is subject to punishment. The Minister of Education has said that this would include things like ‘tweeting’, ‘facebooking’, and has she has implied that wearing the student protest insignia (a red flag-pin) could also be subject to punishment.
  • No demonstration can be held within 50 meters of any school campus

Bill 78 not only “enraged civil libertarians and legal experts but also seems to have galvanized ordinary Quebecers.” Since the law passed Friday, people in Montreal neighborhoods have appeared on their balconies and in front of their houses to defiantly bang pots and pans in a clanging protest every night at 8 p.m.

* * *

* * *

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) reports:

CLASSE spearheaded Tuesday’s march, aided by Quebec’s largest labor federations. The province’s two other main student groups, FEUQ and FECQ, also rallied their supporters.

CLASSE said Monday it would direct members to defy Bill 78, Quebec’s emergency legislation.

The special law was adopted last Friday, suspending the winter semester and imposing strict limits on student protests. Organizers have to submit their itinerary to authorities in advance, or face heavy fines.

CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the special legislation goes beyond students and their tuition-hike conflict.

“We want to make the point that there are tens of thousands of citizens who are against this law who think that protesting without asking for a permit is a fundamental right,” he said, walking side by side with other protesters behind a large purple banner.

“If the government wants to apply its law, it will have a lot of work to do. That is part of the objective of the protest today, to underline the fact that this law is absurd and inapplicable.”

* * *

The Montreal Gazette reports:

A protest organizers described as the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history choked the streets of downtown Montreal in the middle of Tuesday’s afternoon rush hour as tens of thousands of demonstrators expressed outrage over a provincial law aimed at containing the very sort of march they staged.

Ostensibly Tuesday’s march was to commemorate the 100th day of a strike by Quebec college and university students over the issue of tuition increases. But a decision last Friday by the Charest government to pass Bill 78 – emergency legislation requiring protest organizers to provide police with an itinerary of their march eight hours in advance – not only enraged civil libertarians and legal experts but also seems to have galvanized ordinary Quebecers into marching through the streets of a city that has seen protests staged here nightly for the past seven weeks.

“I didn’t really have a stand when it came to the tuition hikes,” said Montrealer Gilles Marcotte, a 32-year-old office worker who used a vacation day to attend the event. “But when I saw what the law does, not just to students but to everybody, I felt I had to do something. This is all going too far.”

Tuesday’s march was billed as being two demonstrations taking place at the same time. One, organized by the federations representing Quebec college and university students and attended by contingents from the province’s labor movement, abided by the provisions of the law and provided a route. The other, overseen by CLASSE, an umbrella group of students associations, deliberately did not.

By 3: 30 p.m., a little more than 90 minutes after the marches began to snake their way through downtown, CLASSE, which estimated the crowd at 250,000, described the march as “the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.”

Other crowd estimates varied between 75,000 and 150,000 protesters. Montreal police do not give official crowd estimates but the Place des festivals, which demonstrators easily filled before the march began, holds roughly 100,000 people.

* * *

Sea of red as hundreds of thousands protest Quebec’s austerity cuts and new anti-protest law, May 22, 2012. (Photo by @philmphoto on instagram)

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The Canadian Press reports:

[...] Shortly before the evening demonstration commenced, supporters in central Montreal districts came out onto their balconies and in front of their homes to bang pots and pans in a seeming call-to-arms.

As well, the powerful Montreal transit union also gave protesters a boost when it called on its members to avoid driving police squads around on city buses during the crowd control operations. Montreal police have for several years used city buses as well as their cruisers to shuttle riot squad officers around to demonstration hotspots and as places to detain prisoners. [...]

The daytime march was considered to be one of the biggest protests held in the city and related events were held in New York, Paris, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. [...]

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesman for the hardline CLASSE group, described Tuesday’s march as a historic act of civil disobedience and said he was ready to face any legal consequences.

“So personally I will be ready

Massive Student Protest Fills Streets of Montreal after Proposed ‘Emergency’ Law May 17, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Education, Quebec.
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Published on Thursday, May 17, 2012 by Common Dreams

Thousands of students react after Quebec tries to make their strike illegal
- Common Dreams staff

Thousands of student protesters flooded the streets in Montreal last night after Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced a proposal for a new ‘emergency law’ in a bid to end the ongoing 14 week old student uprising and strike.

Students protest in the downtown streets of Montreal against tuition hikes on May 17, 2012 (Photo: Rogerio Barbosa/AFP/GettyImages)

 The proposed legislation would halt the spring semester, push up the summer holidays, and restart classes in August. The move would maneuver around the current student strike and walkouts, moving classes to later in the year, in an effort to ‘restore calm’.

The government also hinted at severe penalties for anyone who tries to picket or prevent students from entering classrooms; further details about the extent of the law and its penalties will be released today.

The demonstrations on Wednesday night followed this announcement, as several thousand students met with police, who have started cracking down on the protests across Quebec. Up to 122 students were arrested, as “the acrid scent of police crowd-control chemicals billowed in the cool nocturnal air,” National Post/CA reports. “This on a night when Charest shared plans to clean things up.”

* * *

CBC News: Montreal student protest ends with 122 arrests

 

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National Post/CA: 122 Quebec protesters arrested in raucous night before proposed student-strike breaking legislation

The unrest on Wednesday night followed the Quebec government’s announcement it would suspend the current academic session for striking students in an effort to calm things down.

It also hinted at more punitive measures, without sharing details. [...]

In that charged atmosphere, thousands of chanting students spilled into the streets of Montreal, marching straight to the city’s main commercial district. Their demonstration was peaceful until some rocks apparently thrown at police resulted in riot squad charges to clear Ste-Catherine Street. [...]

Authorities reported 122 arrests, three injured police officers and also some injured protesters.

Charest’s legislation would temporarily halt the spring semester for the minority of faculties paralyzed by the walkouts; push up the summer holidays; and reconvene students in August so they can complete their session before starting the fall one in October.

The government also hinted at severe penalties for anyone who tries to picket or otherwise prevent students from entering classrooms.

Charest did not answer when asked about reports of stiff fines. He simply said those details would be revealed when the legislation is tabled — perhaps as early as Thursday.

He did make it clear the legislation will target the crowds of protesters who have blocked access to schools and even stormed into classrooms in an attempt to enforce what they call a legal strike.

* * *

Associated Press: Emergency law considered in Quebec student protest

Quebec was set to consider emergency legislation Thursday aimed at calming weeks of student protests over rising tuition costs, after thousands took to the streets once again and more than 100 were arrested.

Authorities said 122 were arrested late Wednesday as thousands of demonstrators spilled into the streets of Montreal, with some smashing bank windows and hurling objects at police.

Legislation could be introduced as early as Thursday amid student strikes. Dozens of protesters on Wednesday stormed into one Montreal university for the first time, breaking up classes.

Premier Jean Charest said he would table emergency legislation aimed at ending the disorder, while sticking to the planned tuition hikes.

In appreciation of the Quebec student strike May 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Education, Quebec.
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By Anne Lagacé-Dowson, www.rabble.ca

| May 8, 2012

Photo: radicalmontreal.com

Like sap rising in spring, the printemps érable showcases the talents and humour of Quebec students. Here are some examples:

Red-clad students board subway cars during the morning rush hour on the orange line of the metro. One per car, they stand silently looking straight ahead. When the car stops they get out, position themselves at equal intervals along the platform so that when the metro pulls out of the station passengers see a blur of red.

Red, the colour of radical movements, has been taken over by the students, who wear red knitted or crocheted squares, or squares of red felt, attached with a safety pin. Or just a plain old square of red duct tape.

Music students perform a professional calibre “Sacre du printemps” by Igor Stravinsky to cheer the protesters, a piece that sent the Paris establishment into paroxysms of rage when it was first played in the spring of 1913.

Students build red cubes, using them as part of a piece of street theatre at the Earth Day demonstration, the biggest demonstration in the history of Canada and Quebec.

Videos, installation art, signs brandished by philosophy students in Latin and Greek. Fine arts students make picket signs with wonderfully detailed portraits of Quebec politicians.

Poems, songs, videos and music clips. If the purpose of an education is to learn how to think creatively, then the education system is working.

For 40 years, older people have lamented self-absorbed, apolitical youth. Now that so many have taken their ideas to the streets, many of those same observers are outraged, calling them spoiled, pointing to their iPads and Starbucks coffees as evidence.

The unemployment rate for young people is at 14 percent and most of them end up burdened with huge debt when they graduate. Many students work while studying — 20 or more hours per week. They may have a Starbucks coffee from time to time. So what?

Supporters of the Occupy movement in New York speak admiringly of the Quebec student mobilization.

The Occupied Wall Street Journal, the newspaper of the movement, writes: “A deep democratic movement, something most of us have never seen and scarcely imagined, turned a small park near Wall Street into the centre of a global storm. Everybody knows the deck is stacked. But it turns out not everyone is willing to put up with it.”

Beautifully written, and who would have thought that the Quebec branch of this worldwide mobilization, with 300,000 people in the streets, would have become the most stupendous of all? Quebecers in the streets are united, with the world marching. Everyone knows something is profoundly wrong — with the economy, with the environment, with the political system, corrupted with cash.

André Pratte, chief editorialist of La Presse, who is in favour of the tuition fee increase, compares the upheaval to May 1968. Students around the world protested against the war in Vietnam and demanded a voice in their education. In 1970, four students were shot down and killed at Kent State University in Ohio. You have probably heard the song by Canadian Neil Young that starts with the line, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming…”

When it was all over, students had a say in the running of educational institutions.

Quebec’s student strike perplexes, annoys, thrills. Montreal writer Elise Moser says she supports it for three reasons:

a) The more accessible education is, the fairer, more stable and richer a society is, because we can develop the resources of all our people, not just the thin layer of entitled wealthy who can pay for education. That seems obvious, doesn’t it?

b) The strike is not just against a tuition hike, it’s for a much broader vision of an equitable society.

c) The investment in an undergrad degree produces much higher economic returns to the state than an equal amount in subsidies to industry.

On March 22, at least 100,000 people protested peacefully in the streets of Montreal against the tuition fee hike. That was the first sign that something really big was underway. In another song of the 60s, Bob Dylan sang, “Something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?”

The tuition fee hike amounts to a 75 per cent increase over five years – $325 per year for five years. About $325-million in all. The cost of the fiasco of a new building constructed by the Université du Québec à Montréal called L’Îlot Voyageur: $500-million. So why the insistence on the fee hike?

Ideology. An election promise. The need to be seen to be fiscally responsible.

After the World Trade Center attacks, social activism declined. The gap between the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent grew. Now over ten years later a new generation of activists is looking around and saying, ‘Wait a minute, this system is not so great. The neo-liberal model led to a worldwide financial crisis that brought the world economy almost to its knees. Just what is so great about the status quo?’

It has always been easier to stand back, cross your arms and do nothing. To go along with things as they are. But the reason we have public education, votes for women, public healthcare, libraries and paved roads is because people who didn’t just go along with the status quo built systems that defended the interests of the people.

They were called names too — “communists,” “anarchists,” “agitators.”

I was struck by an interview I saw with a government minister who said she doesn’t like demonstrations. No one likes demonstrations, Minister. It’s just that sometimes demonstrations are the only tool people have to make themselves heard.

Let the last word go to filmmaker Hugo Latulippe, excerpted from the poem he wrote called Nous sommes des millions, published in Voir:

“Puis, raillé nos enfants insurgés.
Minimisé l’envergure du geste, la largeur des idées.
Minimisé les milliers d’entre eux dans la rue.
Grave erreur.”
[...]
“Nous sommes arrivés à ce qui commence.
Le feu a pris pour de bon.
Nous sommes des millions.”

Anne Lagacé-Dowson is director general of the anti-bullying Tolerance Foundation. She is an award winning broadcast journalist and political analyst.

This article was originally published in The Hour and is reprinted here with permission.

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