NEWS

Quebec election call prompts protest

08/01/2012 11:17 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT
As Quebec's political ranks gear up for a late summer election campaign, student protesters and their supporters took to the streets with renewed fervour.

For the 100th night in a row, protesters marched through Montreal streets, with many banging on pots and pans, reminiscent of evening protests that spread across the city in the spring. The number of protesters who took to the streets Wednesday was higher than it has been in recent weeks.

Some carried large red banners with anti-Jean Charest slogans, and electoral messages like "our dreams are too big for your polls."

The protest came as Premier Charest triggered an election, with voters heading to the polls on Sept. 4.

The vote call comes on the heels of Quebec's raucous student crisis over tuition increases, that gripped the province last winter and spring.

Many of the hundreds of people who joined the street march donned masks to mock a controversial city bylaw forbidding face coverings at public protests.

Protesters started their march in the Villeray district, north of the Jean-Talon Market, and slowly made their way south via St-Denis Street.

The Villeray protesters joined another group in the Émilie-Gamelin Park, near UQÀM.

Police supervised the crowd and declared the protest illegal just after 9 p.m., but told people they could continue to march if they kept the peace.

At one point, a small crowd overturned dumpsters to block a downtown street and some people tossed projectiles like bottles and Roman candles at riot police.

A car reportedly slammed into one protester amid a crowd marching in the street. The victim suffered injuries not deemed life-threatening. Police said they had a description of a vehicle's licence plate and model and were investigating a possible hit-and-run.

Another man, wearing a dress shirt and pants, who did not appear to be a protester, was bleeding from his face as he held up a blood-soaked handkerchief.

"Here's your damned red square," he shouted, referring to the symbol of the protest movement. He was escorted, limping, away from the crowd.

There were about a dozen arrests reported by 11:30 p.m. while events were still unfolding.

Wednesday night was the 100th night in a row that students and their supporters took to the streets.

Thousands of students started to boycott classes in February to protest tuition increases. The boycott evolved into daily protests by spring.

After months of negotiations, student leaders rejected the government's final, watered-down tuition increase offer in May.

The student-fuelled protests escalated, prompting the Liberal government to pass Bill 78, a temporary law that restricts the size and location of some protests, if authorities aren't alerted ahead of time.

The legislation also suspended the winter semester for college and university students, effectively allowing them to retake missed classes later this year rather than losing a term.

Protesters have been subject to the rules laid out in Bill 78 since its adoption, but it's not clear whether any of its rules have been formally implemented by police.

The passage of the bill fuelled public anger towards the government.

What was initially a student-led protest movement spread to include civil rights groups, families, and seniors.

An adjunct casserole protest movement mushroomed in May, with average people taking to the streets every night to bang on pots and pans in cities across Quebec.

The protests petered out over the summer, just as Montreal's festival circuit kicked into high gear.

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