Quebec tables emergency bill to end tuition strikes
Published Thursday, May 17, 2012 10:17PM EDT
The Quebec government tabled controversial legislation in the national assembly Thursday evening with the goal of ending student protests that have been causing friction in Montreal for months.
The legislation, first announced Wednesday by Premier Jean Charest, will bring about an early end to the school year, with students returning early in August to finish their spring semester before starting the fall session.
The legislation also includes harsh penalties for anyone who prevents students from entering an educational institution, with fines of between $1,000 to $5,000 for an individual.
The fines climb up to a maximum or $35,000 for a student leader and up to a maximum of $125,000 for a student federation or a students' union.
Debate on the legislation was expected to stretch through the night, with final voting on Friday.
Charest first introduced the legislation Wednesday, saying it was an opportunity for both sides to cool down. Tensions have been high for months since the provincial government first announced plans to increase tuition fees for post-secondary education.
Within hours of Charest's announcement, peaceful protests turned violent in Montreal after some demonstrators began smashing bank windows and heated exchanges erupted between protesters and frustrated business owners.
Similar marches were already underway Thursday evening.
CTV's Montreal Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin said police had to intervene during Wednesday's march, which further escalated the tension.
"This started off a lot of the confrontations. Police officers said they had to go in and take some of these regular citizens, regular Montrealers out of the crowds that were yelling back at them and at that point that sparked some of the angry exchanges between police and the student demonstrators," Beauchemin told CTV's Canada AM on Thursday.
In the end, 122 people were arrested Wednesday and windows were smashed at a number of banks. Police used tear gas and pepper spray to break up the crowds, while demonstrators hurled projectiles at the officers.
Earlier in the day, prior to Charest's announcement, about 100 protesters stormed classes at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, confronting students and professors.
Masked protesters marched through the school, disrupting classes, standing on desks and screaming "scab!" at students who chose to attend class rather than take part in the boycott.
About one-third of Quebec post-secondary students are boycotting classes.
Student union leaders have reacted angrily to the legislation, saying the move undermines efforts to reach an agreement with the province.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for student group CLASSE, said the government hasn't acted in good faith with students -- engaging in talks to end the strikes while at the same time secretly drafting its new legislation.
He told CTV's Canada AM he understands Montrealers are getting fed up after three months of near-daily demonstrations, but said students have no other means of getting their message across.
"What I can tell you is the students also are tired from protesting, we don't do that because it's fun, we don't do that because we like to protest," Nadeau-Dubois said Thursday.
"We protest because there is no other way for us to be heard by this government and the day when the government will listen to us we will stop protesting."