Over 1,500 students took to the street Monday night to protest the two-day education summit held by the Parti Québécois (PQ) government.
The summit has been criticized by many who believe that its outcomes have been pre-determined. The Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), a student federation representing 70,000 students, boycotted the meeting because free education was taken off the table as a discussion topic.
McGill Principal Heather Monroe-Blum also said that the summit was a “farce”, and called the meeting “choreographed” in an interview with Le Devoir two weeks ago.
Corine Trubiano, a student at the Collège de Maisonneuve who was at the protest, told The Daily in French that she did not feel the summit represented the student population fairly.
“I’m here because I’m angry that the idea of free education is being excluded from the summit. The ideas they are talking about have been pre-determined; I find that this isn’t including the entire population. ASSÉ and other student associations are not represented here today,” she said.
The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) declared the protest illegal before it started marching south from Cabot Square, where protesters gathered at 4:30 p.m. Riot police and police on bicycles flanked the march almost immediately, along with buses filled with more police dressed in riot gear at the rear.
The march snaked through residential streets in St. Henri before arriving at the Arsenal, a contemporary art gallery where the summit is being held. SPVM and Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers filled the parking lot in front of the Arsenal, blocking the entrance. A helicopter circled above, while peaceful protesters chanted anti-police slogans.
La Presse reported on Sunday that the SQ was present at the summit at the behest of Premier Pauline Marois, and would be called on if the SPVM felt it needed reinforcements.
“The police presence is completely absurd here. We aren’t living in a police state. Their huge numbers are just increasing people’s anger. It’s brutal, and it’s creating a violent image for our society. That isn’t necessary,” Trubiano said in French.
Inside the Arsenal, civil society groups, student leaders, and representatives from professors’ unions and administrative bodies tackled four areas of discussion during the twelve-and-a-half hour meeting – the quality of education and university governance, the research collaboration between schools and communities, the development of university funding, and strategies for the accessibility of education and student retention.
Marois said that she wanted to increase tuition fees by 3 per cent starting next September. This increase would be indexed to families’ disposable income, which would be a $70 increase from what students are now paying. This was the “most just” and “fairest” solution for society, Marois said.
Québec solidaire co-leader Françoise David, who wore a red square during the meeting, tweeted that the 3 per cent indexation was “indecent” and “unacceptable”.
After standing outside the Arsenal for about twenty minutes, the protesters continued east on Notre-Dame, then north on Guy and up de la Montagne. The march then headed east on Ste. Catherine.
According to SPVM spokesperson Jean-Bruno Latour, one person was arrested for armed assault after launching a projectile at police. Two people were fined – one for refusing to disperse, and another for putting stickers on a building.
While the SPVM had no information regarding the types of projectiles used, CTV speculated that the projectiles, which were thrown by several people, could have been snowballs and paint-filled ping pong balls.
Police chased protesters down to Place des Arts, where some were shoved aside from the Complexe Desjardins and held for a short time. At one point, police fired a sound bomb, also known as a flash-bang, to try to get protesters to scatter.
There were reports that an SPVM officer was injured by tear gas, but the SPVM would not comment on this by press time. Several journalists – including a Concordia University Television (CUTV) correspondent – were pepper sprayed.
The majority of protesters dispersed by around 7 p.m.; however, a group of around 100 protesters who regrouped at Place Émilie-Gamelin started another march east along Ste. Catherine. This protest was immediately declared illegal, and police announced over loudspeakers that everyone had to walk on the sidewalk or would be “broken up”.
By around 7:15 p.m., this small protest scattered at Beaudry metro. Here, riot police took a break at a local fastfood restaurant and were met with jeers from onlookers.
ASSÉ has planned a bigger protest for Tuesday, the second day of the summit, which will meet at Square Victoria at 2 p.m. The Facebook event has almost 4,500 confirmed attendees, dwarfing Monday’s event of just over 1,000 confirmed attendees.