Quebec election call prompts protest
Published Thursday, August 2, 2012 6:11AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 2, 2012 8:51AM EDT
Just hours after Quebec Premier Jean Charest issued an election call, protesters took to the streets of Montreal for a nighttime rally that devolved into violent clashes with police, resulting in multiple arrests.
Thousands turned out for the rally, the first after several weeks of quiet.
At its outset, the protest had a festive atmosphere, with demonstrators marching through the downtown, banging pots and pans, and voicing their opposition to the government.
One demonstrator carried a large sign blinking “100” to mark the 100th nightly protest.
But as the evening wore on, things began to get ugly. A small crowd, some wearing masks, overturned dumpsters to block a downtown street. Riot police arrived and protesters tossed bottles and Roman candles back at them.
Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades, and by charging at the crowd in formation. At least two windows were broken and one police car damaged.
At one point, a car reportedly drove into one protester who was part of a marching crowd. The victim suffered injuries deemed not life-threatening. Police said they had a description of the vehicle and were investigating the collision as a possible hit-and-run.
By the end of the protest, 15 people had been arrested. Most are facing bylaw infractions but a handful also face criminal charges.
The protesters let it be known that they were not backing down on their mission to contest the government's tuition hikes and controversial demonstration law, Bill 78.
The bill was brought in May to bring an end to the strike, but critics argue it violates the right to free assembly and restricts free speech.
"Let's show the Liberal party we have not forgotten their track record and that we WILL vote in the next elections," said a Facebook invitation to the event.
Earlier Wednesday, Quebec student federations said they would work to knock the governing Liberals out of power. They vowed to get younger people to the polls in greater numbers, and target their efforts in ridings held by high-profile cabinet ministers.
Targets include the riding held by Charest himself, along with those of cabinet ministers like Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil and Finance Minister Raymond Bachand.
At a news conference in Quebec City Wednesday, Charest said protesters have the democratic right to go after him.
But he suggested that “the silent majority” of Quebeckers who are fed up with the protests and who support the government’s plan to raise tuition would have the final say.
"Now is the time for the silent majority to speak," he said.
"In the last few months we've heard a lot from a number of student leaders. We've heard from people in the street. We've heard from those who have been hitting away at pots and pans. Now is the time for the silent majority."
With reports from The Canadian Press