Quebec Student Protests Come To Ontario

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Protest organizers responsible for the months-long Quebec student strike over tuition fees are taking their message on the road to Ontario. (Getty)
Protest organizers responsible for the months-long Quebec student strike over tuition fees are taking their message on the road to Ontario. (Getty)

TORONTO - Quebec organizers responsible for the longest and largest student strike in Canadian history are spreading their message across Ontario _ one university campus at a time.

And one expert in social movements says the student leaders will likely be heard loud and clear.

"They do have a chance of being successful," said Vincent Mosco, a sociology professor emeritus from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"From the Occupy Wall Street movement to the eruptions in the Middle East and elsewhere, there's a worldwide phenomenon now that has given legitimacy to protests."

The nine-day "Student Solidarity Tour" kicked off Thursday night at the University of Ottawa with speakers, including high-profile student protest leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

Canadian Federation of Students spokeswoman Jessica McCormick said the turnout of more than 200 people exceeded organizers' expectations.

Speakers drew applause as they described the steps students can take "building towards protesting mobilization," McCormick said.

The tour will also stop in Kingston, Hamilton, Windsor, Niagara, London, Guelph and Toronto before wrapping up in Peterborough on July 20.

Mosco said Ontario post-secondary students will find it easy to relate to the plight of their Quebec peers because both groups have been disgruntled with rising education costs.

According to Statistics Canada, Ontario students paid an average of $6,640 in tuition fees in the 2010/2011 school year.

Thousands of students in Quebec have been on strike since February to oppose a fee hike of $254 a year over seven years.

Sarah Jayne King, the chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students for Ontario (CFSO), the group running the events, said they're about teaching Ontario students not to be helpless against paying the highest tuition rates in the country.

"The tour comes, I think, at an important time for Ontario students where we have a host of challenges ahead of us," she said in Ottawa.

The Quebec student strike - which has included protests, marches and classroom sit-ins - is set to start up again in mid-August once classes resume at the province's 14 junior colleges.

The action has been marred by some violence, prompting the Quebec government to bring in controversial emergency legislation which garnered international scrutiny.

Bill 78 paused the school year at institutions with striking students, imposed fines for anyone who blocked access to a school and established guidelines on how long and where the protests can be held.

King said Quebec student leaders are not in Ontario to promote violent action, but will instead share their experiences of how they say police have been handling protesters.

"This is not about promoting militant action," she said.

One of the tour's speakers, Jeremie Bedard-Wien with CLASSE (the Coalition large de l'association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante) said Ontario students have every reason to protest.

"Many grassroots organizations are sprouting up in Ontario to learn from our organization tactics and it's clear Ontario students are interested in learning how we mobilize and how to prepare for a general strike," said the 20-year-old college student.

"Tuition here is very much higher than it is in Quebec. I definitely think students will react more strongly."

Bedard-Wien said students need to organize and plan ahead if they want to make a political impact.

Mosco said although Quebec is well-known with its long, terse history with political unrest and protests, Ontario has its own history too.

"I think it's important to note that Ontario students have mobilized from time to time in the past," he said.

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