Although the Parti Québécois announced the cancellation of the tuition hikes earlier this week, thousand of students took to the streets on Saturday.
The demonstration came after students began a tradition of protests on the 22nd day of every month. Organizers estimated that around 5,000 people were at the demonstration.
Protesters started gathering at Parc Lafontaine around 2 p.m. Police maintained a presence from the beginning of the demonstration.
The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) declared the demonstration illegal from its onset, based on municipal bylaw P-6 on “Prevention of disturbances to the peace, public security, and public order.” The bylaw requires organizers to give police an itinerary of the demonstration in advance.
The SPVM told The Daily that three arrests were made at the demonstration. The SPVM also tweeted that some protesters were throwing projectiles and that one police officer was injured.
The crowd began marching east on Cherrier at 2:50 p.m. after which it went south on Berri and east again on Ontario. Following a number of re-routes the march reached Sherbrooke and Peel, where it clashed with the SPVM.
The demonstration ended around 5 p.m. on Drummond between Maisonneuve and Ste. Catherine after the SPVM dispersed the march into several groups.
Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) co-spokesperson Camille Robert told The Daily that “today, we are demonstrating to celebrate our victory. Although tuition fees were cancelled for 2012-2013, there remains a lot to be done for accessibility to higher education in Quebec. This is why we are supporting free education today.”
“Many student associations have classes on Saturdays, including UQAM and CEGEP du Vieux-Montréal. Their associations have for the most part voted on strike mandates for today’s demonstrations,” she added.
Option Nationale leader Jean-Martin Aussant, who was at the demonstration, told The Daily that free education was in his party’s platform.
“The demonstration can inform many groups of people that free education is not a cost. Many people think free education will cost the state money, when it will actually generate revenue,” said Aussant.
“Every country that has implemented free higher education has realized that it was generating revenue because people who go to school longer on average earn more money and pay more taxes,” he added.
SSMU VP External Robin Reid-Fraser, who was one of the approximately 15 McGill students who attended the demonstration, told The Daily she was at the protest to “show support for the cause of free education.”
“I think it is important to show that even though the current hike has been cancelled, and the [student] federations are saying they won and the movement is basically done, there are still people who believe on further progress on this issue,” said Reid-Fraser.
Regarding SSMU’s position on the issue, Reid-Fraser stated that “currently we have a resolution in favour of accessible education, and free education is definitely something that fits into that.”
“We will be revisiting this at our general assemblies this year and we might go farther with it somewhere soon,” she added.
One McGill student, who wished to remain anonymous, was watching the demonstration from Sherbrooke. “My personal opinion is that Quebec tuition is the cheapest in Canada anyway,” the Quebec resident said.
“Education is a privilege not a right, and I find it hard to believe that that small a raise in tuition is that big a deal for people. What we’re paying is hardly anything. If you need money from the government to go to school you can apply for it. I did and I got it,” they said.
Marjolaine Gaudreau, a woman in her forties, attended the demonstration in solidarity with her 14-year-old daughter, whom she hopes will eventually benefit from free higher education. “I am an angry mother in solidarity,” she said in French. “The police pushed me in the back with their shields, they hit you, they insult you, and they don’t care when you tell them you are peaceful and of a certain age!”