Students clash with police as Quebec introduces emergency laws to close universities and crack down on tuition fee demonstrations
Quebec’s provincial government, facing the most sustained student protests in Canadian history, has introduced emergency legislation that would shut some universities and impose harsh fines on pickets blocking students from attending classes, as it looks to end three months of demonstrations against rises in tuition fees.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in downtown Montreal on Thursday night as the government introduced the bill, with protests spilling over onto an expressway between stalled cars. Tuesday will mark 100 days since the demonstrations began.
Authorities said 122 people were arrested on Wednesday as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Montreal. Bank windows were smashed and missiles thrown at police.
The prime minister of Quebec, Jean Charest, said the proposed legislation would not roll back the tuition increases. Instead, it would temporarily halt the spring semester at faculties paralysed by walkouts and bring forward the summer holidays. Classes will resume earlier in August.
The legislation contains provisions for heavy fines for students and their federations. Fines range from $7,000 to $35,000 (£4,000 to £22,000) for a student leader and between $25,000 and $125,000 (£15,000 to £78,000) for preventing someone from entering an educational institution. The bill also lays out strict regulations governing student protests, including having to give eight hours’ notice for protest itineraries. A vote on the measure is expected on Friday.
«This legislation strikes a blow to the freedom of expression,» said student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin.
Dozens of protesters stormed into a Montreal university on Wednesday, breaking up classes. Tensions continued on Thursday in Gatineau, Quebec, the site of previous protests against the tuition rise that resulted in hundreds of arrests. Three junior colleges were evacuated after a bomb threat. Courses resumed later in the day.
The government has pointed out that a majority of students in Quebec have quietly finished their semester and are not striking. But many remain angry over the proposed tuition hikes.
The three-month conflict has caused considerable social upheaval in the French speaking province. There have been numerous clashes with police, traffic chaos, subway evacuations and disruptions to the academic calendar.
The protests have at times mushroomed beyond the cause of cheap tuition, attracting other participants who dislike the provincial Liberal government, including environmentalists, supporters of independence for Quebec and anarchists.
Biomedical student Sebastien Potvin, 30, wearing a red cowboy hat and holding a red banner, said from a Montreal street corner he feared the new law would only bring more violence. «I don’t think it will solve the problem, I think it will anger students twice as much,» Potvin said.
He said the coming tuition hikes could jeopardise his remaining studies.
Under the latest version of its tuition plan, the government would increase fees by $254 a year over seven years.
Quebec has the lowest tuition rates in Canada. The provincial government took out advertising in Thursday’s newspapers explaining how it has already made adjustments to its tuition plans to soften the impact on the poorest students.
The dispute has claimed the province’s education minister, who announced her resignation from politics earlier this week