POLITICS

Quebec's largest student group vows to defy government's new emergency law

05/21/2012 01:44 EDT | Updated 07/20/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Quebec's largest student group has vowed to defy the Quebec government's new emergency law, calling for a summer of protests and acts of civil disobedience.

C.L.A.S.S.E., the more radical of the province's three main student associations, declared Monday it would continue to encourage protests without a pre-approved itinerary even if it meant it would lead to harsh financial penalties under the province's Bill 78.

"The special law won't kill the student movement," spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said at a news conference on Monday. "The fundamental rights under threat today need to be defended."

The pronouncement added fuel to an already fiery weekend of protests. That tension was evident late Monday near Premier Jean Charest's family home, where riot police twice fended off protesters trying to march down his street.

Nadeau-Dubois signalled that more demonstrations were on the way, saying the group's members voted to hold protests at least until classes resume in August. It also launched an appeal for financial assistance for a legal challenge against Bill 78 and to help pay for any fines incurred under the new legislation.

In a symbolic act of resistance, the student group encouraged anyone against the law to post their photo on a new website, the name of which translates as "Someone arrest me." The group reported the site was briefly overloaded Monday and had already received more than 2,000 submissions.

Opinion polls over the weekend were scattered: at the start of the long weekend, one suggested two-thirds support for Charest's law, but by the end another one showed opinions evenly split.

Dramatic video circulating online of police pepper spraying protesters and bar patrons likely didn't help matters. One expert in public disputes said the government's attempt to solve the conflict with legislation was doomed from the start.

"What they did was very short-sighted, and has now created a broader scope for the protests," Alan Levy, an associate professor at Brandon University, said in an interview.

"What the government really needs to do here is they really need to think about how to engage these folks and not alienate them."

A massive demonstration is planned for Tuesday afternoon to mark 100 days since the first group of students walked out of class. A coalition of 140 community groups and unions encouraged people to join the demonstration to denounce the tuition increases and the legislation.

"We decided earlier this year that the tuition increases should be a priority," said Veronique Laflamme, a spokeswoman for the coalition.

"But now, with the introduction of Bill 78, we find it even more important to participate in the protests."

Several of the coalition members have already provided financial support for the student protests, she said.

Meanwhile, the international hacker group Anonymous hacked into the Quebec government public security's website today, the latest in a series of apparent cyber attacks against the province. A post on the hacked web page warned the government to be fearful of the group.

"We don't forgive," the post said. "We don't forget."

Tensions were high during the nightly protests over the weekend following the introduction of the new law. More than 300 people were arrested on Sunday night alone and at least 20 were injured, including 11 police officers — though none seriously.

Another late night protest held Monday, for the 28th day in a row, was far calmer than a night earlier. Thousands chanted slogans denouncing the law as they marched through the streets.

There were brief standoffs twice when protesters tried to march to Charest's home in the wealthy Westmount neighbourhood, but no arrests. Meanwhile, there were 36 arrests at a demonstration in Sherbrooke, two hours east of Montreal, and could face hefty fines.

Bill 78 lays out regulations for demonstrations over 50 people, including giving eight hours' notice for a protest itinerary. Penalties range between $7,000 and $35,000 for a student leader and between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations. The legislation also provides for fines for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution.

The current academic session has been put on hold until August for striking students, which make up less than one-third of Quebec post-secondary students.

- with files from Myles Dolphin