Thousands of people have joined a student-led protest against austerity measures in downtown Montreal, putting the government and police on high alert.

Organizations representing some 100,000 Quebec students have voted in favour of boycotting classes to protest the provincial government’s spending cuts. Groups representing teachers, professors and some unions were expected to join the demonstration in Montreal’s Victoria Square.

Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante, or ASSE, organized the protest, which began at 1 p.m.

While the event has been a mostly peaceful affair, Montreal police were involved in a standoff with a group of protesters who had broken away from the main demonstration.

Police fired tear gas in an attempt to get them to disperse.

Protest organizers say they want to send a strong message to the Liberal government that they will not accept what they call an "obsession" with reaching a balanced budget at the expense of Quebecers, CTV Montreal’s Maya Johnson reported.

Critics say the austerity measures have affected the quality of public services in Quebec, but the government insists the cutbacks are necessary to ensure prosperity in the future.

The government has said that protesters have a right to assemble, as long as they remain peaceful. Premier Philippe Couillard said he hopes that students who take to the streets will try to see the bigger picture.

"What we are doing today is, by taking back control of our public finances, allowing Quebec to determine its destiny and its choices in the future," Couillard told reporters Thursday. "And they will be the ones leading Quebec tomorrow."

Public Security Minister Lise Theriault has issued a directive to police forces across the province, reminding them of the rules and policies when it comes to dealing with protesters.

Last month, protester Naomie Tremblay-Trudeau said she was considering legal action against the police after she was shot in the face with part of a tear-gas canister at an anti-austerity demonstration.

The ASSE has also complained about other instances of what they call heavy-handed police tactics.

Theriault told reporters Thursday that people have the right to protest, but they also have “an obligation to respect the rules,” just as police officers do.

With a report from CTV Montreal and files from The Canadian Press

Thousands of anti-austerity protesters in Montreal

Students demonstrate against austerity measures and government cuts at a protest in Montreal on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Montreal braces for massive anti-austerity protest

Thousands gather for anti-austerity demonstration in Montreal on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (CTV Montreal / Maya Johnson)

Montreal braces for massive anti-austerity protest

Police gather as students demonstrate against austerity changes proposed by the provincial government in Montreal on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (CTV Montreal / Maya Johnson)

Montreal braces for massive anti-austerity protest

Thousands gather for anti-austerity demonstration in Montreal on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (CTV News / Vanessa Lee)