A new student organization orchestrated its first action at noon on Thursday as part of CLASSE’s week of economic disruptions.
CLASSE, the temporary coalition formed by the Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ), invited its members to attend the ‘Grande Mascarade,’ a 1,500 strong demonstration that split into a four different marches before reconvening at Place des Arts.
The Front or Fédération des Étudiant(e)s Collégial ou Universitaire Révolté (FECUR), an autonomous group that formed a week and a half ago, organized the marches. One of its members, a student dressed as a pirate who wished to be identified as a student from the University of the People, said the group was formed based on its members’ political affinity and functions as a direct democracy.
The Facebook event called for students to bring masks and costumes. The four marching routes were also each assigned a colour and a cause.
The student noted that the police are the “determining factor” of whether a protest goes well. “It’s for that that we see four demonstrations, four different scenarios, and aspects of denouncing the political profiling that is manipulated by the SPVM,” said the student in French.
The four-pronged demonstration was based on the 18th and 19th century tradition of civil disobedience, known as rough music. The event page called it “Charivari dans les rues de Montréal,” stating that the uproar “was a moment where villagers would dress in costumes and masks to heckle the home of a community member whose conduct they criticize.”
“It’s a form of popular justice,” said the student during the blue demonstration. He added that, by wearing masks, demonstrators were guaranteeing their right to anonymity and denouncing the political profiling of students frequently participating in actions.
In the Facebook description of the action, the organizing committee noted the group was in favour of a diversity of tactics. “We will not condemn and we will not intervene if individuals or groups decide to undertake more radical action. The police already do enough repression like that. In this sense, no physical altercations and no profiling between demonstrations will be tolerated,” it read.
The student explained that FECUR respects any tactics that shares its objectives. “We are not calling for violence…but if people do it that’s why we’re in the streets, it’s for that that we are on strike. It’s to create the opportune moment.”
– Erin Hudson
The blue protest was called “Ensemble, bloquons la récupération!” About 600 demonstrators marched from Phillips Square zigzagging between Maisonneuve and Ste. Catherine, as far west as Crescent. Around 1:50 p.m. demonstrators came onto McGill campus, marching up to the Arts building before leaving via McTavish.
The protest denounced the Quebec student federations the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) and the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ).
The banner carried at the front of the protest read in French, “FECQ and FEUQ do not represent us.” A second banner positioned in major intersections throughout the march, read, in French, “The state ignores our cries, FECQ and FEUQ appropriate them. Students against the sexist hike.”
“We say that FEUQ and FECQ do not represent us because they are traditionally two unions that often refuse to use the strike or to fight at one point or another,” said the student involved in FECUR in French.
In 2005, CLASSÉ, the coalition representing ASSÉ during the strike movement, was among those excluded from negotiations between students and the government as FECQ and FEUQ negotiated for students alone.
He described the participants of the action as being willing “to do caricatures of the student movements.”
“[FECUR] denounces certain elements of traditional unionism,” he explained. “It’s just to laugh a bit and rub it in the face of the human system and, at the same time, rub it in the face of the SPVM,” he added.
Students with sparkly confetti threw handfuls at police cars and bystanders as they marched. A makeshift band marched among demonstrators including a tuba, drums and a trumpet. Many dressed in costume with masks.
“We’re dressed up as mummers, which is a tradition in Newfoundland of disguise that happens around Christmastime when you go into people’s houses dressed in whatever you can find to be totally unrecognizable by people you know,” said a Concordia Women’s Studies student who preferred not to give her name. She marched with four other ‘mummers.’
At Place des Arts, the four demonstrations reconvened around 2:30 p.m. A banner hung by students from Cégép Ahuntsic, which read in French, “FECQ, FEUQ, CLASSE: same fight,” generated attention and debate.
Other students approached the banner to discuss differences in strategy and goals between the three organizations.
Benjamin, an active member within Cégép Ahuntsic, said the student movement is having difficulty determining the manner in which to lead the fight. “We want to see a united movement, a strong movement,” he said.
Vegetables, bread, and meat remains were later thrown towards the banner, until the students removed the banner to applause from the crowd.
The blue line passed Place des Arts to march on UQAM, where students interrupted a mining conference that was taking place in a UQAM building. The other three lines joined the group at UQAM and remained on the campus, dancing and chanting, for hours afterward.
– Erin Hudson
About 200 demonstrators bedecked in masks and the colour yellow headed south from Phillips Square, led by an effigy of Quebec Premier Jean Charest and a banner bearing the slogan: “T’as le droit d’être contre la grève, pis on a le droit de te trouver scab.” (“You have the right to be against the strike, but we have the right to find the scabs.”)
The cause behind the yellow march was to protest the “syndicalisme jaune” – strikebreaking tactics employed by some students and student federations.
Taking turns whipping the Charest effigy or beating it with flags, students began the march began heading south from Phillips Square, looping back around to the north, and heading east along Sherbrooke. The yellow march passed the blue march twice along the way, first at the corner of Ste. Catherine and Drummond, and again outside the Roddick Gates.
The march paused briefly outside the Loto-Québec building on Sherbrooke. Nine police officers blocked the building while the marchers chanted, some holding a hand over their right eye in reference to the injury suffered by Cégép St. Jerôme student Francis Grenier outside the building earlier this month. Grenier lost sight in his right eye after a police sound grenade detonated near his face.
Frank Lévesque-Nicol – member of the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), one of the main organizers of student actions this month – said that the goal of the day’s actions “was to have the biggest carnival possible.”
Lévesque-Nicol compared the Mascarade to the other actions CLASSE has been facilitating this week: a series of “economic disruption” targeting some of Montreal’s financial hubs. Action so far this week, of which the details have been kept confidential from even the majority of those participating, have involved an occupation of the Fédération des cégeps building and a blockade of the Port of Montreal.
“The goal [of the Mascarade] really was to go into the economic disruption week and have something that doesn’t require being invisible, and having it organized secretly,” said Lévesque-Nicol.
Habib Hassoun, a McGill French Literature student, joined the demonstration at Place des Arts. Hassoun said he thought “the real strike began on Friday,” the day after the March 22 provincial day of action, the largest student protest in North American history.
“I think this week they proved that they are ready to do everything to be opposed to the government’s decisions,” he said. “Students nowadays are just proving that they have a lot of creativity.”
— Henry Gass
Orange and green
The orange line’s theme was the “ultraviolence” of the provincial government. About 600 people took part in the march, which was denouncing “the violence of a government that refuses to negotiate and sends police instead.”
Most TV networks decided to follow that line, as it was expected to turn violent. Protestors moved trash cans and construction signs to the middle of the streets, though many were moved back or set upright by students later in the march. Some vandalism occurred, including the use of spray paint on a Université du Québec à Montréal building and on cars parked behind the police headquarters.
Like the other marches on Thursday, the orange march was welcomed by supportive bystanders, including business owners and construction workers, along its route.
The orange march arrived at Place des Arts at roughly the same time as the green march. The green march was the only march to head east of downtown. Numbering several hundred students, the march had been calling for free education.
— Anthony Lecossois