All Posts Tagged With: "Maple Spring"
Anti-tuition protests became riots
MONTREAL – Quebec provincial police say they underestimated the threat level at a student demonstration that turned into a riot last year.
Marcel Savard, the force’s assistant director, told a commission looking into the student protests of 2012 that police underestimated demonstrators outside a provincial Liberal meeting in May 2012.
He also confirmed fences erected to keep demonstrators away from the gathering in the central Quebec town of Victoriaville were inadequate and there was a breakdown in the communication of intelligence information.
Savard said police have learned valuable lessons from the experience.
He said maintaining the peace is a shared responsibility between police and demonstrators and that such weapons as rubber bullets were not used indiscriminately.
Students protested last year in opposition to tuition fee increases imposed by the provincial government, which argued fees had not been raised in years. Many demonstrations were held in Montreal and some of them turned violent.
Montreal Police spent $17 million on overtime
MONTREAL – The head of a Quebec government-appointed commission looking into the 2012 student protests hopes his inquiry helps future demonstrations take place peacefully.
Serge Menard, a former public security minister, today kicked off public hearings by saying the events of last spring led to a crisis of confidence regarding police.
He says that, according to the information collected, the public seems skeptical about measures in place to take disciplinary steps against officers.
The raucous protests were staged against tuition increases by the former Liberal government, which were eventually pared back when the Parti Quebecois came to power.
Students critique coverage of Quebec, Occupy movements
The Quebec student strike of 2012, also known as the Maple Spring, generated global headlines and led to the cancellation of large tuition increases. The sometimes violent protests also raised questions about how the media covers student-led movements. In the Quebec case, many students gave the coverage a failing grade.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the most visible leader of the Quebec movement, says that at one point bodyguards accompanied some journalists covering the protests, because students were so angry about coverage they saw as shallow or biased, that reporters worried for their safety.
“After 20 weeks, people were very angry,” recalled Nadeau-Dubois, who served as the chief spokesperson of the student group CLASSE. “They were being beaten by the cops and they were not being listened to by the government,” he added, “so they turned against the journalists.”
Student groups, police unions boycott hearings
The head of the Quebec government-appointed commission looking into the 2012 student protests has sought to reassure its critics with a promise to remain apolitical.
The commission has begun its work under a cloud of suspicion, with different sides in the historic student dispute expressing equal disdain for the project.
Student groups have indicated that they will boycott the panel’s hearings, which began Monday. Police-officers’ unions won’t take part either.
And the Opposition Liberals, who were in government during the memorable protests, have also said they’ll boycott what they describe as a political masquerade.
Student groups demand full public inquiry instead
The Quebec government has named a three-person panel to investigate events related to last year’s student crisis that made international news.
Public Security Minister Stephane Bergeron said the panel will study the actions of students and police during anti-tuition demonstrations that rocked the province.
Bergeron told a news conference Wednesday that he wants to ensure there is never a repeat of clashes like those seen during 2012′s so-called “Maple Spring.”
Protesters accused the police of numerous abuses — including arbitrary mass roundups and fines, indiscriminate pepper-spraying, and violations of mobility rights.
A number had been demanding a full public inquiry into police actions.
There were expressions of disappointment Wednesday from groups that said the new mechanism fell far short of what they had demanded, and would continue to demand.
The investigative body will have no power to subpoena witnesses, will do its work in private, and will be unable to point to offences by individual officers.
The government made it clear that any disciplinary measures against individual police officers would continue to be handled by the regular provincial police ethics committee.
The panel has been asked to analyze circumstances surrounding the protests and identify factors that led to the deterioration of the social climate.
It will cost $400,000.
“The government is interested in learning lessons from the 2012 crisis, a social crisis of such a magnitude that we can never let it happen in Quebec again,” Bergeron said.
Students took to the streets for months, and many shut down their classrooms. They were protesting a planned tuition increase of 77 per cent over five years in Quebec, which has the lowest university rates in Canada.
The protesters won a partial victory when the Parti Quebecois took office, scrapped the initial plan, and introduced a permanent tuition increase of 3 per cent a year.
The new group will examine techniques used by police and protesters, as well as the financial impact of the crisis. There will also be a study of how other jurisdictions deal with similar movements.
The group will deliver a report to the government, including recommendations, by Dec. 20. Bergeron said he plans to make the report public within six weeks of its delivery.
Bergeron appeared to already have drawn some conclusions about what caused the chaos.
He blamed the previous Liberal government for introducing Bill 78, a controversial anti-protest law designed to get students back to class. He also said the crisis would never have happened if the previous “Liberal party government” had not introduced such “excessive tuition hikes.”
The minister said it was the Liberals’ behaviour that brought thousands into the streets for near-nightly protests in Montreal and elsewhere in the province.
Bergeron said the panel will conduct its hearings in private, so that anyone wanting to testify could do so without fear of reprisals. The panel will accept written, audio and video testimony.
He said the panel will not intervene in cases already before the province’s police ethics committee, nor seek out people who might warrant charges.
Bergeron said municipalities and police had to adjust their tactics, given the unprecedented event and the need to maintain social peace and safety.
“The vast majority of Quebec police officers acted with professionalism, given the circumstances,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said he encourages people who feel they were treated unfairly to file a complaint with the ethics committee. Some 200 complaints have already been filed with the body, which has the power to sanction officers.
The committee will be chaired by Serge Menard, a former Parti Quebecois public security minister and federal Bloc Quebecois MP. The other two posts will be held by ex-union boss Claudette Carbonneau and former judge Bernard Grenier.
Opposition parties blasted the plan.
They called it a waste of money. And they also questioned its impartiality, noting that the PQ and union movement had clearly supported and — in the case of the labour groups even funded — the protest movement.
Coalition party member Jacques Duchesneau, a former police officer, said the announcement left a “bitter taste” in his mouth.
He said there had been 711 student protests recorded in Quebec last year and there had only been arrests at one-third of them.
“Is it the police’s fault that people threw smoke bombs on the metro?” Duchesneau told a news conference. He was once chief of the Montreal police force.
“Is it the police’s fault that people threw bags of bricks on the tracks to stop the metro? Is it the police’s fault that people wanted to take over the (Montreal Formula 1) Grand Prix?”
He said he was fine with the idea of a study — but said it should have been done in a public forum, like a parliamentary committee, and been more neutral.
The government drew entirely different criticism from student protesters. They wanted a more muscular mechanism.
The more hardline student group, ASSE, said it would continue to demand a real public inquiry as well as an abandonment of all charges or fines levied against 3,500 people during the crisis.
“This is a far cry from the independent public inquiry on police behaviour, demanded by 91 Quebec civil-society groups,” said a statement from the group.
“We’re not asking Mr. Bergeron to share his reflections on social movements. This special committee should instead be weighing in on the actions of those who are supposed to be protecting us.”
-With files by Sidhartha Banerjee
Bottles and chunks of ice thrown at police
People who thought they’d seen the last of the nighttime protests in Montreal streets against tuition fee increases heard the familiar drone of police helicopters over the city core Tuesday night as the noctural gnashing of teeth by students over the cost of their education was renewed, boiling over into a battle with police.
Montreal’s first nighttime tuition-fee protest in several months was almost a mirror image of the demonstrations that filled the city’s streets last year. The biggest change was that protesters were chanting against Premier Pauline Marois instead of Jean Charest, who also tried to jack up tuition when he was premier.
And like some of last year’s marches, Tuesday night’s protest ended with the crash of breaking plate glass splitting the night, the scream of police sirens and the clatter of batons against riot shields as police charged the thousands of demonstrators.
It was the second repudiation in a week of Marois’ declaration that student unrest had been put to rest.
Social peace was one of the Parti Quebecois premier’s campaign platforms in last year’s provincial election and she declared mission accomplished at the conclusion of a summit on education last week. That was where she also announced her government would increase fees by three per cent, which was less than the Liberals.
Students protested after the summit and Tuesday night they were out in force again, this time rekindling the nighttime march which was a fixture of last year’s student unrest. Most were peaceful, but some of those marches turned violent and led to mass arrests.
The call for Tuesday’s march summed up that little had changed from the marches of the past.
Man, 29, accused of possessing explosives, threats
A man arrested on a terrorism-related charge during a student protest this week in Quebec will remain behind bars for now.
Denis Marc Pelletier was in a Montreal courtroom Thursday for what was supposed to have been a bail hearing, but the case did not proceed as planned.
A new lawyer and evidence disclosure pushed the bail hearing back to at least March 8, and perhaps later.
The Crown has already indicated that it will oppose bail in Pelletier’s case due to the nature of the charges against him.
The 29-year-old man is facing at least seven charges, including possession of explosives, possession of an arson device and uttering threats.
A charge of inciting terrorism stems from alleged postings on a social media site that police observed last weekend.
Leo Bureau-Blouin’s office hit with red paint
A former leader within Quebec’s student movement is taking flak from some of his old allies now that he’s an elected politician and tuition fees are going up.
Leo Bureau-Blouin, who was elected last fall under the Parti Quebecois banner, says he’s gotten threats and attacks on a Facebook page he uses to publicize a monthly meeting with constituents.
Some of the posters on the page called him a “loser” and “traitor.”
Bureau-Blouin’s constituency office was targeted in protests earlier this week and had red paint splattered on it during the night.
Premier Pauline Marois announced at the end of a summit on education on Tuesday that the government was rejecting calls for a tuition freeze. Instead, fees are being hiked three per cent in accordance with the cost of living.
That’s about $70 per year.
Quebec premier says confrontations are “behind us”
Without the salvos of snowballs pelting police, the chunks of ice flying through the air, and the officers chasing protesters across a snowy plaza, this could easily have been a scene lifted from the “Maple Spring.”
The clash in downtown Montreal was a mid-winter twist on the student demonstrations that shook the city on a near-daily basis last spring and summer.
Thousands of people marched through the streets Tuesday in a protest that coincided with the end of Quebec’s summit on higher education.
This time, protesters were venting at a different government.
The two-day summit saw the newly elected Parti Quebecois announce three-per-cent-a-year tuition hikes. The PQ’s new fees are significantly lower than the ones proposed by the previous Liberal government — about one-fifth as much.
Within hours, protesters clash with police
Apart from the barrage of snowballs being pelted at police, the chunks of ice flying through the air, and officers charging at protesters across a snowy square, this could easily have been a scene lifted from the “Maple Spring.”
The clash in downtown Montreal was a mid-winter variation on the kind of event that occurred on a near-daily basis, making international headlines, last spring and summer.
Thousands of people marched at the end of a tuition summit Tuesday in which the new Parti Quebecois provincial government announced three-per-cent-a-year tuition hikes.
Its new fees are significantly lower than the ones proposed by the previous Liberal government — about one-fifth as much.
Premier Pauline Marois left the conference feeling confident enough to declare that Quebec’s era of social unrest was over.
“We have succeeded in putting the confrontations behind us,” Marois said in the closing address of a two-day summit that assembled students’ associations, university leaders, unions and social groups.
“The social crisis is behind us.”
Plan would raise fees by $70 per year
Quebec students who staged a memorable series of protests last spring could see their efforts result in a roughly 80 per cent discount on planned tuition hikes.
The Parti Quebecois government has tabled its plan for tuition increases, a long-awaited development in a political dispute that rocked Quebec last year and was dubbed by students as the Maple Spring.
The plan involves indexing university tuition by three per cent a year — which amounts to about $70 annually. That is sharply lower than the $325 yearly hikes sought by the previous Liberal government, which then adjusted the proposed increases to $254 per year, over seven years.
The planned hikes prompted huge and often rowdy protests, with the PQ siding with the student protesters ahead of last summer’s election campaign.
Premier Pauline Marois then cancelled the Liberal tuition increases after taking power.
Politicians’ offices vandalized
Quebec’s long-awaited education summit kicked off under heavy security Monday, a year after a student crisis rattled the province.
Steel crowd-control barriers, a gauntlet of security checkpoints and bag searches greeted participants at the Montreal building housing the two-day event.
Inside the venue, the discussions were courteous. School administrators, politicians, student leaders and social groups outlined their visions for Quebec’s post-secondary education system, talks that explored topics such as university funding and financial aid for students.
Outside the building, police officers circled the neighbourhood on bicycle, sat in vans packed with riot gear and discretely kept watch over the area from the shadows of residential doorways.
The streets around the hall were quiet, however, except for a small group of professors protesting tuition-fee hikes Monday.
It was in stark contrast to the months of massive, nightly protests that consumed Montreal last year in a student crisis sparked by the former Liberal government’s plans to hike tuition fees. The student movement dubbed itself the Maple Spring.
Student group says there won’t be second ‘Maple Spring’
Not even the most militant of Quebec’s student federations expects this week’s education summit to plunge the province into another Maple Spring.
Quebec gained international attention last year when a dispute over proposed tuition hikes boiled into a months-long uprising.
The unrest, dubbed the Maple Spring, saw thousands of protesters swarm Montreal streets night after night. The crisis eventually faded away, in part because the Liberals lost power and the incoming Parti Quebecois government cancelled the tuition increases.
The PQ stickhandled its way through the perilous political issue, during the election, by promising to come up with a new tuition policy at an education summit.
Some students are feeling disillusioned and boycotting the two-day summit, which starts Monday, because they believe the new government has tuned out some of their ideas.
The ranks of the restive, however, appear smaller than last year.
“We are aware… that there will not be a new Maple Spring,” said Blandine Parchemal of the ASSE student federation, one of the more militant groups within the movement.
“The Maple Spring is over.”
The once-powerful ASSE, led by its charismatic former spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, suffered several setbacks last week after it failed to gather support on a strike vote from a number of its associations.
The most symbolic setback came at a college near Montreal known as a bastion of activism, which was the first school to declare a strike last February in an event that kicked off the movement.
This time, College de Valleyfield not only voted against the strike, it tabled a motion to disassociate itself from ASSE.
That doesn’t mean the tuition divide between students and the government has disappeared.
One of the major sticking points is the PQ government’s intention to freeze rates, which are the lowest in Canada, but to introduce small increases indexed to inflation.
Some student federations that made up last year’s protest movement have drawn a line in the sand at an absolute tuition freeze.
They say they refuse to accept indexation.
ASSE, meanwhile, decided to boycott the summit completely over the government’s refusal to debate the group’s desire for zero tuition.
They view free university as an achievable goal, if only policy-makers would make it a priority like in many other jurisdictions. Former premier Jacques Parizeau, who as a young civil servant in the 1960s helped build the province’s university network, expressed support for their cause.
The federation is now planning to take its battle back into the streets. ASSE has planned to stage a protest Tuesday outside the summit venue.
With memories of last year’s clashes with demonstrators, Montreal police pledge to be present in large numbers and will maintain a security perimeter around the summit’s building.
Student associations representing junior colleges and universities affiliated with ASSE have also voted to hold a one-day strike on Tuesday.
But any protest revival from within ASSE faces an uphill climb. Several of its member unions voted last week against the strike, including those from some of the most militant schools during last year’s uprising.
“There’s a lot of exhaustion,” said Parchemal, ASSE’s secretary of academic affairs. She was referring to the compressed, intensive academic schedules students have had to endure after the 2012 strikes cancelled sessions.
She maintained, however, that the associations that voted against the strike still oppose indexation and support free tuition. Parchemal added that some schools that voted against strikes last year, actually supported the most recent one.
That stood in contrast to places like College de Valleyfield — where the vote was 366 against the strike and 124 in favour of it, said a student-union representative.
“We didn’t expect to be crushed like that,” said Cedrick Mainville, himself a supporter of the strike.
He blamed the loss on student fears that a Yes vote would lead to a prolonged strike like last year.
ASSE’s approach is much different than that of FEUQ, the largest student group in the province. The organization, which says it represents 125,000 students, plans to take its concerns to the summit’s negotiating tables rather than into the streets.
FEUQ president Martine Desjardins believes the student movement still has many potential avenues to explore before presenting a strike vote.
“Before that, you need to prove that you’ve tried everything that you could,” said Desjardins, who led FEUQ during last year’s protests.
When asked if students in her federation would be prepared to strike over indexation, she said it’s too early to know.
“We’re not planning strikes, for example, in two weeks,” she said. “It will take much more time to convince students to ramp up the pressure.”
Desjardins disagrees with ASSE’s decision to boycott the summit, a step she believes could hinder the process.
Last year’s student unrest was ignited by opposition to the Liberal government’s proposal to boost tuition rates by $325 per year, over five years. The government later tweaked the planned increases to $254 per year, over seven years.
Even though the hike still would have left Quebec with some of the lowest tuition in Canada, many students insisted they opposed the increase out of principle.
Some demanded a freeze to keep fees from inching closer to the higher rates in other provinces. Others called education a right that should be free, just like in some European countries.
The Marois government appears to be aiming for the middle ground with indexation, somewhere between a freeze and the increases proposed by the former Liberal government.
A recent poll suggested the PQ’s middle-ground indexation solution had strong public support.
That’s a far cry from the spring, when the PQ’s early alignment with the protesters — such as wearing red squares in the national assembly and banging on pots and pans in the streets — came to be viewed as a political liability.
But the PQ did take some steps to try distancing itself from the protesters in the weeks before the election.
It ditched the red squares, and started side-stepping questions about its own tuition policy by promising a summit.
Now that the moment has arrived, university administrators worry the meeting won’t address the serious issues they say are facing post-secondary institutions.
Relations between the PQ and the universities are already strained after the government announced a $124-million cut to universities in December, midway through the fiscal year.
Universities have gone on the offensive in the lead-up to the summit. At one of a series of town hall meetings, McGill University’s provost called the cuts “an unprecedented attack” on higher education.
Alan Shepard, president of Montreal’s Concordia University, said he’s concerned the summit will get bogged down in the debate over tuition fees and proposals like that one won’t see serious discussion.
Even with an increase tied to inflation, Quebec universities would remain woefully underfunded, he said.
“The difference is substantial when you compare the financing we have per student compared with the rest of Canada,” he said in an interview.
One idea being floated by Shepard and others is to introduce differential fees based on the subject, so that a student in dentistry or law school would pay substantially more than a history student.
If the funding issue isn’t somehow addressed, Shepard said Montreal risks losing what he called an “enormous jewel” – a hub for research and student learning at its four major universities.
Universite de Montreal rector Guy Breton said post-secondary institutions now realize they need to do a better job explaining their role. Last spring, he felt they were drowned out in a debate dominated by students and the government.
“The student message was two letters — n-o,” he said.
“Ours is much more complicated.”
—Andy Blatchford and Benjamin Shingler
“Officer 728″ charged for pepper-spraying, excessive force
A Montreal police officer who gained notoriety under the moniker “Officer 728,” after viral videos surfaced of her allegedly roughing people up is being charged in court today.
Const. Stefanie Trudeau has been alleged to have used excessive force in one arrest and unnecessarily pepper-spraying student protesters last year.
It was not immediately known what charges are pending against the patrol officer, who has been suspended with pay since Oct. 2.
Const. Martin Simard, a spokesman for Longueuil police, said officers from his force helped Montreal police arrest the 40-year-old at her suburban home Monday night.
She first became an Internet sensation during Quebec’s student protests last year, when she was accused of aggressively pepper-spraying innocent bystanders.
Then she was accused of hurting a bystander in an incident that started with her demanding ID from a friend who was sipping beer by an apartment building doorway.
Trudeau’s arrest came after an internal inquiry into the officer’s behaviour.
Police Chief Marc Parent said last fall as the file was turned over to Crown prosecutors that nearly 30 police officers and 50 citizens were interviewed.
Trudeau was moved to desk duty and then suspended from the force with pay after videos of an altercation last October between police and a group of people surfaced on the Internet and TV.
Police intervened after men were spotted drinking beer outside an apartment and when one man complained about the alleged aggressiveness of police, he was put into a headlock, dragged down a flight of stairs and slapped into handcuffs.
A confiscated cellphone subsequently recorded conversations between the officers apparently without their knowledge.
In a profanity-laced explanation of the arrest, the people in custody are referred to as “rats” who strum guitars and wear the red square symbol of the student protest movement.
It was during those student protests that Trudeau first got the public’s attention when a video showed an officer liberally pepper-spraying demonstrators in May who appeared to pose no threat.
Social media lit up with outrage about the incidents and more than 200 people staged a protest calling for her firing after the second video surfaced.
Literature and life lessons help to understand activists
In Timothy Findley’s The Wars, a young officer, Robert Ross, defies orders and releases horses confined in a barn. It is WW1 and he is in an area of France being shelled by Germans. Releasing them is a way of saving them as the structure is an obvious target. Ross is an officer with the Canadian Field Artillery and it’s his love of animals and justice that motivates him. It’s also his last act before desertion.
Findley’s assertion was that Ross’ actions were heroic in context. His liberation of the horses is cast against the shadowy psychopathy of WW1, a psychopathy so hideous it kept high-ranking military men from touring the front. Had they done so, the carnage of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele might not have materialized. More soldiers, from all forces involved, might have made it home.
The Wars is timely because it seems conventional ideas about heroism are atomizing before our eyes. More relativistic ways of seeing things, perhaps brought on by the pervasive use of the internet, are transporting us to a world where the bad guys are everywhere and they’re usually in charge. It’s created some odd bedfellows and even odder instances of cross-pollination. The Arab Spring, a political uprising with some very discernible causes, was replicated in Quebec by the Maple Spring, a student uprising that had a lot of us here scratching our heads. Many were puzzled by the students’ adoption of a name whose power was clear but whose basis for comparison was wildly inaccurate.
PQ youth want tuition frozen then eliminated
Quebec student groups didn’t get along well with the province’s Liberal government — and now things don’t seem too rosy with the ruling Parti Quebecois.
The two sides appear to be at odds over tuition rates in the lead-up to a summit on post-secondary education.
PQ Premier Pauline Marois says she wants to reduce the student debt load, but won’t rule out a tuition increase tied to inflation.
But many student groups are pushing for a freeze on tuition rates.
Huge protests erupted last spring over the former Liberal government’s planned increases, with thousands of students taking to the streets.
Marois scrapped the increases after the PQ took power in September.
At a PQ delegate meeting in Drummondville, Que. on the weekend, Marois faced some pressure from the youth wing to further reduce tuition rates.
Tuition freeze likely
The Parti Quebecois government appears to be challenging the notion that the province’s universities are under-funded, a tactic that could hold significant implications it prepares to hold a highly anticipated summit on education.
The government has promised to host a symposium in February aimed at finding a long-term solution to the challenge of university funding, an event that stems from a key PQ election pledge to cancel previously planned tuition hikes.
But it is now sending signals that universities might not actually require a financial boost.
Members of the government including Premier Pauline Marois have in recent weeks been repeatedly challenging the premise that the province’s universities are under-financed. On Thursday, the government even leaked a report to the media challenging that oft-repeated notion.
Price will return to $2,168
The tuition increase that triggered such social strife in Quebec was cancelled Thursday during an action-packed first full day in office for the Parti Quebecois government.
The new government repealed the fee hike, by decree, in its first cabinet meeting less than 24 hours after coming to power.
Student leaders cheered the news.
“Together we’ve written a chapter in the history of Quebec,” said Martine Desjardins, head of the more moderate university student association.
“It’s a triumph of justice and equity.”
PQ says it will index tuition to rate of inflation
Quebec student leaders are ready to face off against any plans the newly elected Parti Quebecois may have to increase tuition fees.
Students claimed a cautious victory after premier-designate Pauline Marois promised to reverse tuition increases for college and university students.
Less than 24 hours after the PQ won a minority in the Sept. 4 election, Marois announced she would undo the hikes introduced this year by the Liberal government of outgoing Premier Jean Charest.
For now, the near-daily protests in Montreal have come to a halt.
The downtown park where hundreds, and often thousands, of protesters gathered nightly for marches over the past few months has gone quiet. Classes have resumed at Quebec’s junior colleges and universities.
Votes piling up to end strikes
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
The number of students on strike in Quebec dwindled considerably Monday as people at several colleges voted to end a civil-disobedience campaign that had earned international attention and been nicknamed the Maple Spring.
Following three more votes Monday to end the strike and one vote in favour of continuing student protests, the tally now stands at six to two among junior colleges, called CEGEPs in Quebec, in favour of returning to class.
The protests are not quite over. Some university faculties will remain on strike after votes in favour of continuing demonstrations. Some CEGEPs and university students have yet to vote.