A CEGEP student was severely injured in the right eye by a sound grenade thrown by the Montreal riot police at a student demonstration yesterday afternoon. The demonstration took place across the street from McGill’s Strathcona Music Building.
The student, identified by several sources as a CEGEP St. Jerôme student in his twenties, was participating in a blockade of the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ) office in the Loto-Québec building. A separate march was held later that night in protest of the student’s injury.
Frank Lévesque-Nicol, member of the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), the organization responsible for the blockade, said the student “has a very high risk of losing his eye.”
“From the information I got, he was put in three different hospitals in a row,” he said.
Lévesque-Nicol, who was at the afternoon blockade but did not witness the student being harmed, said the injury was likely the result of a sound grenade detonating near the student’s face.
“Usually [the police] shoot it high so it explodes in the air, or shoot it low on the ground so it explodes on the ground,” he said. “When it explodes close to someone, it may cause tremendous damage.”
Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) spokesperson Anie Lemieux said in a recorded statement late Wednesday night that the police have no details on the circumstances surrounding the injury.
“Police officers are trying to meet with him now and trying to get details on how it all happened. How was he injured? This is what we’re waiting to get questions answered,” said Lemieux.
A member of the Surveillance des intervention policière, an independent team of students observing police intervention in protests across Quebec, said he was hit five times in the stomach by a riot police officer.
“They used tear gas, pepper spray. They’ve hit a lot of protesters for no reason,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
The blockade comprised the culmination of a march which left late yesterday morning from Square Victoria. Several students also went inside the building as part of the action.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, CLASSE spokesperson, said he found the police response “totally unacceptable.”
“I think it’s time that the government itself asks the police to just respect us, respect our protests, because the tension is going to go higher and higher, and that’s bad for everyone,” he said.
SPVM spokesperson Daniel Lacoursière said in an interview with The Daily later that afternoon that “necessary force” was used to disperse the protest.
“There was supposed to be a manifestation, but when some people entered the building, Loto-Québec called and we came in,” said Lacoursière.
Gwen Bergman, a McGill U3 Music student, watched the action from inside the Strathcona building. She said she found the event “really disturbing.”
“From what I saw, the students weren’t doing anything except standing in the streets and yelling… The police took it way out of control,” said Bergman. “And I don’t really see how they did their job, because nobody really got protected by their actions,” she added.
Five students were arrested during the blockade, with police unable to provide a figure on the number of injuries. Several ambulances stayed on the scene after the blockade had been dispersed, something Lacoursière said always happens “just to make sure that everything is safe.”
Another two students were arrested at the march later Wednesday night in support of the injured CEGEP student. Lévesque-Nicol said the action was “a very spontaneous thing.”
Beginning in Place Émilie-Gamelin, the march reached the SPVM headquarters on St. Urbain between Ste. Catherine and de Maisonneuve, where a small group of the protesters tried to smash the door in with a metal guard railing to a chorus of boos from other protesters.
Lemieux said the students were arrested for mischief, and said the SPVM is “trying to figure out how many mischiefs were actually made.”
The actions are part of the general unlimited student strike – ongoing since February 24 and now almost 130,000 students strong – opposing a series of tuition hikes spread out over five years that will amount to $1,625, scheduled to begin this September.
Nadeau-Dubois said CLASSE “won’t be discouraged or suppressed by this show of force.”