Tens of thousands of students marched on the streets of Montreal on May 22, to mark the 100thday of their protests over tuition fee hikes and to denounce Bill 78, a new legislation aimed at curbing students' protests.
Carrying red banners and signs, the protesting students marched through central Montreal raising slogans denouncing the tuition fee hike and the Quebec provincial government’s new law that would make protests more difficult to organize and impose stiff fines on those who disobey. They were joined by thousands of citizens, including university teachers, who came out in solidarity with the students' demands and to oppose the new draconian law, according to media reports.
Students in Quebec have been holding almost daily demonstrations since February, to voice their opposition to the proposed hike in tuition fees. Under the provisional agreement, university fees would increase by CAD 1,780 over seven years or about CAD 254 a year, bringing the total fees to about CAD 4,000 per year. The plan is scheduled to be effective from 2012-13 until 2016-2017 academic years.
Since the law was passed on May 17, hundreds of students are reported to have been arrested by the police for participating in the protest actions. On May 23, a night long protest was organized in Montreal, in defiance of the new law, covering 20 km in 3 hours. Even though the demonstration was declared illegal by the Montreal police, more than 5,000 people took part, demonstrating their support by joining the tintamarre of pots and pans. (A tintamarre is an Acadian tradition of marching through the streets with improvised instruments). More than 500 people were arrested. Simultaneous demonstrations were also reported from Quebec city.
Students rejected the Education Minster's offer for negotiations on condition they abandon their demands for a tuition fee freeze or moratorium and the suspension of the Special Law under which the Montreal Police (SPVM) are proceeding with unprecedented mass arrests.
Under the new legislation, any individual, who prevents students from entering an educational institution or disrupts classes will be fined between CAD 1,000 and CAD 5,000. The fine will be increased to between CAD 7,000 and CAD 35,000 for a student leader and to between CAD 25,000 and CAD 125,000 for student federations or unions.
The law also makes organizing protests much more difficult. It requires protesters to inform the police of their demonstration plans, including an eight-hours notice for details, such as the itinerary, the duration, number of participants and the exact time of the action.
Leaders of all students' associations in Quebec as well as across Canada have denounced the new law and the crackdown by police on the student demonstrators. The Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC and other teachers organizations have also denounced the draconian Bill 78. Opposition parties have also denounced the Charest government for bringing the new repressive law.
Demonstrations in support of the students of Quebec have been reported from Vancouver, Calgary, Windsor and other places in Canada as well as New York City and Paris, France.