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article imageOp-Ed: Montreal protests target Quebec government austerity policies

By Ken Hanly     Mar 26, 2015 in Politics
Montreal - Police used tear gas and reportedly sound bombs and fired rubber bullets on Tuesday to disperse students who were protesting provincial Quebec government austerity policies that included severe cuts to education funding.
The protest march was declared illegal from the start as the organizers did not provide authorities with their itinerary. A new bylaw P-6 requires this. The march began about 9 PM and went through downtown streets. Police surrounded the park where the protest began. Several arrests were made and there was some vandalism.
There were clashes with police as they tried to isolate and surround or "kettle" a group of students. Many protesters wore masks and covered their faces another violation of the local bylaw.
Last month, charges against three alleged protesters under the bylaw were dismissed by a judge because the law was not written clearly enough to determine whether the protesters had even committed an offence. The defense for the three accused had argued that they had not be involved in organizing the protest and hence had no responsibility to provide the police with an itinerary of the march, and also the police did not even prove that they were protesters rather than bystanders. The three avoided a $634 fine.
Almost every year there have been protests by students in Quebec. In 12012 there were huge protests against tuition hikes, even though Quebec had the lowest tuition fees for universities of any Canadian province. The protests were sometimes called Maple Spring (Printemps erable) combining a Quebec and Canadian symbol the Maple Leaf as well as linking to the Arab Spring. There were protests in Montreal last year in the spring as well. They were also declared illegal from the start and were also directed against Quebec government austerity measures. Protesters use red squares to identify themselves, a practice that began with the earlier demonstrations.
Demonstrations began on Monday this week when almost 150 students from Concordia university and several junior colleges (CEGEPs). Police quickly shut the protest down as being illegal because no itinerary involved. This angered protesters and resulted in some violence with one woman being arrested and a police officer pelted with ice. The Tuesday protests were much larger with CTV estimating the protesters at around a thousand. RT reported a turnout of thousands.
The 2012 student protests helped defeat the then Liberal government and bring the separatist Bloc Quebecois into power. Pauline Marois of the Bloc was premier from December 18, 2013 to April 23rd, 2014. However, on April 7th last year Liberal leader Philippe Couillard led the Liberals back to power. The Liberal government has been following neo-liberal business friendly policies and is promising tax cuts in the recent budget.
Many students have been boycotting classes and in some cases classes have been cancelled. There are more protests planned. The students are calling the protests Printemps 2015 or Spring 2015 recalling the earlier 2012 protests:This time, the student groups say they have the support of 25,000 students from l'Université de Montreal, UQAM (Universite du Quebec a Montreal), Université de Montreal, Université de Quebec à Chicoutimi and CEGEP du Vieux Montreal. The students are attempting to encourage other groups to join the process and are protesting austerity policies in general rather than concentrating only on student interests and demands.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about parti quebecois, Montreal, student protest, Quebec austerity
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