Thursday’s anti-tuition hike march, which was the largest student protest in Quebec to date, drew a crowd of over 200,000 peaceful demonstrators. At one point, organizers reported that the march stretched from the intersection of Sherbrooke and St. Denis to its initial meeting point, at Place du Canada on Peel and Rene-Levesque. The Montreal Gazette reported that the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) rerouted trains in order to accommodate an additional 100,000 commuters.
Over 500 McGill students attended the march as part of the McGill contingent.
Incoming SSMU VP External Robin Reid-Fraser expressed excitement that McGill students turned out for the demonstration.
“It’s exciting that an Anglophone university with international students joins this cause,” she said.
After gathering at the Roddick Gates at noon, the McGill contingent made its way to Place du Canada, where it met with other protesters – including CEGEP and university students, professors, and allied social justice organizations, unions, and opposition party representatives from across Quebec. Several Quebec MPs were also present among the demonstrators.
Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois attended the demonstration and explained what she believes are favourable alternatives to the provincial government’s upcoming tuition hikes.
“Ideally, education should be free, but that’s too difficult right now,” she told The Daily in French. “We suggest the creation of a forum to discuss other ways of financing higher education. We are in the process of selling our natural resources for nothing. If we were to get more royalties from [them], then we could better support our universities.”
After a series of speeches by organizers, demonstrators marched north on Peel to Sherbrooke, east to St-Denis, north to Cherrier, east to Berri and then south to Rue de la Commune. The march ended at Place Jacques-Cartier.
Charlie Brenchley, a volunteer with the Concordia Student Union, which worked with the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) to provide security and first aid, described the march as going off without a hitch until its end, when demonstrators bottle-necked at Place Jacques-Cartier.
It is unclear who blocked the demonstrators from filling out the street south of Place Jacques-Cartier. However, representatives from FEUQ and the Association pour une Solidarite Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ) cited disagreements between the two groups over the organization of the protest as the reason for the blockage. FEUQ actively cooperated with the police – they gave them the march’s route ahead of time – which was a major point of contention with ASSÉ.
Marc St-Cyr, an inspector with the Services de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), credited FEUQ with helping to keep the protest peaceful. “We had very good cooperation with [them] – from the media too. Most people wanted things to go this way – a lot of people, but no trouble.”
—with files from Jordan Venton-Rublee and Juan Camilo Velásquez