An estimated 3,000 people, most of them students, took to the streets of downtown Montreal on March 24, with nearly 50,000 students on strike this week against the provincial Liberal government’s austerity measures. Police attempted numerous maneuvers to repress the demonstration, and although the protesters escaped kettling, the event resulted in four arrests: two for armed assault and two for mischief.
The demonstration was also part of a Canada-wide day of action for accessible education called for by the Revolutionary Student Movement, a student group with chapters across Canada.
As the crowd was gathering at Place Émilie-Gamelin around 9 p.m., the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) blocked the Ste. Catherine and Berri intersection and declared the protest illegal under bylaw P-6, since the route had not been given to the police ahead of time.
Demonstrators marched for over two hours, chanting anti-austerity and anti-capitalist slogans. Around 9:30 p.m., shortly after the start of the demonstration, police blocked the intersection of Réné-Levesque and St. Laurent and attempted to break up the protesters. Although some projectiles were thrown from the crowd, the mass generally stayed calm and marched forward, leading police to open the blockade.
“The police [do] not have the right to obstruct us,” a university student from Quebec City told The Daily, expressing his dissatisfaction with the application of municipal bylaw P-6. “According to the law, we have the right to demonstrate when we feel like it and when we believe that a situation is unjust. And I know my laws.”
Pénélope, a CEGEP student, said that she was wary of police in the wake of violent confrontations with the SPVM at the strike week kick-off demonstration the previous day. “It was really bad. The police dispersed us extremely quickly. Afterward, they arrested a few and attacked others,” she told The Daily in French.
“We have the right to demonstrate when we feel like it and when we believe that a situation is unjust.”
A saxophone player among the protesters helped lighten the mood throughout the march. Demonstrators chanted “Avec nous, dans la rue!” (“With us, to the streets!”) to onlooking students as they passed McGill’s Bronfman building on Sherbrooke.
The second major confrontation of the night took place around 10:40 p.m. at the intersection of Maisonneuve and Drummond, with police deploying a smoke bomb and bringing the demonstration to a standstill for several minutes. Demonstrators chanted anti-police slogans and threw projectiles at the SPVM. The SPVM charged a group of protesters who had turned north on Drummond, deploying tear gas and using rubber bullets, reportedly hitting a protester in the head.
The small group managed to break through the police line, however, and the demonstration continued. Police charged again shortly thereafter, and mostly dispersed the demonstration by 11:30 p.m.. One person reportedly lost their tooth after being hit by a police shield, and two people – one protester and one police officer – were treated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to CBC.
Speaking to The Daily, a protester said that he was not surprised by the police’s actions. “It’s the usual. There was intimidation, as always – charging into the crowd with their shields, that sucks,” he said in French.
“In 2012 [during the student strikes] I saw a lot worse,” added another protestor in French. “This is only the beginning.”
Actions will continue throughout the week as striking students continue to pressure the government to roll back its cuts to public services, including healthcare and education. One student from Cégep de Saint-Laurent explained that students gather at the CEGEP every morning for discussion and organization.
Léa, a student from Cégep du Vieux Montréal, spoke to the importance of continuing to mobilize students across the province.
“I think that [with its policies] of austerity, the Couillard government is not […] the best to move Quebec forward. [Instead], I think that the welfare state should be improved,” she told The Daily in French. “[To achieve this] we will need a group movement – it should not only be Montreal, but the entirety of Quebec.”
—With files from Marina Cupido