A chain of 150 student demonstrators joined hands Tuesday to protest a court-approved temporary injunction on student protests at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), where stringent plans to dig the university out of its deep debt are being finalized.
The injunction, which lasts until March 27, was imposed by the UQAM administration last week and approved by the Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday. It aims to prevent UQAM’s 14,000 striking students from disturbing the regular class schedule, or demonstrating within 100 metres of campus.
Tuesday’s human chain assembled just outside of the 100-metre boundary. Any infringements on the injunction can result in a $50,000 fine.
“We’re going to respect the injunction within limits,” said Eve-Lyne Couturieu, communications officer for the striking Association facultaire étudiante de science politique et droit at UQAM
“We’re also going to look for other means to proceed,” she added. Another protest is planned for today at 2 p.m. in Berri Square.
Strikes and demonstrations began breaking out at UQAM last semester, as part of a provincial movement against the defreeze of tuition fees.
But the movement eventually shifted focus to oppose cost-cutting plans forwarded by the UQAM administration that aim to pull the university out of its $350-million debt.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers, hired by UQAM to draft a plan de redressement, released its final financial plan on March 5. Among other measures, the report calls for increasing student tuition fees, cutting 77 teaching positions, and freezing employee salaries.
Claude Corbo, the rector of UQAM, has maintained that the plan is not final.
The plan was in its formative stages since February; since then four of the seven student faculties at UQAM have initiated strikes. The first was l’Association facultaire étudiante des sciences humaines (AFESH), which voted to begin an unlimited strike in February.
UQAM imposed the injunction in response to protests last week, when students disrupted an administrative meeting that was considering failing striking students.
Dominique Guay, VP Internal of l’Association facultaire étudiante des langues et communications, argued that it was too soon for striking students to return to class. Guay and two other students were suspended earlier this month for admitting their involvement in strike actions.
“If we go back to class now, we scrap all the efforts we’ve made in the last five weeks,” Guay said. “It’s worth nothing right now because we have no contract signed.”
Professors have also come behind for the striking students, some writing an open letter in support, and some joining student demonstrations.
“It was a really big deal for us to get the professors support,” said Valerie Reine-Marcil, communications officer for AFESH. “There was much too much control in the injunction.”
Student negotiations with the administration will continue Monday. The UQAM administration has stated that funding cuts will not threaten the survival of any programs.
According to McGill student Zoe Page, the radical student group GrassRoots Association for Student Power plans to use the UQAM strike as an example when mobilizing McGill students.
“There isn’t a strong enough movement for solidarity [at McGill] with all the students in Quebec,” Page said.