‘Quebec protests no longer simply a student issue’
A protester is pepper sprayed during a protest against student tuition hikes on the 100th day of Quebec's student strikes, in downtown Montreal May 22, 2012 (Reuters/Brett Gundlock)
The streets of Montreal have been the scene of massive protests against planned tuition hikes, as well as a law that seeks to limit the right to demonstrate. RT discussed the issue with Corey Pool, an editor of Montreal-based newspaper “The Link.”
RT:Do you believe the protests can sway the government’s position on both the fees and civil rights?
Corey Pool: I guess that’s kind of difficult to answer. It depends on who you ask. The problem with this issue is that it’s extremely polarizing. Some people see these mass arrests as a sign that the government may be winning. Some people use these situations as justification for why this movement exists.
RT:Do you think the protests are still about the fees only, or have they turned into something else now?
CP: The movement has been going on for a long time now. The mainstream media has only caught onto this recently. But now, I think, the best way to describe it is it is an ideological movement. It no longer just encompasses the issue of tuition increases. It’s no longer simply a student issue. I think that’s really exemplified by the nightly demonstrations. This past Tuesday there were thousands of people in the streets and many of them were families, young and old. It’s no longer just an issue of a tuition increase. The issue is much larger now.
RT:What do the people of Quebec think of the strike and the protests?
CP: I think the government is trying to keep it as a student issue led by students that can be quelled with some simple negotiations. But I don’t really think that that is exactly the case. I feel that it’s an ideological issue. It’s a movement that’s grown beyond the simple fact of tuition increases, and now encompasses many problems that are being brought up in the Quebec government – mismanagement of funds, corruption within the government itself, mismanagement of the university system, and generally people are extremely upset. And I don’t think that this issue will simply go away. We are now 103 days into the movement. I don’t think it’s a simple issue that can be resolved.
RT: Are clashes with police likely to continue, given the contentious issue of the emergency law?
CP: It depends on who you ask, but in my opinion, I believe so. Bill 78 is an extremely contentious issue and it’s been opposed by many people, as well as some prominent organizations and unions. I don’t think that this bill, which some consider an unenforceable law, will necessarily quell demonstrations. In fact, over the past few days, what we’ve seen is a more unified body of people. Now there are demonstrations not only every night, but there are people in the streets every single day. At eight o’clock, they come out and they bang pots and pans. I think this one law, if anything, has galvanized the movement in a way.
Over 700 people were arrested throughout Canada on Wednesday after they clashed with police during regular protests against planned tuition hikes and a new moot emergency bill that bans spontaneous demonstrations of over 50 people, requiring organizers to inform the police of the rally's planned route eight hours in advance. This followed a bevy of other rowdy rallies during which skirmishes between protesters and the police broke out.
On Thursday, the government agreed to start negotiations with the four main student groups protesting the tuition hikes. In the meantime, students, unions and around 70 community groups asked the Quebec superior court to throw out most of the law on the grounds that it violates the constitution.