Quebec Student Protests: Montreal Nighttime Action Ends With 50 Arrests

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QUEBEC STUDENT PROTESTS MONTREAL
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee increases demonstrate in Montreal, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Thousands had turned out to rally against the Quebec government’s recent decision to raise fees by three per cent per a year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes. | CP

MONTREAL - Premier Pauline Marois has called for calm as another nighttime student protest march is announced, this time in the provincial capital.

The Thursday night march follows one in Montreal that ended with smashed business windows, dozens of arrests and calls for a police crackdown by the business community.

Student groups did not immediately return calls for comment on their plans, which are usually announced through social media.

The marches are a rekindling of a regular tactic during last year's student unrest and are anchored on the same theme: anger over government increases in the cost of education. Only this time, students are no longer skipping classes, the marches are not occurring nightly, and the Charest Liberals are not in power.

One banner at the head of Montreal's Tuesday night march reflected the new climate. It read, "Social peace is behind us." That was an attempt to make a mockery of the new premier for stating recently that the social crisis had passed.

Marois, who last year allied her Parti Quebecois with the students before the Sept. 4 provincial election put the PQ in government, has more recently become a target of the protesters after she announced fees would rise three per cent per year.

She justified the increases while attending an event in Montreal on Wednesday.

"I hope people understand that the measures we've taken are ... not at all comparable to what the Liberal party was doing," she said. "They were raising fees 82 per cent (over five years). I believe what we proposed is reasonable, and I hope it will be seen that way.

"In the meantime, I'm inviting everyone to remain calm."

She also advised people to avoid jumping to conclusions in their analysis of Tuesday night's events.

Restoring social peace was a key plank in Marois' election platform after rowdy demonstrations against the provincial Liberal government.

But her declaration last month that the situation had been resolved was quickly rebuffed by students, who took to the streets and clashed with police on the very day she made her pronouncement. Thirteen people were arrested during that demonstration on Feb. 26.

Then, on Tuesday, thousands of protesters joined a nighttime march like the ones seen daily during the most intense period of the student unrest last year.

Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum also urged calm Wednesday.

"Everyone has the right to demonstrate," he said, adding that all he wants from marchers is that they behave safely, peacefully and in respect of the law.

He encouraged them to help thwart troublemakers.

"I ask the demonstrators that if they see someone who's causing trouble or damages, point them out and tell the police, work with the police."

Organizers of Tuesday night's march in Montreal made it clear they believed Marois was no better than the Liberals as they urged people to attend the march.

"The Pequiste increase is almost the same as the Liberals, except over a longer period," the group said in an online posting.

"We are angry."

They said last year's nightly marches "were a symbol of that anger and social unrest, brought back day after day."

The Quebec City march called for Thursday is an indication the nighttime demonstrations will resume, albeit more sporadically perhaps than last year's once-a-day demonstrations.

Tuesday's Montreal march started peacefully even though it was immediately declared illegal by police who said no route had been provided to them in accordance with a municipal bylaw.

Things got progressively rowdier. Some projectiles were thrown at police, and the windows of a bank and a downtown hotel were smashed. Several police cruisers were also damaged by vandals who smashed windows and spraypainted slogans on them.

Police, for their part, charged at the crowd.

Many protesters accused them of targeting people indiscriminately.

The pattern of mutual recriminations played out in social media, where some Montrealers vented their anger at protesters while others accused police of fuelling tensions.

Others simply grumbled about having to sleep again under the buzz of police helicopters, as they did for much of 2012.

There were 72 people detained by police — 62 of whom were given tickets for violating bylaws, while the other 10 were charged with criminal infractions including mischief.

Police say a demonstrator and a police officer were taken to hospital, the marcher after a stun grenade landed nearby and the police officer for treatment of a minor wound near his eye caused by a flying projectile.

The demonstrators, who called for a tuition freeze or outright free education, also chanted a number of anti-capitalist slogans.

"One, two, three, four, this is a class war," yelled some protesters in English, while others called on demonstrators to "take to the streets" in French.

They also yelled the name of their erstwhile ally Marois, who had worn the red square symbol of the student movement and marched in a demonstration before becoming premier.

Some still chanted against Jean Charest, who is no longer in politics after having lost the premier's job on Sept. 4.

Andre Poulin, director-general of an association representing 8,000 downtown businesses, called on Montreal police to intervene more quickly, saying the violent protests are killing business in the area because customers are staying away.

Quebec's student strikes began in February 2012 after then-premier Charest's government announced tuition increases of $1,625 spread over five years.

The Parti Quebecois cancelled the Liberals' plan after it took power. The PQ’s increase will raise tuition by $70 per year.

Tuesday night's protest was spurred after last month's long-awaited summit on education where student leaders had hoped to win a freeze on tuition.

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