At around 11 a.m. yesterday morning, students from McGill and other universities and CEGEPs in and around Montreal gathered in front of the Shatner Building to participate in a demonstration in support of the unlimited general student strike in Quebec.
The strike aims to place economic pressure on the Quebec government, in order to force it to reverse its decision to raise tuition hikes by $325 per year over the next five years.
The demonstration moved through campus, making its way through the Leacock Building and McLennan Library, and pausing briefly at the Y-intersection. After about an hour, a smaller group of students moved off McGill campus, making their way to Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM).
According to Kevin Paul, a U3 Cultural Studies student and member of the AUS Mobilization Committee, the event was organized by a group of independent students from McGill.
“I’m in my last year,” Paul said. “I won’t be directly financially affected. However, I want to live in a society that values education not as a commodity but as a fundamental right.”
Paul explained that he was pleased with the turnout from other Montreal schools.
“There are students that are on strike at other universities and CEGEP campuses coming to McGill. It’s a powerful show of solidarity as a strike vote approaches at McGill,” he said.
Cedric Lejeune, a first year Biology student at UQAM, spoke on behalf of a group of UQAM Science students who participated in the demonstration.
“When we hear that there is an organized protest, we try to give our support,” he said. “Tomorrow [March 1], we are going to Quebec City. There is a huge protest there. We hope [that there will be] over 10,000 people. We hope 100 Science students will be going tomorrow. From UQAM, there will be a lot.”
He said that if the tuition rates are to increase, it will affect many students at UQAM. “We will all need to work more and longer. We will have less time to study and less time to sleep. If we have to work more, it’s more stressful.”
Carolamn Beigeven, a student of the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal, explained that this was the first time she attended a tuition hike-related demonstration. If the government goes through with the increase, she said, she will not be able to attend a Quebec university.
Melanie Le Berre, a U2 Physical Therapy student at McGill who participated in the demonstration, shared similar sentiments. “I feel enraged for people who won’t have access. I feel we are collectively concerned and responsible for the others. I don’t feel people are concerned [at McGill], and I think it’s sad… This protest is very small.”
Not all students are against tuition hikes, however. Rasul Abdoullakhi, a U2 Chemical Engineering student from Montreal, was standing outside of the McConnell Engineering building, during the demonstration.
“There’s always going to be hikes,” he explained. “There’s always going to be inflation. I saw at least 10 people there wearing $500 to $700 jackets. If you can cut on that and spend that money for education instead of walking around yelling ridiculous slogans, you could get a decent education. It’s something that you have to accept.”
“I think it’s a bit ridiculous,” he added.
As the demonstration moved through McLennan, they were joined by a number of students and McGill workers. Nancy Crowe, a library assistant at McLennan Library and a MUNACA worker, clapped along in support as the students chanted.
“University needs to be accessible,” she explained. “I don’t want to speak for all of us, but a lot of us are sympathetic to this cause.”
“I’m from Quebec, and I went to university on loans and bursaries, so I know what it’s like,” she added.
With many universities and CEGEPs already on strike, the Arts Undergraduate Society and Science Undergraduate Society will vote on joining the strike in separate General Assemblies in March.