William Ging Wee Dere (Montreal)


Montreal, QC: Quebec students are boycotting classes to demand more accessibility to higher education to roll back a 75% increase in university tuition. The current strike of 250,000 Quebec students, which began February 13, 2012, has lasted over 100 days and shows no sign of abating.


In fact with the Quebec government’s new law, Bill 78, which limits the freedom to demonstrate, the student movement has grown into a mass movement with trade unions, teachers associations, community organizations and entire neighborhoods coming out in support of the students. On May 22, 4 days after the passing of the new law, 200,000 people took to the streets of Montreal in defiance of Bill 78. Solidarity has come from across Canada and internationally, with support demonstrations in the major cities across Canada as well as in New York, Paris and elsewhere.


The Quebec students of various levels, from colleges, universities and even high schools have come out to oppose the 75% tuition increase imposed by the Liberal government of Jean Charest. It is true that the tuition in Quebec is the lowest in Canada, presently at about $2,200 a year. The reason why the tuition is the lowest is due to the struggles waged by the students themselves that has forced successive government to roll back increases since 1968. Since that time, there’s been at least eight student strikes against tuition hikes. Some of those strikes, similar to today’s strike also call for a complete abolition of tuitions and for free access to university.


Coming on the heels of almost daily and nightly demonstrations that have disrupted normal commerce in Montreal and many other towns and cities across Quebec, the Charest government passed its anti-democratic law which imposed restrictions on the gathering of more than 50 people as well as fines of up to $125,000 for student organizations and $35,000 for student leaders that organize the demonstrations.


While keeping up the daily demonstrations, the student organizations, with the support of various legal associations and human rights lawyers have gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of Bill 78. The student organizations have received large donations from trade unions, student and mass organizations from across Canada. “We’re happy we’re not alone in this,” said Martine Desjardins, head of the federation representing university students. “We’ve seen from the outset that the population is behind us and, more than ever, people want to be able to exercise their right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to take part in peaceful demonstrations. This is a new step in the fight against tuition hikes.”


Over 2500 students have been arrested, with over 600 arrested in one evening demonstration in Montreal after the passing of Bill 78. The increase in police repression to limit mass participation has only resulted in more and diverse communities in taking part in a nightly protest called, cazerolazo, casserole protests, where neighborhoods come out banging pots and pans. These protests have spread to Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Gatineau, Granby, Quebec City and the Saguenay.


At this time, the Quebec government is at an impasse. They are losing the moral right to govern. Their only way to resolve the crisis is to roll back the tuition increases. This prolonged student movement has shown the people of Quebec a new form of democracy, a democracy of participation and direct action. It augurs well for the youth of Quebec as they try to make this society more democratic and responsive to the social and economic needs of the population. The provincial government has to call an election by next year. It will be interesting to see how the students, who are able to mobilize hundreds of thousand of people into the streets, will be able to take advantage of this people power to participate in electoral politics.

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