To the boom of bass drums and the airy strains of violins, street-choking crowds of people marched through Montreal on Wednesday night in the latest of a months-long series of protests over Quebec's student crisis and government measures to deal with it.
The several concurrent demonstrations in Montreal coincided with solidarity protests in dozens of cities around the world, including Toronto, New York, Chicago, St. John's and Whitehorse.
The Montreal rallies generated the usual pot-and-pan cacophony that has become the protest movement's trademark, but also festive percussion ensembles and a musical trio of accordion, flute and snare drum.
The crowds included students, families, young children and retirees, and they marched with their bikes, clanging their cookware, carrying placards or chanting slogans.
"Chareste jamais!" a sign read, a pun on the name of Quebec Premier Jean Charest and the phrase "it will never cease." A couple of young men carried vuvuzelas, the droning plastic horns popular among South African soccer fans. Others wore Guy Fawkes facemasks, popularized in the film V for Vendetta and now used in protests by the Occupy movement and by members of the internet activist group Anonymous.
One man came in a clown costume bearing a sign saying, in French, "I'm disguised as Jean Charest, Desmarais's jester." The slogan refers to a recently leaked video that shows the premier rubbing elbows with social and political elites at a lavish birthday party for the wife of Quebec business tycoon and billionaire Paul Desmarais.
The main march began at Place Émilie Gamelin in the downtown east end, where protesters have gathered for nightly demonstrations for 44 evenings in a row. The group then proceeded up St. Denis Street through the city's Latin Quarter, eliciting curious gazes from bar patrons on sidewalk patios, and then north into the Plateau district.
At Mount Royal Avenue and St. Denis, the marchers were met by another group of demonstrators, and hundreds of them staged an hour-long sit-in at the intersection, blocking cars and buses. As it began to disperse at around 10 p.m., police politely asked people to vacate the street and move onto the sidewalks so traffic could get through.
From there, processions continued through the Plateau, downtown and Montreal's village area. Montreal police said they arrested one person for mischief.
Dozens of solidarity marches
The causes driving thousands — and occasionally hundreds of thousands — of people into Montreal's streets are myriad. What began as a mostly student uprising stoked by the province's plan to hike tuition by 75 per cent over five years has broadened into a wider social movement, with people denouncing the mass arrests in Montreal and Quebec City in the last 3½ months, the Canadian Grand Prix auto race that starts this weekend, and Bill 78, Quebec's emergency legislation that restricts public demonstrations.
For the second Wednesday in a row, the Montreal demonstrators were hailed by solidarity protests in dozens of other Canadian and U.S. cities.
In New York, a few hundred demonstrators chanted the slogan "so-so-so, solidarité" in accents that had several commenters joking on Twitter that Americans need to learn how to pronounce French better. Police arrested six people and were moving forcefully to block anyone from stepping off the sidewalks into the street, prompting complaints of brutality.
About 300 people took to the streets in Toronto, and several hundred banged pots and pans in the main boulevards of downtown Vancouver. There were also events in St. John's, Calgary, Regina and — rather modestly — Berlin.
In Chicago, where a crowd marched to the Canadian Consulate and then along Michigan Avenue, police arrested a dozen people and swiftly shoved protesters back onto the sidewalk if they stepped into the road.
With Montreal's Formula One race happening this weekend and several of the city's big summer festivals launching, organizers and tourism officials have expressed concern the continual protests will deter visitors. Earlier this week, Grand Prix staff cancelled a public open house that usually kicks off the race's week of events, citing security concerns.
Student leaders say claims they pose a threat to Montreal's tourism industry have been wildly overblown as part of a general effort to discredit their movement.
Four student associations were in talks with the government to end the crisis until last week, when Education Minister Michelle Courchesne declared that the two sides were at an impasse and the government broke off the negotiations.
About 155,000 post-secondary students have been on strike since mid-February.
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