Quebec students mark 100 days of tuition protests

AP News
Posted: May 22, 2012 11:21 PM
Quebec students mark 100 days of tuition protests

Tens of thousands of students marched through the streets of Montreal on Tuesday to mark 100 days since the movement against higher tuition fees began. The protest comes after Quebec's provincial government passed emergency legislation intended to end Canada's most sustained student demonstrations ever.

Protesters carrying red banners and signs, the color of the demonstrations, walked in unison chanting "Our streets!" The protest during the day was peaceful, but at a smaller demonstration at night some protesters, many wearing masks, set off fireworks and threw beer bottles at police. Riot police responded with pepper spray and arrested at least 11 protesters. Police declared the night protest illegal after no one provided an itinerary.

Since the law was passed Friday, nightly protests have often turned violent, resulting in some 300 arrests Sunday alone. The new law requires that a detailed agenda be provided for protests of more than 50 people.

Student groups have vowed to challenge the legislation in court. Rights groups say the new law limits protesters' ability to express themselves democratically.

 On the eve of Tuesday's protest, the most militant of three major student groups said it would defy the new law and call for protests and strikes to continue throughout the summer, a busy period of outdoor festivals in Montreal which draws in millions of dollars in tourist revenue.

"Thousands of people have come to demonstrate with us, not only against the rise in tuition rates but with the intention to signal their disapproval of the special law," student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said. "The gesture made by tens of thousands is one of massive and collective civil disobedience."

At a news conference, Quebec Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil read from a list of cities with equally tough rules for organizing protests.

Dutil listed Geneva, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and Spain as jurisdictions that require far more than eight hours' notice _ up to 40 days, in the case of Los Angeles _ in order to hold a protest.

"Other societies with rights and freedoms to protect have found it reasonable to impose certain constraints, first of all to protect protesters, and also to protect police," Dutil said.

There were small demonstrations in support of the Quebec students in New York and Paris on Tuesday.

Since the protests started in February, unions, separatists and anarchists have joined the movement, as well as some celebrities.

Montreal indie rockers Arcade Fire wore the movement's iconic red squares during an appearance with Mick Jagger on the TV show "Saturday Night Live." Activist and filmmaker Michael Moore also gave his support to the students, sending tweets in French and English.  

Quebec Premier Jean Charest has refused to roll back the tuition hikes of C$254 (US$249) per year over seven years. Quebec has the lowest tuition rates in Canada, and they would remain among the country's lowest after the increases.

The conflict has caused considerable social upheaval in the French-speaking province known for having more contentious protests than elsewhere in Canada.

Retiree Claude Gravel, 61, said she was against the law seeking to calm down tensions after 100 days of protests.

"I'm all for a few months of peace and quiet, but not at this price," she said.

She said the tuition hikes would make educating her college student son hard on the family's limited finances.