On Thursday evening, students and their supporters marched in Montreal for a third consecutive night to protest tuition hikes in the wake of the breakdown of negotiations with the provincial government on Wednesday.
Protests have been occurring daily in downtown Montreal since negotiations began with the government on Monday, and subsequently broke down after Minister of Education Line Beauchamp excluded the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) – considered the most militant student association – from negotiations on Wednesday.
The protest, which at its peak consisted of an estimated 2,000 marchers, was advertised on the CLASSE website as well as on Facebook, where the event “HOLY SHIT : MANIF NOCTURNE PRISE 3 !!!” listed 2,304 attendees.
The protest began at 8:30 p.m., when protesters gathered at Parc Émile-Gamelin.
“It’s a huge joke,ˮ said Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) philosophy student Alexendre Bolduc to The Daily in French about provincial negotiations. “[Beauchamp] was there for one hour of talks; in my opinion, they really don’t take us seriously. They’re fanning the flames, they continue to infantilize us. They showed us that they can’t negotiate in good faith; it’s going to have to be worked out in some other way.ˮ
As the march set off from the park, protesters were addressed by police, who asked that they move in the direction of traffic. They were blocked by police from moving west down Ste. Catherine and instead went south on St. Denis and turned eastward to march on René Lévesque, effectively blocking the street. Police on horses, bicycles, and in cars maintained a presence ahead of the march and behind it, and groups of police in riot helmets marched alongside protesters.
As the march crossed de Bullion around 9 p.m., police declared it illegal, causing some marchers to leave.
On Twitter, the Service de la Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) announced that the protest had been declared illegal because projectiles had been thrown at police. Less than an hour later, the SPVM announced that, although illegal, the protest would be allowed to continue if it remained peaceful.
Throughout the night, sirens could be heard as police rushed to keep up with protesters’ unannounced route. With the exception of a few instances of pyrotechnic material being set off by protesters, no acts of violence or vandalism were observed during the march. The only arrest reported by police concerned the use of pyrotechnics. In many instances when the crowd neared police, it chanted “On reste pacifique” (Let’s stay peaceful).
Numbers dwindled rapidly in the protest’s third hour. Fewer than one hundred protesters remained when the demonstration came to a close in front of Place Ville Marie, where one protester, Felix Levellier, addressed the crowd. “We’ll be back tomorrow, and there will be three times as many of us!”
After his speech, Levellier told The Daily in French that he was not one of the protest’s organizers, but had decided to speak to ensure that the protest ended without violence. When asked why he had attended the march, Levellier said, “We want to stop the hikes, but above all else we want the government to hear us, peacefully.”