In the park outside Centre Henri-Julien in Ahuntsic, students gathered for the first action of the week of economic disruptions called for by the Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE).
The first action was organized by the Société générale des étudiantes et étudiants du Collège de Maisonneuve, and most students arrived at the designated place and time without knowing what the action would be.
“To make sure that these demonstrations aren’t broken up before they occur, for example, it’s important to have some level of secrecy about what they are so that they can actually take place,” said Karel, a McGill student who wished to be identified by her first name.
She said that the reason she felt the strategy was working was due to the speech made by CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois at last Thursday’s provincial day of action.
“He made it clear that even though 200,000 people showed up at the demonstration, what the Ministry of Education is counting on is that the movement falls apart after that…but what we’re trying to show is that was not the end of the movement, that we’re going to continue,” she explained.
McGill students were told that the action was coded “green,” meaning it was a low-risk action – though noting the action was not “completely free of risk.”
Karel said she felt the coding system was important. “When you have [over 190,000] students on strike there’s a variety of opinions on what people feel comfortable doing, and it’s a way of involving everyone,” she said.
Police were present from the start. An officer asked students to tell police where they were going, offering to have police escort the action.
The students began marching through surrounding streets with one police car in front, one following. When the march reached the intersection of Crémazie and St. Denis, students began running.
They ran towards the Fédération des cégeps building located at the corner of Crémazie and Berri. Students blocked the four entrances to the building, and initially a reported dozen students occupied the building.
Flyers stating the students’ demands were handed out. “We are occupying the Fédération des cégeps – the organization in charge of the direction of Quebec CEGEPs – to protest the budgetary reductions in the college network,” the flyer read in French.
“Today, we ask that the Fédération des cégeps oppose the cuts in action and manage them in the interest of students and employees of the college network,” continued the flyer.
Two police officers approached one entrance to obtain confirmation that the occupants of the building were safe. The officers then returned to parked cars around the building perimeter.
Later, doors were opened and larger numbers of students entered and exited the building freely.
Students occupied one half of the third floor of the building. Sticky notes and red squares were posted on the office walls, and the elevator doors were blocked. One note beside a drinking fountain read in French: “We’re thirsty for justice.”
Four Fédération employees blocked the doors to the other half of the third floor. Students and the employees were discussing the reasons behind the occupation. The employees declined The Daily’s request for an interview.
Many students occupying the building ran out at 1:15 p.m. after hearing reports of an imminent police intervention. A security agent stationed near the stairwell students accessed throughout the course of the occupation pushed a student out of the door. Amid shouts about ten students then re-entered the building.
Outside the building the number of students ebbed to about 150 by 1:30 p.m. Four paddy wagons drove by the building without stopping.
Jean-Pierre Lacoste and Laurent Lévesque, who work in the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) building across the street, walked over to shake hands with students.
“We think that, more than just the students’ demands, [there]’s a question of social justice,” said Lacoste.
At 3:00 p.m. police tear gassed students as they ran into the nearby Jarry metro station.