POLITICS

Grand Prix weekend a target for disruption from at least one student faculty

05/28/2012 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/27/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Social unrest and an ominous call to action from a student association may put spokes in the wheels of Montreal's most profitable weekend.

From June 8 to 10, more than 300,000 spectators are expected to flock to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve race track to witness the extremely popular Canadian Grand Prix.

The weekend generates an estimated $100 million in revenues to the city, as tourists soak in the various festivities that accompany the race.

Crescent Street, an important artery in the heart of downtown, is home to a large number of merchants whose bread and butter is the Grand Prix weekend.

Die-hard F1 fans, racing cars and concerts give the street a real carnival atmosphere during the three-day period.

With the race barely two weeks away, there is little end in sight to a student-government conflict that has resulted in more than 2,500 arrests and more than 100 days of protest.

Despite that, the president of the Crescent Street Merchants Association, Steve Siozos, isn't worried by the targeted disruptions.

''We understand the threat — we’ve already lost a lot of revenue because of the protests — but it wouldn’t make sense to attempt to disrupt business that weekend,'' he said.

''First of all, there is always a heavy police presence that weekend. Secondly, there’s no room to move because there are too many people.

''It wouldn’t suit their needs. I’m really hopeful it’s resolved by then.''

According to Siozos, businesses in his association have suffered a 20 per cent decrease in revenue this year, a number he atrributes mainly to the student protests.

How seriously are Montreal officials taking the threat of disruption to the F1 and other summer events such as the city's popular jazz and comedy festivals?

On Sunday, the Montreal Chamber of Commerce invited various business and political personalities to a meeting to discuss ways to protect not only the F1 race, but also the other events that attract thousands and thousands of tourists to the city.

Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand were among those in attendance.

Downtown merchants aren't the only ones who could potentially suffer from the any disruptions.

The Montreal Beer Fest, one of the world's largest gatherings of beer enthusiasts, is also taking place that weekend.

Katia Bouchard, director of communications for the festival, says organizers aren't worried about the current unrest but that precautions are being taken to ensure a successful event.

''We've had talks with the people from Place Bonaventure (where the festival takes place) ahead of the event, like we always do,'' she said.

''We discuss security measures and the current student situation came up. We're not worried, though, because many of the protesters are people who come to our festival on a yearly basis.''

One group encouraging havoc that weekend is the faculty of arts student association of the Universite du Quebec a Montreal. During a general assembly meeting on May 9, it unanimously adopted a resolution to propose a weekend of disruptions.

''The AFEA-UQAM suggests that the C.L.A.S.S.E. (the student federation the faculty belongs to) organize a weekend of disruptions in order to cancel the Formula 1 Grand Prix and its jet-set events of June 8-10 which represent sexist, anti-environmental, elitist and economic values that must be abolished.”

Camille Toffoli, student life coordinator for the faculty, confirmed that various measures will be taken via social media networks to ensure a large participation.

The faculty proposition seems to have gained popularity as of late. A recurring chant during the nightly protests warns Quebec Premier Jean Charest about the Grand Prix weekend.

“Charest! You’re laughing now, but wait and see what happens to your Grand Prix!”

Anarchists such as Jaggi Singh have also thrown their hats into the ring of public discourse.

Singh, a perennial figure in Canadian activism and known for his involvement in social justice causes, announced through his Twitter account on May 23 that ''Rich douchebags are going to be disrupted by night demos,'' referring to the Grand Prix weekend.

A security memo issued by the U.S. Consulate in Montreal in April warned American tourists of possible "unforeseen violence," "vandalism" and "arrests" in Montreal caused by social unrest. It remains unknown whether it persuaded a considerable amount of tourists to avoid Montreal.

John Atkinson, a Montrealer who has tickets to the F1 qualifying session, is optimistic about the weekend.

''I’d be really upset because I don’t attend sporting events unless I’m given tickets,'' he said.

''But if it’s cancelled I won’t go riot with those other people because it would make me just as bad as they are.''