A protester shouts slogans during a march against student tuition fee hikes in downtown Montreal, August 22, 2012. Reuters/Olivier Jean
Tens of thousands of students and their supporters flooded the streets of downtown Montreal Wednesday to protest university tuition fee hikes (the Liberal Party plans to drastically increase tuition fees to $1,794 over a seven-year period, a hike of 82 percent). The action follows a vote last week in which six junior colleges, called CEGEPs in Quebec, voted in favor of ending the strike and returning to class.
The demonstration was called by the student group CLASSE and the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics (Coalition against the tariffication and privatization of public services), a coalition of trade unions, and student and community groups.
Wednesday's protests mark the sixth consecutive mass protest organized by CLASSE on the twenty-second day of the month.
The tradition of demonstrating on the 22nd began last March when striking students mounted one of the largest demonstrations in Quebec history and sunk roots on May 22, when more than 250,000 people took to the streets to denounce Bill 78—a draconian law, adopted just five days earlier, that criminalized the student strike and placed sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate over any issue anywhere in Quebec.
At the time of the strike vote, some students declared that the protests would not end, especially given that some university faculties remained on strike after voting in favor of continuing demonstrations, and while this week's protest was certainly smaller than the hundreds of thousands seen in the streets last spring, organizers say this was the largest planned demonstration seen during an electoral campaign and it signals the revitalization of the movement.
“We already have far more than seen in the summer protests held on the 22nd of each month which drew about 10,000 people,” Jeremie Bedard-Wien, spokesman for CLASSE, the largest and most militant of the student groups, said, according to the paper. “The mobilization is starting up again.”
“The strike is continuing in many faculties and many departments and universities and it will continue afterwards,” said Bedard-Wien to the Montreal Gazette. “What we've put forward for students is this idea of popular mobilization.”
“The people will vote to elect a new government and that new government will feel pressure from the students,” CEGEP college philosophy professor Martin Godon told AFP.
The presidents of two student unions, the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) and the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ), Eliane Laberge and Martine Desjardins, condemned the Charest administration's plans.
“On September 4, citizens will remember how the Liberal Party has addressed the youth and people of Quebec,” said Laberge, while Desjardins reiterated her call against voting for parties failing to support students.
“I think the strike is over but not necessarily the protests against the tuition hikes. The next government that tries to hike tuitions will think twice, so that’s already a victory,” University de Montreal Sociology student Samuel Blouin, 21, said to CTV News.