Thousands take to the streets in Montreal protest
Published Saturday, June 2, 2012 11:31PM EDT
Thousands of protesters braved rainy weather in Montreal Saturday afternoon to vent their frustration over failed tuition talks and government policy.
The rally, organized by the powerful CLASSE student association and convened at the base of Mount Royal near McGill University, was the first protest since the latest tuition negotiations with Premier Jean Charest's government broke down Thursday.
The protest maintained a festive air, with students, families and other supporters singing protest songs and setting a beat with pots and pans, which has become a hallmark of the ongoing dispute.
"This isn't a student strike, it's a society waking up," read a banner at the front of the march.
The ongoing dispute has consumed Quebec for nearly four months and pitted the increasingly radical students against Charest's ruling Liberal government. It has also prompted lawmakers to create Bill 78, a so-called emergency law meant to quash protests.
Matthew Larose, a 32-year-old construction foreman, said before Saturday's demonstration that he wanted to join the march because he opposes both the tuition increases and Bill 78.
"If they can do it in Quebec, they can do it everywhere else. It sets a bad precedent for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of everything ... and it's disgraceful," he told The Canadian Press at a nightly protest in Montreal on Friday.
"It affects my generation and it affects the coming generation, my kids. If they're allowed to raise tuition, at what point are they going to stop if they get away with it."
But many feared Saturday's rally could signal the start of more divisive events in the province's most-heavily populated city.
The Grand Prix auto race is scheduled to take place in Montreal next weekend and many are worried that the students will use the internationally recognized race as a grandstand for their cause.
CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois earlier tried to assuage fears by promising that the group would use the event only as a forum to raise its grievances with the province and would not prevent people from going to the race.
But Nadeau-Dubois told CTV Montreal on Friday night that "we cannot block the hundreds of thousands of students of Quebec from doing an action if they want to do an action."
On Saturday, he told reporters that while the protests will go on, his group will hand out information to tourists so that they "will know what's going on here and so they understand why they see images of protests on television every day."
Charest said student groups would be "hurting Quebecers" if they disrupt the car race.
"I think they have to examine their consciences when it comes to their acts," he said Friday while visiting a suburb west of Montreal.
Meanwhile, students in Ontario have designated June 5 as a day of action in Toronto where they plan to rally in support of the ongoing Quebec protests.