QUEEN ARSEM-O’MALLEY & ERIN HUDSON
The McGill Daily (McGill University)
Over 100 people, including a busload of McGill and Concordia students, were arrested last night in the wake of a protest against the Quebec government’s proposed tuition increases.
Around 4,000 protesters travelled to Victoriaville, Quebec yesterday for the start of the Quebec Liberal Party’s general council meeting, while in Quebec City, student leaders negotiated with the government concerning the ongoing unlimited general strike.
The confrontation between police and protestors turned violent, with at least 106 arrests were reported as of Friday night.
The Liberals’ general council was originally to be held in Montreal. However the location was changed to Victoriaville on April 29. Liberal Party communications director Michel Rochette toldThe Gazette that “Victoriaville is a much more open site. We don’t want people impeded at the doors in case there is a demonstration.”
Protestors gathered in Victoriaville late Friday afternoon where Quebec Premier Jean Charest was set to address the council at 7:20 p.m. The provincial police force, Sûreté du Québec (SQ), had secured the perimeter of the hotel by the time busloads of protesters started to arrive at around 4 p.m.
By 6:30 p.m. protesters broke through barriers — police secured the area, and the protest was declared illegal. In the coming hours, violence escalated between police and protesters.
Reports from the scene state that protesters pushed through barriers and threw projectiles at police lines. Rubber bullets, CS gas, and smoke grenades were deployed by the SQ. Ambulances were called to the scene, and at least five protesters were admitted to the hospital. Radio-Canada video footage also shows one police officer being hit by protesters. According to The Montreal Gazette, an SQ spokesperson reported earlier this evening that there were 11 injuries; 7 protesters and 4 police officers.
Around 9 p.m., Concordia campus television station CUTV ended their live broadcast stating that the protestors were dispersing. Busloads of protesters began leaving the city.
Based on reports from Le Délit’s reporter on the ground, a bus carrying McGill and Concordia students was the last to leave. The bus was escorted back to Victoriaville by police, and passengers were placed under arrest.
The passengers allegedly under arrest were unable to be contacted, but included two journalists fromLe Délit and The Link though it has been confirmed that neither journalist will face charges. Students participating in the eleventh nightly demonstration in the streets of Montreal held a solidarity sit-in on Mont Royal and St. Denis for those who were arrested in Victoriaville.
An SQ officer who spoke with The Link confirmed that three buses had been arrested. The passengers were being taken off the buses in pairs, identified and questioned. The officer said that most would be eventually released, but it could be “some hours.” He said that he believed most would be charged, but could not specify what the charges would be. Those charged, he said, would be released and required to appear in court at a later date.
There are unconfirmed reports of at least two buses returning from Victoriaville being stopped and their passengers arrested. A solidarity sit-in for those arrested occurred last night in Montreal.
The strike has lasted for eleven weeks and about 173,508 students, represented by the large temporary coalition of the student association ASSÉ (CLASSE), are currently on strike against tuition hikes set to begin this September.
Meanwhile in Quebec City, representatives from the four major student associations involved in the student strike met with the Minister of Education yesterday at 4 p.m. The student associations present included CLASSE, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Table de concertation étudiante du Québec (TaCEQ).
The government presented an offer to student leaders on April 27 which would raised tuition by $254 for seven years as opposed to the government’s planned hike of $325 over the next five years. CLASSE presented its counter-offer on Thursday morning with FEUQ and FECQ presenting a separate proposal. According to Radio-Canada, last night’s negotiations continued until this morning.
The Liberal’s general council meeting in Victoriaville will continue until tomorrow afternoon with both Premier Jean Charest and Minster of Education Line Beauchamp in scheduled to participate. Beauchamp is set to address the council at noon today.
– with files from Riley Sparks
Photos: Nicolas Quiazua/Le Délit