Last Thursday afternoon, tens of thousands of students took to the streets of Montreal in protest of the upcoming tuition hikes proposed by the Quebec government.
Led by the Association pour la solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), students from different universities, CEGEPs, and their supporters rallied at Place Émilie-Gamelin before marching to the office of Quebec Premier Jean Charest to protest the hikes.
The Charest government first proposed the tuition hikes in the fall of 2007. This second round of increases will raise tuition costs across the province by $1625 over the next five years.
A McGill contingent estimated at over 1,200 gathered at the Roddick Gates at 1 p.m. before heading down McGill College to join the main protest at Place Émilie-Gamelin. The group consisted of campus unions, students, faculty, and striking MUNACA workers who could fulfill their picket duty by attending the march.
At the intersection of McGill College and Ste. Catherine, they were met by cheers from roughly 1,000 Concordia students, led by Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill and VP External Chad Walcott.
The march continued to Place Émilie-Gamelin, where the Anglophone students joined Francophone students from across Quebec in the square.
For Saurin Skah, a U0 Arts student at McGill, it was solidarity that pulled him into the street.
“The tuition hike may not affect me a lot, but I know that for the people of Quebec, and for everyone who chose to come to Quebec for their education, low tuition is what makes college and universities acceptable,” he said.
Although the thousands of students present at the demonstration were united against tuition hikes, expectations for the day were varied.
Paula Furfaro, a Psychology student at McGill, expressed what success would be to her.
“If all we can accomplish today is for [the government] to second guess themselves, and take a minute or two more to finally think about the decisions they make, then we know we accomplished what we were here for. We have a voice, let’s use it,” Furfaro said.
Amir Khadir, a member of the Quebec National Assembly and spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, was also present at the demonstration.
Speaking to The Daily in French, he emphasized the importance of accessible education, saying that “to improve access in a durable and promising manner, we need free education from preschool to university… Education is liberty, and liberty is a right – it’s not a privilege. Education must be free,” he said.
For Khadir, the hikes reflect a problem within the Charest government. “It’s the ideological decisions that they make in favour of the one per cent,” he said.
Following the gathering at Place Émilie-Gamelin, volunteers from ASSÉ donned red pinnies and guided protesters as they marched to Charest’s office on Sherbrooke and McGill College.
Hugo Laframeara, a Law student at McGill, was at the demonstration with a large group of McGill Law students.
Laframeara said he was concerned about the lack of opinion from the McGill administration around the tuition hike rally.
“When you are such a highly recognized university…you have to take a position in such a debate. I find it deceiving that there is no real will from the administration or from the SSMU to create a forum for this event,” he said.
SSMU President Maggie Knight told The Daily that SSMU stands by its official policy against tuition hikes.
“We think the march showed the power of the student movement and we think that the turnout from McGill students was really solid. It was a strong spirit of solidarity between Anglophone and Francophone [students] coming together to express their concerns,” she said.
— With files from Laurent Bastien Corbeil and Esther Lee