Protesters turned out in record numbers yesterday on the hundredth day of the Quebec student strike. The demonstration lasted almost 12 hours and was marked by over 100 arrests, solidarity demonstrations around the world, and the debut of a raucous new protest tactic.
Starting around 2 p.m. at Place des Arts, students and non-students alike assembled to protest both impending tuition increases and Bill 78, a controversial legislation passed by the Quebec National Assembly last Friday in response to the protests which have been paralyzing downtown Montreal for months. Bill 78 stipulates strict regulations on demonstrations and would impose large fines on their violations.
One of the clauses in Bill 78 requires student federations organizing protests to provide police with the route of the demonstration at least eight hours before it is scheduled to begin. The Fédérations des étudiants universitaire et collegiale du Québec (FEUQ and FECQ) shared Tuesday’s route with the police.
The Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) diverted from the route at the earliest opportunity yesterday afternoon and proceeded to march with several thousand protesters through downtown Montreal towards Parc Lafontaine. CLASSE had announced the day before that it would refuse to comply with Bill 78.
The two protests met at Parc Lafontaine an hour later. Estimates of the size of the protest ranged from 250,000 to 400,000, both making it the largest student demonstration in Quebec history – surpassing the previous record of 200,000 set during the March 22 provincial day of action against tuition hikes.
Markus Prinz, a U1 Medicine student at McGill, said he attended yesterday afternoon’s demonstration to provide medical support in case of injuries. He said the demonstration was “the most people I’ve seen on the streets so far [during the strike], so it’s pretty impressive.”
Speaking of Bill 78, Prinz said he thought the bill has “made things very complicated for people to go out on the street and express their opinion.”
“It’s something I haven’t seen anywhere I’ve been,” continued Prinz. “It’s obviously polarized people quite a lot, and it’s got a whole lot more people involved that hadn’t been originally.”
While the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) reported no arrests, injuries, or acts of mischief, they did later confirm that three windows had been smashed during the protest.
“Casseroles” and night arrests
The record-breaking afternoon protest was followed by the 28th consecutive night demonstration. The demonstration was preluded by a new protest tactic sparked over the weekend through social media.
At 8 p.m., half an hour before the traditional 8:30 p.m. start time of the night demonstrations, Montreal residents across the city poured out of their homes onto sidewalks and banged pots and pans – “casseroles” in French – for 15 minutes in support of protests against Bill 78.
The event was an instant social media hit, trending in Montreal as #casserolesencours, a play on the popular #manifencours used during demonstrations throughout the strike.
The night demonstration followed a similar course to recent night demonstrations since the passage of Bill 78. Leaving Parc Émilie-Gamelin around 9 p.m. without providing police with a route, the march of roughly 2000 people was declared illegal within half an hour.
In a tweet, the SPVM cited the lack of a route, projectiles thrown at officers, and violation of a municipal bylaw banning masks at protests – also passed last week – as the reasons for declaring the protest illegal.
Half an hour later, riot police broke up the main demonstration as it headed east on Ste. Catherine. A cat-and-mouse chase characteristic of recent night demonstrations ensued, with protesters regrouping at various points around downtown throughout the night, only to be scattered again by SPVM and Sûreté du Québec officers and broken into smaller groups.
During one clash with riot police, an officer hit a reporter from Le Délit in the side of the head with a baton. A reporter for OpenFile Montreal was also arrested during the protest, but was released soon after.
The SPVM reported over 50 total arrests from the night demonstration early Wednesday morning, including five for “criminal acts,” including armed assault and assault on a police officer.
Tuesday’s demonstrations in Montreal were joined by demonstrations in cities across the country and the world, including Calgary, Vancouver, New York, and Paris.
Several hundred gathered in front of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Tuesday afternoon to support the ongoing Quebec student strike.
In New York, two protests were organized for Tuesday by Occupy Wall Street and other activist groups. Roughly 60 people attended a demonstration outside the Quebec government office in Manhattan. That night, there was a second demonstration in New York condemning Bill 78. There was at least one arrest – of a Quebecoise woman – during that protest.
Speaking to The Daily at the demonstration yesterday afternoon, Lilian Radovac, a Communications course lecturer at McGill, said she thought that it was “really important that this is getting global attention.”
“I just think any gesture of solidarity right now is just so important. This has gone on for so long, it’s probably good for morale. And I think that it’s really good for people to know the world is watching, especially since the passage of Bill 78,” said Radovac.