Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Montreal student & community protests gain wide support as Quebec approaches significant change

Among Protesters in Montreal, Visions of BC Unrest
Bill Tieleman in protest march on Mount Royal Avenue in Montreal,
Saturday June 2, 2012
Bakers come out of boulangerie kitchen to join in the protest!
Xavier Ovando wears toilet plungers as ear muffs to dampen
the noise of pots and pans noise!
Residents living above a restaurant show support.

Even nuns come out to support the protest.
All photos by Bill Tieleman
Columnist Bill Tieleman dives into Quebec's pot banging "casserole" student and community revolt and files this dispatch.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday June 5, 2012

By Bill Tieleman

 "This isn't a student strike, it's a society waking up."
- Banner at Montreal protest June 2, 2012
MONTREAL - As the "casserole" protest with banging pots and pans took over Montreal's historic Mount Royal Avenue, first it was Dollarama store clerks who came out to applaud the marchers.
Then it was bartenders and servers standing in their doorways to cheer on 7,500 protestors braving the Saturday afternoon rain.
They oppose not just a 75 per cent tuition fee hike for students but also the Quebec Liberal government's draconian Bill 78, legislation that makes demonstrations of more than 50 people illegal unless police approve in advance.
Next came chefs from boulangeries and patisseries in white uniforms, bringing their own kitchenware to add more noise to the rally.
Residents joined in, unfurling red blankets out apartment windows to match the trademark red square -- carre rouge -- on protestors' clothing, the official sign of support for students.
But I heard the biggest applause when several nuns in blue habits came out of their church to support the march.
Protest grown beyond tuition, any maybe borders
Whatever happens in the biggest and longest student protest in North America in decades, it is clear that Quebec is facing significant change that could bring about the defeat of the Charest government and more.
And the protest is no longer simply about tuition fee hikes that would increase per student costs by $1,625 a year -- an annual jump of $325 over five years, according to government figures.
That would hike Canada's lowest tuition from $2,168 to $3,793, plus mandatory institutional fees.
But student groups argue it's even more -- going from $2,890 including those mandatory institutional fees, to $4,700.
Either way, as one McGill University professor pointed out in the Montreal Gazette, Charest paid less tuition when he was a university student in Sherbrooke in the 1970s than today's students are charged in today's dollars -- before any fee increase.
The government's plan to increase student debt load to reduce its own deficit is what triggered the red squares seen on clothing everywhere in Montreal. It comes from the French carre rouge -- red square -- and the phrase "carrement dans la rouge" - translating to "squarely in the red" in reference to the rising cost of an education.
Through the student activism Quebecers have found a renewed collective sense of power, a way to display their anger at a government many see as tired, disconnected and scarred by allegations of corruption that forced and ongoing public inquiry.

Part of speech  (en francaise) by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSE at rally at Parc Jeanne Manse before march.   - Bill Tieleman video
Rite of passage
If anything, student protests are a tradition in Quebec, which have marked previous periods of great social change. The 2012 student strike that has now gone on for 16 weeks marks the ninth such action since the 1960s in the province.
And Quebec's past student leaders have carried on to take major roles in the province, including former premier Bernard Landry, ex-Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, former cabinet minister Louise Harel and ex-Montreal mayor Jean Dore.
For over 40 consecutive nights there has been a "casserole" protest march through Montreal streets, with students being joined by young families with children in strollers, seniors, workers and others.
The concept of banging pots and pans in protest -- previously seen in countries like Chile under the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship, when public demonstrations were too dangerous to hold -- came after Bill 78 was quickly rammed through the Quebec National Assembly.
Each night at 8 p.m. residents in Montreal neighbourhoods -- and in Quebec City and other towns -- go to street corners with pots, pans, wooden spoons and other kitchen utensils and bang them loudly for several minutes.
For some, that's the extent of the protest. For others, the 8 o'clock noise is a signal to march, with crowds converging and diverging downtown amidst a heavy police presence that has already cost Montreal an additional more than $7 million by just mid-May.
A catalyst called Bill 78
Bill 78 has been condemned by the Quebec Bar Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association among other groups and even drew 700 Montreal lawyers in black robes to stage a silent march from a courthouse to join other protestors in the streets because it outlaws public demonstrations by more than 50 people unless a route has been submitted to police and authorized at least eight hours in advance.
Organizations found guilty of violating Bill 78 provisions face enormous fines of up to $35,000.
Quebec's student groups are challenging sections of Bill 78 in court as unconstitutional in a legal battle that will ensure continued criticism of the government.
After a massive 300,000 person rally on May 23, police used a controversial "kettle" maneuver to isolate and arrest about 500 people -- many of them bystanders and journalists not participating in a night march.
But since then, both protesters and police have largely ignored Bill 78. Most of the nightly marches and Saturday's daytime rally were done illegally but police obliged by escorting the "manifestations" and blocking traffic.
In some ways, it is very much a literal class war. Students have boycotted classes and gained the support of Quebec's powerful labour unions, as well as many professors and teachers.
The most militant of the student groups fighting the government even has the acronym CLASSE -- Coalition large de l'association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (The Coalition Large Association for Student Labour Solidarity, in English) -- and over 100,000 members.
On the other side Quebec's main business organization, the Conseil du patronat du Quebec, said a survey of its members found 95 per cent support for Charest's tuition hikes and 68 per cent backed Bill 78's restrictions on public demonstrations.
And hotels are already reporting negative consequences as tourists avoid Montreal due to the perception -- completely wrong in my experience last week -- that the city is not safe to visit.
No stopping any time soon
But it's understandable that businesses dependent on tourist dollars oppose the continued protests and just want them to stop, which won't happen.
Their concern is rising as Montreal prepares for its two biggest tourist attractions of the summer -- the Formula 1 Grand Prix auto race next weekend, the city's world renowned jazz festival that runs from June 28 to July 7 and the Just For Laughs comedy festival July 10 to 29.
The battle between student groups and a Liberal government that has been beset by controversy and negative public opinion polls has generated extreme tension on both sides.
And even media coverage is being questioned for accuracy. A group of bilingual Quebec anglophones got so frustrated that national media was providing such different coverage of the protests than in their province that they set up a translation service online to provide English Canada with access to Le Devoir, La Presse and other francophone media.
Titled "Translating the printemps érable" -- a clever word play on the "Arab spring" movement in French that substitutes érable (maple) for Arab -- the website provides a very different perspective than Anglophone media reporting.
In either language, Charest initially appeared to be gaining public support by taking on the students but passage of Bill 78 and the widespread negative reaction it caused has put his government on edge.
After high-profile talks in Quebec City between the government and three student group broke down last Wednesday, Charest went to the media to claim CLASSE had threatened to disrupt the Grand Prix, worth an estimated $90 million to Quebec's economy.
"We are appealing to people who were thinking of disturbing the Grand Prix to abstain out of respect for Quebecers," Charest said Friday.
CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois responded that Charest was fear-mongering and that while students would not give up their protests, their only Formula 1 action would be to inform visitors of their fight.
'We're in deep...'
"We are going to hand out information... so that tourists who visit Quebec will know what’s going on here and so they understand why they see images of protests on television every day," Nadeau-Dubois told reporters before Saturday's march.
And the fiery student leader has accusations of his own against the government.
"Quebec's public safety minister told me that he could have me arrested. They looked into every nook and cranny of my past and treated me like I was behind all of the violence in the street, it went pretty far," Nadeau-Dubois told Agence France Presse.
The 21-year-old student leader says his parents -- one a former union leader -- are proud of him but Nadeau-Dubois admitted they are all concerned about possible financial and legal consequences from his mission.
"As we say at our place, we're in deep shit," he said.
But regardless of personal consequences for its leaders, the protests in Quebec may well have significant impact in British Columbia, other provinces and even beyond, since student activists in the United Kingdom and other countries are watching.
Quebec tuition and student debt is the lowest in Canada, thanks largely to student militancy and public support that has discouraged successive governments from raising fees.
And more may come from the protests than just a tuition freeze or even a change in government, says Nadeau-Dubois.
"I've always believed that the great political advances in Quebec occurred because people mobilized in the streets," he told AFP.
If Quebec protests succeed in freezing tuition fees, B.C. students may ask why they pay up to double that province's rates for the same education.
The clanging of pots and pans may spread to Vancouver and other Canadian cities if students believe making a noisy "casserole" will save them thousands of dollars in debt -- and if enough of the public agrees.



Anonymous said...

Where I appreciate some of Bill's comments here I must say I think the students in Quebec somehow feel they have a sense of entitlement which I am not comfortable with. I am a Liberal/NDP type on social issues but I do not support the "gimme attitude" of these students. They dont seem to appreciate there are taxpayers that pay the overwhelming percentage of their education costs and they need to show some respect for those taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Agree there. Bill missed the point of the protests orginally, and that is the "I want it" attitude of the students. Quebec has the lowest tuition rates in Canada.

The original point of the protest had nothing to do with civil liberties or anything of that kind. It was to protest the rise in tuition which were ridiciously low to begin with.

and also the Legislation addresses many concerns citizens had, that the protests had gotten out of hand, and were actually preventing students from going to class, plus there had been damage to stores, etc.

Does Bill ever support that sort of thing. He does have some kind of a serious look on his face.

Too serious. With all that Quebec in particular Quebec City, The Eastern Townships, Old Montreal, Gaspe has to offer visitors, he goes to a protest put on by students complaining about how much they have to contribute to tution, and these same students turned down offered bursaries??

Plus the louid noise from the banging of pots and pans are not appreciated by everyone (again, where does it say that the rights of protestors over-rules the rights of those who aren't supportive of the cause?)

Bill is also forgetting that tuition was frozen for a time during when the NDP was in government.

DPL said...

Charest is past his"Best due date". Passing laws that will be court challenged and will be chucked out is no way to resolve things.Our BC Liberals are doing the same with some of their latest attempts at law makiatiblemeng.

Anonymous said...

It is just another banker grab to impoverish us and make them richer - this one is from the pockets of the students, check out the student debt bubble and fraud in the US. There is plenty of money for politicians, laws, new world order agendas,police, prisons and wars. There is no left/right-just divide and conquer and the .o1% and the rest of us. Good job Quebec students and supporters, ignore the dying dinosaur media, resistance is victory. Quebec rocks!

Henri said...

When the Quebec students first started their protesting due to the raising of the tuition fees,I mentioned to my wife that this protest is going to have legs.If one read between the lines it was clear that the students were not simply pissed about he raising of the fees but all the crap and wrong doing that the government was perpetuating under its watch.
The government of BC has the same mnd set as the Quebec government. I hope in BC we follow the example of those Quebecers protesting.

Anonymous said...

"I hope in BC we follow the example of those Quebecers protesting."

Why? By the time a protest in BC ever got off the ground to the scale of what you see in Quebec now, there will be an NDP government.

So left wing students will be protesting a left wing government.

and DPL is once again out of touch of reality. There has been no tuition freeze in BC's post secondary institutions, and it's only the "meee want" left wingers that seem to complain and whine alot.

G. Barry Stewart said...

I still don't get it.

Yes, moving the cost of tuition toward a more realistic rate will cause some pain — but even if they dip into student loans to cover the increase (rather than working a few more shifts) — the total after 4 years is hardly a fortune. Just a few thousand dollars.

It has been said elsewhere that if Quebec tuitions are the lowest in the country, students must be getting extra subsidies. As Quebec is, curiously, a "have not" province, the subsidy money is surely coming on the backs of taxpayers from the "have" provinces. Not fair.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. It isn't fair and the students are also disrupting the studies of others who want to continue on with their education. So how is that fair?

and exactly (maybe Bill can answer this one) how is it fair that some students can cause property damage and yet once again a protest infringes on the rights of others who are not participants nor supporters of this cause?

Once again, protest if you must, display your opposition if you have to, but leave private property, public property, alone, and let those who aren't interested in the protest not be affected by the protest.

and once again, the protestors DO NOT have any more rights than anyone else. None.