'Important' meeting with students expected: Que. gov't
Published Thursday, May 24, 2012 10:33PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 11, 2012 6:05PM EDT
After another night of protests and mass arrests in Montreal, Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne suggested the government is trying once again to reach a solution with student leaders.
Courchesne said Thursday she expects to hold a "very, very important" meeting with student groups after having "positive" discussions over the phone.
Meanwhile, Premier Jean Charest appointed a new chief of staff, Daniel Gagnier, who once served that same role, to help him deal with the student crisis.
The government appears to be motivated to restore order in the province as the summer tourist season approaches, fearing that cities like Montreal could take a big economic hit.
The U.S. government has warned travellers about "unforeseen violence," "vandalism" and "arrests" in Montreal. Protesters have threatened to disrupt next month's Canadian Grand Prix, prompting some tourists to have doubts about attending.
Montrealers of all stripes were banging pots and pans in solidarity with protesters Wednesday and well into the night, before police later used the controversial "kettling" technique to take 518 demonstrators away in a mass arrest.
Then as night fell, the 30th mass demonstration since the protests began got underway at its usual rallying point at Parc Emilie-Gamelin.
Police declared the gathering to be illegal right away, but allowed the protesters to march for another four hours.
As the crowd of approximately 3,000 approached Sherbrooke Street, the riot police that had been accompanying the march issued an order to disperse.
Montreal police spokesperson Daniel Lacoursiere said the order was given because, among a number of criminal acts committed by marchers, projectiles had been thrown at officers.
Demonstrators at the intersection of Sherbrooke and St. Denis Streets were then surrounded on all sides by a combination of city and Quebec provincial police.
Using the same tactic criticized in the Ontario police watchdog's report on the handling of protesters at the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, the police marched on the protesters and corralled them into a tight pack.
The hemmed-in mob was then made to wait until police led them away, one at a time in handcuffs, to be processed at a police operational centre.
The method is criticized because it can trap innocent bystanders.
Montreal Police Commander Ian Lafreniere said the police are "extremely sorry" if anyone was unintentionally caught in the kettling.
"Honestly that's the reason why this is kind of a last resort," he said. "We're not trying to arrest a lot of people. We don't want to break a record with that. But that being said, citizens of Montreal asked us to restore the peace, to bring back the Montreal they know."
Those detained received, or will receive in the mail, a ticket for more than $600 for illegal assembly, CTV Montreal's Cindy Sherwin reported. Defence lawyer Steven Slimovitch said it may take months, even years for the justice system to process the legal challenges to the fines.
There were also mass arrests at protests in Quebec City and Sherbrooke.
Meanwhile, Charest cancelled a meeting Thursday with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin to sign a trade and environmental protection pact. According to Shumlin's office, Charest planned to stay in Quebec City for debates in the national assembly.
While the unrest in Quebec continues, the rest of Canada is watching and in some instances, national organizations are entering the fray.
"We've actually been supportive of the position taken by the students from the beginning," said the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
"At the heart of it is an issue about ensuring that post-secondary education is accessible and our organization has held for many years that tuition fees are not the proper way to fund post-secondary education," James Turk said in an interview from Halifax.
The association has opposed tuition hikes in other provinces and Turk said the association is pleased students are speaking out against the "abandonment of the historic position of Quebec in keeping tuition fees accessible."
Turk said Canada has historically funded most of the costs for higher education, but over the last decade or so there's been a dramatic increase in the portion borne by students.
With files from The Canadian Press