UPDATE: With nightly student protests still continuing – it's now been 36 consecutive days – the Quebec government and student leaders have come back to the negotiation table in an attempt to end the province's student strike. Student leaders have hinted at progress, citing the fact that they plan to head into a third day of talks. And it is important to note that Quebec's Liberal government has softened their position, offering to shift university budget items and spread out the 75% tuition increase over seven instead of five years. Students need to take a step back and evaluate the options available to them instead of only resorting to the same strategies that have been taking place over the past three months – hard-line student protests without significant negotiation.
Last Thursday night marked the 31st consecutive evening march in Montreal as students continue to protest against Quebec’s planned tuition hikes. What started three months ago as a movement against the government’s proposed 75% tuition increase over the next seven years has quickly escalated into widespread social unrest in opposition to the province’s Liberal Party regime.
Police arrested over 650 individuals across the province on Thursday night during peaceful protests and marches. Many of these arrests occurred in Montreal using the very controversial “kettling” approach – a tactic that has gathered lots of negative attention following the release of the watchdog’s report about the 2010 G20 summit inToronto, Canada.
Over one-third of Quebec’s college and university students (about 155,000 students) are striking against the plans, saying the hikes would leave them in deep debt. Students consider the government’s plans to be very much in line with the widely disliked European-style tuition and fee increases. With growing anger and unrest, the government has been unable to control protests and mediate discussions with student groups, proving the millennial-led protests are growing strength and support. The Liberal government called an emergency session to pass anti-protest laws that essentially restrict protesting in the province.
The law, which requires advance notice of protests and sets fines for individuals who disobey, is said to be an effort to restore order and economic strength to the province during the weeks leading up to tourist season. On the flip side, students have been backed by over 70 community groups and unions, including the Quebec university professors’ federation, all of whom claim the laws are not only unconstitutional, but an obvious violation of fundamental human rights.
There’s no question the law goes too far. The Quebec government is removing students’ rights to peaceful protests, gathering, and free speech. People can’t congregate and march peacefully in opposition to an ill-informed government disinterested in the concerns of the student population.
Students and unions have taken the right step moving forward by challenging the anti-protest laws and continuing to hold the government accountable to the best interests of the Quebec population. Premier Jean Charest will need to call an election by December 2013. Latest polls show that at the rate his government is moving, Quebec’s Liberal government could see a loss to the separatist movement who want independence for the French-speaking province.
Quebec’s Liberal government needs to take a step back and realize that no longer are the province’s students and higher education organizations watching the situation unfold. News has crossed borders, and individuals across Canada, the United Statesand other countries are looking at Quebec. The government needs to act, and it needs to do so fast. Engaging student groups in conversations and dialogue will prove to be far more beneficial than attempts to suppress protestors with unconstitutional anti-protest laws that limit fundamental rights.
Quebec, the world is watching.