First wave of student strike hits McGill

300 demonstrators march on campus in opposition of tuition hikes

The debut action of the unlimited general student strike marched onto McGill campus this afternoon.

Shortly before 4:30 p.m., about 300 demonstrators – many of whom were students from l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) – marched up McGill College and congregated outside of the James Administration building.

Demonstrators chanted, “UQAM, McGill, same struggle.”

Six security agents stood by the front entrance of the building.

In front of the building, one demonstrator with a megaphone addressed the crowd.

“No matter where you go – UQAM, McGill – the police always come to clamp down on those who demonstrate for their rights,” he said in French, referring to the events of November 10, which included a 30,000-person march against tuition hikes and an occupation of the James Administration building, which prompted a demonstration that was ended by riot police.

Demonstrators entered the McConnell Engineering building and marched through the building until exiting by the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering. Demonstrators marched off campus at 4:40 p.m.

Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell sent out two emails to the McGill community, one at 4:25 p.m. and one at 5:06 p.m., informing staff and students of the demonstration’s presence on campus and subsequent exit.

No police officers or vehicles were seen on campus. 11 police vehicles were seen along Sherbrooke and McGill-College trailing the demonstration.

McGill Security Operations Manager Christopher Carson, who was present at the scene, declined to comment regarding the action. Nine McGill Security employees were gathered at the Y intersection by 4:45 p.m. when demonstrators moved off campus.

Frank Lévesque-Nicol, a sociology student at UQAM who participated in the action, said demonstrators initially met at Café Campus on Prince Arthur for a General Assembly. According to him, the demonstration was the debut action for the first wave of the student general strike.

As of Tuesday morning, 11,000 students at UQAM and Université Laval were on strike as part of the first wave of the unlimited student strike organized by the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE). CLASSE currently represents 70,000 students in Quebec CEGEPs and universities. McGill’s Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) recently voted to alter the AUS Constitution so that the General Assembly is the highest governing body of the Society, as per requirements to be a member of CLASSE.

“We went out on strike this week to serve as a springboard for the mobilization of CEGEPs and universities. In the next week, we will be driving up and down in Quebec so as to help [student] associations holding strike votes this week,” said Camille Toffoli, spokesperson for the UQAM student associations on strike, in a press release.

The UQAM student associations currently on strike are the faculties of Political Science and Law, Humanities, and Fine Arts.

“[We] all voted for the strike and started the strike today, so we’re doing what we call a strike-commencing march or demonstration. We’re very happy about what’s going on, we’re showing people that we’re on strike, and we’re also rallying McGill with it,” said Lévesque-Nicol.

He explained that demonstrators had marched through UQAM’s Complexe des sciences Pierre-Dansereau, located just north of the Place-des-Arts metro station, before marching to McGill.

Though she said she had not been aware of the action prior to demonstrators marching on campus, McGill graduate student Sunci Avlijas participated in the action.

“I joined in because these are students from another university in Quebec that are fighting for free tuition, or at least to oppose the hikes,” she said.

In March 2011, the Quebec government announced a tuition increase of a total of $1,625 over the next five years. The increases in tuition will begin as of September 2012, at the rate of $325 per year until 2017.

“I think that is something that affects McGill students a lot, and a lot of McGill students aren’t aware of the implications of the tuition fees, or whether those increases are even necessary,” Avlijas continued.

“I think it’s a great way to at least get people talking about the tuition hikes at McGill,” she added.