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UQAM students fight increased surveillance

Administration targets campus activist hub Café Aquin

Flanked by three security guards, approximately 200 Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) students stormed through the halls of UQAM’s DeSève, Thérèse-Casgrain, and Aquin buildings on Wednesday.

The protesters, who gathered in the agora of the Judith Jasmin building on Ste. Catherine at 12:30 p.m., voiced their discontent over new security protocols recently established by the UQAM administration.

The new security measures, slated to cost UQAM more than $300,000 over the next two years, included the installation of 15 cameras on the walls and ceiling around Café Aquin, a cafe co-run by the science and law (AFESPED), and the social science (AFESH) associations at UQAM. The university has already spent $300,000 over the last four years on similar security measures.

Café Aquin was a centre for mobilization during the student strikes of last year. It was abruptly closed on December 20 when the UQAM administration announced that the entire area had to be walled-off as strong acids were being used to remove graffiti. They also announced that AFESH would foot the $50,000 bill. The cafe reopened yesterday after several rounds of negotiations with the administration.

The walled-off area also included the meeting spaces allotted to the handicapped student’s association, the student-parent support network, the social science, and political science associations.

Without informing students, the UQAM administration also installed 15 surveillance cameras in the area.

“They put surveillance cameras everywhere, there isn’t a way to walk around the university without being filmed,” Annie, a student at UQAM who didn’t want to give her last name, told The Daily in French.

“Today we are here to oppose the fact that they installed these cameras. Also to denounce the fact that there are 16 employees that haven’t been paid since the closure,” Annie said.

Cafe employees were only given 24 hours’ notice before the cafe was closed. These employees have not been compensated for their lost hours. According to Annie, the administration told AFESPED and AFESH that they would have to cover employees’ salaries for this period themselves.

“The administration is putting in place controls of the spaces we meet. They saw what happens when we get together; it allows us to resist,” Annie said in French through a megaphone to the assembling crowd.

Protesters who were not masked were handed beige scarves to cover their faces. Moving toward the student services office, demonstrators threw confetti into the air and blew air horns.

The anger over the installation of cameras was made evident as the protest reached the Henri-Aquin building when several protesters brought out hammers, smashing two wall-mounted cameras. One camera was ripped from the ceiling. Several other cameras were spray-painted with red and green paint.

One protester broke through one of the walls around Café Aquin, as demonstrators around him evaded the debris.

The protest dissipated quickly as people announced that more security guards were on the way.

The UQAM administration did not return calls from The Daily by press time.