Montreal Protesters Battle with Police During Tuition Hike Protest
More than 5,000 people took over the streets of Montreal on Wednesday night as part of an on going student strike against a plan to increase tuition by seventy-five percent over a five year period. Police battled with resistant protesters late into the night after students’ anger reached it’s tipping point. Bank and police station windows were smashed, police cars were damaged and three police officers were injured during the unrest. By the end of the night, 85 protesters had been arrested.
Police used a variety of “less-lethal” crowd control tactics including firing tear gas, flash bang grenades and other projectiles into the crowd in attempts to clear the streets Wednesday night.
Students were enraged when government officials excluded CLASSE, a more militant student group, from the negotiation table. Officials refused to meet with the group and urged other groups to distance themselves from CLASSE due to perceived acts of violence the group refused to condemn in earlier demonstrations. The group makes up nearly half of the striking students who are demanding a tuition free University system in the country.
During a more spirited protest in mid April, Montreal’s Metro system was shut down after protesters turned off the underground train’s power, piled bricks on the tracks and ignited at least one smoke bomb. Else where, windows were smashed at cabinet members offices, paint bombs left the students’ signature red splatter on the walls and un-lit Molotov cocktails were left on display near by. Though CLASSE did not claim responsibility for the acts, officials attempted to divide the popular movement by placing blame on the group for not condemning the perceived acts of violence.
“They are unable to condemn these acts,” Premier Jean Charest said. “When you intimidate people and put Molotov cocktails in front of MNA offices, and turn offices upside down, that is unacceptable. … If we don’t put our fist down on the table and refuse to accept these things right now, then when do you do it?”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the President of CLASSE, distanced the group from the actions saying, “the CLASSE dissociates itself from those acts. Those are means of protest we do not use, that we’ll never use.” However he refused to go further by condemning the acts as “there are plenty of courts and other people in Quebec who are ready to condemn students.”
Government officials say they will resume talks on Friday, but the other student groups are refusing to meet without CLASSE in a show of solidarity between students against an obvious governmental divide and conquer tactic. More protests are planned for this afternoon.
Montreal’s Mayor and police chief came out swinging against the demonstrators in a press conference Thursday morning. Gerald Tremblay, Mayor of Montreal, and Police Chief Marc Parent spoke out against the students and urged a peaceful conclusion to the unrest. Not understanding the anger built up within the students as a whole, Tremblay claimed that the demonstrations were being hijacked by criminals.
“There are people taking advantage of these demonstrations to commit illegal acts,” Tremblay said. “Montrealers are fed up with this! Montreal always has to put up with this! Our storeowners always have to deal with vandalism!”
The police chief seems worried about the increasing number of protests in recent months. With over 160 demonstrations in the past three months alone, 30% of which turned “violent,” officials are reaching their level of tolerance.
“160 to 165 demonstrations, it’s unheard of in Canada. I’ve never heard of it in the United States either,” said Parent.
Governments around the world have been facing increasing numbers of protests since late 2010 and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. As millions of humans around the globe are realizing the power of gathering in unity against systematic oppression, the human spirit is breaking free. Fight on comrades!