This article has been updated to reflect corrections
The Roddick Gates looked like a summer-camp bonfire last Wednesday, as about thirty students from a downtown CEGEP skip-roped, danced limbo and outlasted over a dozen police cruisers waiting nearby.
“[The police] really get pleasure out of overdoing it,” said Mateo Doutreligne-Solkin, an organizer with the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal students’ association. He said they were trying to intimidate him and the other students.
At quarter past one, as about thirty students – mostly from Mateo’s CEGEP – were discussing gender equality and the injustices of capitalism outside the central entrance to downtown campus when three police officers approached.
One of them began speaking to CEGEP student Dominique Bordeleau, telling her the students would be hit with tickets if they continued to protest in the street. The officer then asked the students to move on to the sidewalk.
Mateo replied in French from about ten feet away: “Civil disobedience doesn’t happen on sidewalks.”
The officers walked away shortly after, declining to answer The Daily’s questions about the threatened tickets. Over a dozen police cars and minivans were massed at the intersection of McGill College and Sherbrooke. In an email to The Daily, Security Services Manager Pierre Barbarie confirmed that McGill Security coordinated with the Montreal police for the protest, and that they work with the police on a regular basis.
As the police cruisers gradually drove away, the students moved their protest into the sun for warmth. Many of them had slept outside of the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal in tarpaulin tents and sleeping bags the previous two nights, as part of their three-day student body strike protesting proposed Quebec tuition hikes.
Wednesday’s protest had a festive air. At the beginning, two young women addressed the mostly sitting crowd: one had braces and the other had a yellow sun painted on her cheek. Later, students twisted their red and black banner into a rope and took turns skipping over it as two people spun it on either end. The same banner was used as a limbo bar while protestors sung lyrics taunting Premier Jean Charest.
When Mateo noticed the absence of police cars, he yelled, with a touch of irony, “We won! We intimidated the police!”
The CEGEP contingent waited for over half an hour for McGill and Concordia students to arrive and join them in a march through campus. In the end, only one McGill student came – Andrea Figuera, a U3 Arts student who works with QPIRG. She noted that it can been hard to mobilize McGill students against tuition hikes, but that, “Small actions help remind McGill students that their university is pushing” for tuition increases.
The small protest marched from the Roddick Gates to the James Administration building and addressed Principal Heather Munroe-Blum over a bullhorn, condemning her advocacy of tuition increases. Students were particularly incensed over the more than $30,000 increase in tuition for in-province students implemented over the summer for McGill’s MBA program.
Bordeleau called the MBA tuition hikes “abhorrent,” as protesters marched towards the James Administration building behind the red and black banner.
In front of James Administration, protestors briefly chanted in French, “Capital is waging war on us. War on capital.”
Mateo commented on the low turnout. “I don’t feel let down at all. I’m happy that this happened,” he said, as the protest was breaking up and students filed out through the Milton Gates. “I’ve been in contact with QPIRG [McGill] for a little bit, and they have the will and, in my interpretation, the rage, to really make a significant difference in the future against this negative movement.”
Mateo Doutreligne-Solkin was incorrectly identified as the president of the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal students’ association in an earlier version of this article. The Daily regrets the error.