The security message from the U.S. Consulate in Montreal was placed on the website
of the U.S. Embassy late last month but did not get any media attention until yesterday. The message advises of the many student demonstrations now taking place in Montreal. While most of them are peaceful, there is occasional violence and vandalism. Americans are told that while businesses remain open, traffic and public transportation are sometimes subject to temporary disruptions.
Approximately 170,000 students in Quebec are on strike and have been demonstrating for 14 weeks. The strikers are protesting planned tuition fee hikes.
The message says in part,
The U.S. Consulate urges U.S. citizens to avoid the areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution within the vicinity of any protest.
The message points out that innocent bystanders who are caught up in a violent protest may end up being taken into custody by local police.
The so-called "security message" does not rise to the level of a travel warning
where Americans are urged to avoid travel to certain countries such as Iran and Syria.
As reported by the Halifax Chronicle Herald
, American officials are downplaying and almost apologizing for the message. A consular official was quoted as saying,
When we issued the security message, there was an enhanced police presence and some of the demonstrations had been violent. Rocks were thrown and there were instances of vandalism.
He added that there cannot be a double standard and anytime a consulate or an embassy receives information, they are required to inform American citizens.
Montreal is a popular tourist destination, especially in the summer with events such as the jazz festival and the Montreal Grand Prix. But tourism officials don't think the U.S. State Department's warning will have any effect. Michel Leblanc, the president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, was quoted in the Toronto Sun
This [the security message] is a warning that we would give to our own family. There are in Montreal, as in many other cities, a group of individuals—in this case students—who disagree with the government's policy and are protesting.
Leblanc added that city businesses are more concerned that Montreal residents are avoiding the downtown area because of traffic and transit tie-ups caused by the demonstrations than they are with a possible lack of tourist visits.
The latest major incident in the city occurred on Thursday when smoke bombs were thrown into the Montreal subway system. The entire system was forced to close down during the morning rush hour, stranding thousands of people. Yesterday, four people; a man and three women, turned themselves in to police. They face charges including incitement to terrorist activities.
As reported by the Winnipeg Free Press
, the subway closure cost Montreal several million dollars in lost productivity.