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Strikes, protests and petitions: Quebec students ramp up pressure to oppose tuition fee hikes

By in News

CUP Quebec Bureau Chief

Students and other protesters blocked access to the Montreal Stock Exchange Feb. 16.

MONTREAL (CUP) — Quebec students stepped up the fight against tuition hikes this week, with tactics ranging from vandalizing a CEGEP, declaring unlimited strikes, blocking the Montreal Stock Exchange and preparing a petition for the National Assembly. More protests are scheduled for the upcoming weeks, say student representatives.

Tuition hikes are destined to begin in fall 2012, with a total increase of $1,625 over five years.

Province-wide petition

Critics of the tuition hikes can now head online to sign a province-wide petition to oppose them.

MNA Jean-Martin Aussant filed a petition Feb. 17 at the National Assembly to call on the government to back down from the tuition hikes. As of Friday afternoon, over 4,100 signatories had added their names.

The Table de concertation étudiante du Québec (TaCEQ), a student lobby group that is not recognized by the province, asked Aussant, MNA for Nicolet-Yamaska, to support the petition during one of his cross-province tours.

“Opening a dialogue with the government would be a good first step,” said TaCEQ secretary-general Simon Gosselin. “We’ve seen in the past that when there’s a lot of pressure from students, the government was obligated to negotiate with students.”

The petition asks that the government reconsider the hikes, considering that tuition has been increasing annually since 2007.

TaCEQ, founded in 2009, represents 65,000 students at three different schools — one school shy of being recogznized as an official student group by the province — including McGill University undergraduates, graduate students at Université de Sherbrooke and students of all levels at Université de Laval.

Four were arrested at Thursday's protest.
Aussant, a former Parti Québécois member who split from the party in June 2011, now serves as the sole representative of the party he founded, Option nationale. He said he supports free education, from kindergarten to PhD.

“There are plenty of countries in the world doing this,” said Aussant, pointing to Norway, Finland and Germany. “It wouldn’t be a Quebec revolution.”

Aussant disagrees with the provincial government that students must consider their education an investment in their future.

“It’s an investment in society, not an expense,” said Aussant in a phone interview on Feb. 16. “You simply need the political courage and an economic vision beyond the annual budget.”

The petition will be available online until May 16. If there are enough signatures, the issue can be brought up for debate in the National Assembly.

Sheraton Hotel

About 100 people protested outside the Sheraton Hotel midday on Feb. 17, during a lunch where Education Minister Line Beauchamp spoke at a Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal talk about school dropout rates. Students were joined by locked-out Rio Tinto Alcan workers, who travelled from Alma, Que. They believed the company’s CEO was attending the lunch.

Cegep du Vieux-Montreal

Thirty-seven people were arrested on the morning of Feb. 17 when a group broke into and vandalized the CEGEP du Vieux-Montreal.

Police spokesperson Anie Lemieux said that police were alerted to the students’ actions at 8 p.m. on Feb. 16, and that by 6 a.m. the next day, the protest was over.

The arrested, eight of whom are minors, may be charged with armed aggression towards police officers, mischief and assault. Lemieux said that some protesters were throwing fire extinguishers and bottles at police officers.

On Friday, the individuals arrested were still in custody as police continued an investigation.

Montreal Stock Exchange

Thursday's protest drew hundreds.
The CEGEP protest followed a major anti-government protest at Victoria Square that had happened just hours earlier on Feb. 16.

Police estimated that about two hundred protesters blocked the entry to the Montreal Stock Exchange and the nearby Delta Hotel. The site is near Square-Victoria park, where Montreal’s Occupy movement camp took hold for several weeks last fall.

Students joined the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics in protesting increases to government user fees. Police cleared the crowd using pepper spray, and four were arrested in the melee. Police could not say whether the arrested were students. They were likely given a ticket for not collaborating with police, said Lemieux.

Unlimited strikes begin

On Feb. 13 and 14, 11,000 students at several unions at the Université de Québec à Montréal and Université de Laval voted to go on unlimited strike. Several hundred led a march from UQAM to Place-des-Arts metro station to McGill’s campus through downtown Montreal to show continued dissatisfaction with the province’s decision to not back down on tuition increases.

The Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, also known as CLASSE, is a newly-formed group formed out of lobby group ASSÉ. They have promised weekly protests.

“Starting now, we’ll be in action every week in order to put more pressure on the liberal government,” said spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in a press release.

On Feb. 12, protesters came out to picket outside a community centre in the north of Montreal, where Beauchamp helped announce new anti-bullying measures with Premier Jean Charest. Inside, Beauchamp declined to comment on anything unrelated to bullying.

Photos: Navneet Pall/The Concordian

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