Last Friday, more than 50 buses filled with demonstrators drove to Victoriaville where the Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ) was holding its convention. The demonstration quickly turned into a riot with the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), the provincial police, arresting four demonstrators.
However, shortly after demonstrators dispersed, Jean Finet, a spokesperson for the SQ, said that the police was “in investigation mode, more arrests are to be expected. The Sûreté du Québec will spare no pains to identify the perpetrators of crimes committed here tonight.”
Around 6 p.m., 2,000 demonstrators converged on the hotel Victorin Friday afternoon where the PLQ convention was being held. Protesters quickly broke through the metal barricades and started throwing various projectiles at the police. The police responded with extensive use of tear gas and rubber bullets. The demonstrator was over after a few hours, and two students and one police officer were hospitalized with critical injuries. One of the students lost the use of his eye.
At 10 p.m., more than ten SQ vehicles pulled over the McGill-Concordia bus that was 30 minutes outside of Victoriaville and heading back to Montreal. An agent boarded the bus and announced that all passengers were under arrest for illegal assembly. The bus was escorted back to Victoriaville, where the SQ started processing the demonstrators.
The demonstrators were taken off the bus, into the SQ station to be questioned, and escorted back on the bus once they had signed a promise to appear in court at a later date. The bus left the SQ around 5:30 a.m., after nearly eight hours of detention.
At least three demonstrators were held overnight as they were scheduled to appear on the phone with a judge. They had been previously arrested for similar charges.
Stefan Christoff, a writer and activist who was among the demonstrators, said “We were told that we were not allowed to speak to each other [on the bus]. This is illegal.”
Demonstrators also reported that they were denied access to water and food and that it was “only after they begged several times” that they were allowed to use the bathroom.
Denis Poitras, a Montreal lawyer, has represented a number of demonstrators facing charges since the beginning of the student strike. He told The Daily in an interview that he was concerned about the detention conditions of the demonstrators who were held in the bus for more than seven hours, in what became a de facto jail cell.
“They were put in this cage in conditions that are not acceptable,” Poitras said in French. He said it is possible that the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom was infringed.
Poitras further questioned the legality of the arrests. “You need reasonable motives to arrest someone. I don’t see how you can have reasonable motives to arrest an entire bus.”
Two journalists were also on board the bus: the editor-in-chief of Le Délit and a photographer for Concordia student newspaper the Link. Although they were arrested and detained for the same amount of time as the demonstrators, their charges were dropped after they were questioned.
Brian Myles, president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ), the province’s main journalist union, said in French that “the fact that the charges were dropped and that the SQ did not touch their equipment is positive.”
It is unclear why the McGill-Concordia bus was targeted. Among the 50 buses that drove to Victoriaville, only a handful were pulled over. McGill student Zoe Pepper-Cunningham said that “maybe that is because we were the last bus to leave.” In addition to the McGill-Concordia bus, two buses from the Cégep de Montmorency were stopped in Saint-Hyacinthe, and their passengers arrested.
The SQ announced on Saturday that 101 students were arrested on buses outside Victoriaville, in addition to nine during the protest.