The protests in Montreal started off as something tangible, concrete: outrage over an increase in tuition. Of course, as we all know, the tone of the protests soon shifted, and before we could all say "neo-liberal policies," the protests morphed into what the protesters themselves described as an entire society waking up.
This is good. Having a politically active population is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the cornerstone of a democracy, whereby the people are free to express themselves and cast their ballot for their leaders. The Charest government has had multiple allegations of corruption and collusion brought forth against them, and the people of Quebec have every right to question the policies of their democratically elected government.
The operative term of that last sentence being "democratically elected," as Quebeckers are living in a democracy. This seems to be lost on the protesters, however, as the students hold up signs stating that this is their "Printemps Érable" (Maple Spring), and clang their pots and pans in the streets as homage to the people of Chile, who protested in order to combat the Pinochet dictatorship. Clearly this is neither Syria nor Chile. Charest has yet to order the mass murder of his political dissidents, and Quebec is sure to have an election within the next 18 months. The people that are unsatisfied with Charest and the Liberals will have their voices heard at the ballot box.
The student protest movement has been rife with hyperbole and misconstrued comparisons since its inception. Thus, it should in fact come as no surprise that the protesters have now taken to making links between the Montreal police and the Nazi Regime. In a picture that went viral, students are shown to be giving the Nazi salute. After much criticism of the photo being taken out of context, it was found that the salute was intended for the Montreal police.
This comes following Grand Prix weekend, after there were a series of allegations of political profiling by Montreal police. There were 34 preventative arrests, and some accused the police of simply arresting or searching the bags of people who were merely wearing red squares. Sounds awful.
In reality, however, it is commonplace for police to turn away people from a high-security event for not having a ticket. Moreover, considering the open threats to the Grand Prix, its attendees, and the Montreal Metro system, one can hardly scoff at the police's response. Nevertheless, even in its most excessive form, it is not the equivalent of the systematic slaughtering of six million people.
The bleak realism is that having one hyperbolic comparison could easily be attributed to an unfortunate isolated incident, yet having these constant cultural gaffes is an exemplification of the environment fostered by the protest, and the so-called distinct society mentality running through them. Nothing seems to matter other than their cause, and the perceived cruelty of having to pay increased tuition is equated to actual atrocities committed elsewhere in the world.
In the early days of the protest, protesters and supporters alike were often quick to rightly point out that much of the violence and vandalism caused was not perpetrated by the students. Rather, political opportunists (other than the PQ's Pauline Marois), and rabble rousers such as the Black Bloc and anti-capitalists were to blame. The students were both smart and right to distance themselves from such people, as being associated with potential rioters did little to win public sympathy.
Similarly, it is tactically astute that both CLASSE and FEUQ were quick to denounce the Nazi gestures at the protests. I suppose now it will be interesting to see what authority these leaders actually exert over the protesters, as the protest is so far removed from the original tuition issue. One can only hope that this is a signal to the strikers and their supporters to put the kibosh on the comparisons to genocidal governments.
For the time being, however, the protesters like to think of Charest as Hitler and the Montreal police as the Gestapo. I suppose the real irony here is that after weeks of the punditry slamming the students for being predominantly from arts majors such as sociology, anthropology and history, the students have successfully proven they know very little regarding all three.