Last week was marked by student strikes and protests across the world, including more than 60,000 CEGEP and university students on strike in Quebec on November 22. Yesterday, the Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ) organized a demonstration in Montreal in solidarity with the ongoing student movement, drawing about 5,000 protesters into the streets, according to ASSÉ spokesperson Jérémie Bédard-Wien.
“We’re marching in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of students who are fighting daily against the commodification of education in other countries as part of the global strike in education week,” Bédard-Wien told The Daily. “We’re proud to join this global movement today.”
This fall, the Parti Québécois cancelled the tuition hikes for Quebec students that had been implemented by Jean Charest’s Liberal government – but protesters gathered nonetheless, echoing the marches that occurred each 22nd day of the month during the student strike, which often saw up to 200,000 participants at a single demonstration.
Bédard-Wien called Thursday’s march “a natural continuation of the Maple Spring,” emphasizing the Quebec student movement’s significance in a global context.
“We must realize that commodification is an international problem posed by international institutions. The OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development], the European Union – and that does not spare Quebec,” he said.
SSMU VP External Robin Reid-Fraser was among the McGill students who attended the protest. She attributed the lack of a McGill strike vote for November 22 to activism at McGill “taking a different turn” this year.
“I think there’s a different level of energy, it’s not quite the same as it was last semester,” Reid-Fraser told The Daily. “But I think there are still lots of people from McGill at the demonstration.”
Simon, a Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) student and member of its mobilization committee, attended yesterday’s march as one of several costumed participants. The mobilization committee organized a group of students to attend the protest in Christmas-themed costumes, dubbed the “Santa Bloc.”
Simon told The Daily in French that his Santa hat with knitted white braids wasn’t just a festive joke, but a political statement that reached beyond the traditional rhetoric of tuition hikes and education summits.
“[Our costumes] are a way of protesting Christmas as a holiday of widespread capitalist consuming, and at the same time of protesting the new law, which criminalizes wearing masks during protests,” he said. “Now you get not only a fine but can also go to prison if you get caught wearing a mask during an ‘illegal’ demonstration.”
Bédard-Wien claimed that the scope of the protest reached beyond Quebec and struggles over tuition.
“We’re not only marching in solidarity with the student movement, but also with the Palestinian struggle as it faces, once again, attacks from Israeli imperialists. We’re not a movement that’s content with fighting for only our rights, but also to improve society and link up with other progressive parts of society,” he explained.
Despite a significant anti-capitalist contingent at Thursday’s demonstration, Bédard-Wien declined to comment on whether he considered the Quebec student movement to be inherently anti-capitalist.
“Imposing normalized education systems on the American model is imperialism. As for capitalism – some people would love that I address this, but I will not,” he told The Daily.
An hour into the march, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal tweeted that the protest had been declared illegal but that it would be “tolerated if no criminal acts occur.” There were no reported arrests.