Rocks, teargas, and flashbang grenades marked the second day of the Parti Québécois’ education summit as thousands of students rallied against the government’s plan to index tuition to inflation. Clashes with police erupted across downtown Montreal throughout the day.
The demonstration was organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), who boycotted the summit after the government announced the two-day event would not discuss free education.
“The summit was definitely a failure,” Jérémie Bédard-Wien, a spokesperson for ASSÉ told The Daily in French. “It failed to answer some of the questions that were raised during the maple spring and lacked any sort of depth.”
The demonstration, which began in Square Victoria two hours after the summit ended, was immediately declared illegal by the police. Approximately 3,000 protesters began to march despite warnings, as the crowd eventually grew to around 7,000. Organizers estimated attendance at around 10,000 at its peak.
Protesters marched peacefully past McGill and up St. Laurent, before turning east on Pine. Fights flared after demonstrators proceeded down St. Denis and launched snowballs at lines of riot police. Police responded with baton-charges, tear gas, and flashbangs.
Clashes continued near Square Saint-Louis as demonstrators fought back by linking their arms in a human chain and advancing on police lines. Heavy reinforcement from the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), Quebec’s provincial police, intervened to disperse the crowd.
Demonstrators from multiple groups were present, including McGill’s Art History and Communications Studies Graduate Students’ Association (AHCS GSA). AHCS GSA originally voted to boycott the summit in solidarity with ASSÉ. It was the first student association at McGill to do so.
Tyler Braun, a member of AHCS GSA, stressed the importance of bringing McGill into the student movement. “I think McGill should have a very important role [in the movement],” he told The Daily. “I think it’s unfortunate that McGill has played such a small role so far. Hopefully more departments will get on board as the strike progresses.”
Other groups touched on the government’s exclusion of various student associations from the summit as a larger reflection on its position toward free education.
“We asked to be invited, we asked to be included, and the government never responded, so this is our way to advocate for free education,” Nadia Hausfather, a council director for Concordia’s Graduate Student Associaton, told The Daily. “It’s of course disappointing that the summit excluded free education as a realistic option before it even started.”
Louise Gavard, of Le syndicat des chargees et charges de cours de l’UQAM (SCCUQ) – a 30-year-old part-time lecturers’ union at the Université du Québec à Montréal – echoed similar sentiments.
“When I think about the fact that we are not [at the summit], that we do not have a seat there, it’s quite hard to swallow,” she told The Daily. “At UQAM we teach 60 per cent of the freshman class. It’s hard to swallow that they’re holding a summit on higher education and we’re not there.”
Despite the diversity of groups represented at the demonstration – including student’s and teacher’s unions from universities and CEGEPs, political parties, and worker’s unions – many shared a general consensus toward the PQ’s perceived mishandling of the summit.
“I think [the summit] is a maneuver on the part of the PQ,” Roy Semak, a protester with Québec solidaire and a McGill alumnus, told The Daily. “They went back against their own declared position. They can’t say one thing and do another. It’s two-faced and it’s unacceptable.”
13 people were arrested, police said.