Frustration over the 10 week long student strike reached new levels on Friday as students clashed with police in one of the most violent demonstration witnessed since the beginning of the student strike.
Demonstrators crowded the streets of downtown Montreal, demanding an end to the “Plan Nord” and to the government’s impending tuition hikes.
Hundreds of business leaders, investors, and politicians were scheduled to meet at the Palais des congrès to discuss the government’s development plan for northern Quebec. The Salon was reported to be delayed by an hour.
The “Plan Nord” consists of more than $80 billion in investment into industrial activities like forestry, mining, and hydroelectricity in Quebec’s northern territories, and is set to be executed over the next 25 years.
The conference was delayed when dozens of demonstrators managed to force their way inside the Palais des congrès on Friday. A student was knocked unconscious during the issuing clashes.
Outside the building, police fired tear gas and sound grenades to disperse the crowd. Several windows of the Palais des Congrès were smashed by protesters, and a student was struck in the head by a tear gas canister, according to the Canadian Press.
Smoke billowed over the Palais des congrès as demonstrators scattered before riot police and spread throughout the streets. Fights between students and police erupted across the downtown area throughout the afternoon.
“I approve of what they’re doing, but the rioting is too much,” a bystander said in French. “This is my city; I’m the one who’s paying for all of this.”
Demonstrators played cat and mouse with police amid scenes of violence. An anonymous protester said his friend was hit in the chest by a tear gas round.
“I won’t let the police attack me when all I’m doing is demonstrating,” he said in French.
The protest came a day after the Quebec Education Minister, Line Beauchamp, confirmed that she would not negotiate with the Coalition Large de l’Association pour une solidarité étudiante (CLASSE) over the management of university finances.
CLASSE is seen by the government as the most radical student association.
“I can’t control people, “ said Jeanne Reynolds, a spokesperson for CLASSE. “It’s been 10 weeks since the strike has started so it’s expected that [protesters] show their anger and their frustration.”
The Fédération étudiante collégiale du Quebec (FECQ) said it would meet with the minister while the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) said it would continue demanding the presence of CLASSE in negotiations.
According to police, 17 people were arrested. Later Friday evening 60 demonstrators met in Square Émilie-Gamelin before marching around the downtown area in solidarity of those arrested in the action.
Josée Desilets spoke to The Daily hours after the demonstration. Desilets said she attempted to gain entry to the Salon in order to distribute her CV. She was told she should come back tomorrow though she expressed doubt that she would be able to gain entry. Desilets travelled six hours to Montreal in order to attend the Salon. She is originally from Abitibi, Quebec.
Another demonstration against the Salon du Plan Nord is planned for tomorrow.
– with files from Erin Hudson