Around 150 people gathered on Friday outside the Mont Royal metro station to protest austerity policies in Quebec. The Montreal regional council for the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) arranged the march to coincide with a string of other anti-austerity events across the province this week.
“I don’t like this new precedent of having lots of police – nearly as many as the protesters seems to have become the norm. I’m counting the days until the armoured personnel vehicle starts showing up at the protests.”
The event was marked by heavy police presence; numerous officers on foot and bicycle closely escorted the protest for the duration of the march. Protesters expressed their dissatisfaction by chanting anti-police slogans as they walked down St. Denis.
As the demonstration reached the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, a group of the protesters entered the building, acting in solidarity with students who were recently found guilty of illegal assembly and mischief during the occupation of the Cégep in the spring of 2012.
The demonstration was declared illegal by the police shortly thereafter and protesters were forced onto the sidewalk for the rest of the march. They peacefully dispersed late in the afternoon and no arrests were made.
The heavy police presence was alarming to some protesters. “I don’t like this new precedent of having lots of police – nearly as many as the protesters seems to have become the norm,” said Trevor Smith, student and member of the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association. “I’m counting the days until the armoured personnel vehicle starts showing up at the protests.”
Many protesters emphasized the importance of continuing to demonstrate in spite of the risk of high fines and the possibility of arrest. “It’s discouraging, but we will not yield to the threat of capital,” Amélie, a student at Cégep de Saint-Laurent, told The Daily in French.
“It’s important that we take this to the streets, that we reiterate our claim to the right to protest, our right to denounce these measures, our right to be politically active,” insisted Benjamin Gingras, co-spokesperson for the ASSÉ.
“[Those hit the hardest are] the most disadvantaged of us, people who are already on welfare, who are already having trouble heating their apartments and paying rent, women especially of course – women are always the first to suffer any kind of anti-social policy. Austerity measures are so broad, and they’re attacking so many people.”
Since coming to office in September 2012, the Parti Québécois (PQ) has embarked on an austerity program in order to decrease the province’s deficit. A rise in education tuition fees, broad welfare cuts, and increases in hydro-electricity rates form part of the government’s program.
“The PQ has had this idea of ‘deficit zero’ since the 1990s, so all these cuts that they’re doing now is in this objective of deficit zero,” explained Gingras.
Critics object that the cuts predominantly affect underprivileged sectors of society that are unable to mount a defense. This sentiment was echoed by many protesters who argued that welfare cuts disproportionately target vulnerable groups. “Cutting social aid, childcare and so on, means that the poor are targeted while the rich remain unaffected,” Sophie Macon, a Cégep student, said to The Daily in French. “Students, the homeless, women and the Indigenous are particularly affected.”
“[Those hit the hardest are] the most disadvantaged of us, people who are already on welfare, who are already having trouble heating their apartments and paying rent, women especially of course – women are always the first to suffer any kind of anti-social policy,” added Gingras. “Austerity measures are so broad, and they’re attacking so many people.”