05/16/2012 10:56 EDT | Updated 07/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Universite Du Quebec Protest: Masked Protesters Storm University


MONTREAL - Protesters stormed into a university, many of them with their faces covered by masks, moving through the hallways in a hunt for classes to disrupt.

The chaotic scene, which made some international news reports, came in a climate of heightened tension Wednesday as the provincial government was expected to announce emergency legislation to crack down on student protests.

With a list of scheduled classes in hand, about 100 protesters marched through pavilions at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal and stopped at a few choice spots along the way.

The intrusions were orchestrated by protesters seeking to enforce their declared strikes. They resented some students' use of legal injunctions to return to school.

With a list of scheduled classes in hand, about 100 protesters marched through pavilions at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal and stopped at a few choice spots along the way.

Making noise with drums and whistles, they moved through the main UQAM building, splitting up on a number of occasions as they searched for ongoing classes. A masked protester would yell out marching orders for the next target, such as: "Pavilion M!"

A few dozen entered a contract-law class at one point.

Having marched upstairs to that ninth-storey classroom, the group began flicking on and off the lights; they repeatedly yelled, "Scab!" at the stunned group of students seated inside.

A few men even grabbed two female students by the arm, telling them to get out. Some of the intruders jumped on desks and tables.

The teacher and students shouted at them to leave. But during the 10-minute standoff, most of the students eventually gave up and left the classroom, as did the teacher.

By the time it was over, there were chairs and tables knocked over. On a wall of the classroom there was a spray-painted message, written in red: "On strike, dammit!"

The protesters then worked their way toward another class. They had marched east on De Maisonneuve Boulevard for a few minutes before they found their target: 1001 De Maisonneuve East. They chanted, "Who owns UQAM? We own UQAM!"

None of the protesters were carrying weapons. They did, however, get into students' faces, shouting at them, shoving their books and climbing on desks.

There were clearly differences of opinion among the protesters. When one masked man grabbed a desk and flipped it over, another looked at him and said: "You're an idiot."

Some annoyed students reported the incident to police. Others snapped photos of the intruders with their cellphone cameras.

At one point, while a student was talking to a police officer outside the school, several demonstrators who were watching shouted: "Scabs!" But she kept chatting with police.

"They're trying to make us afraid to go back to class," UQAM law student Celina Toia said after talking to the officers, who were sitting in a van.

"Teachers are more than willing to give their classes, so they're trying to make it extremely inconvenient. They're threatening us and they're creating a hostile environment for us."

The student unrest has lasted 14 weeks. Only one-third of Quebec students are actually on declared strikes, but the conflict has created considerable social disorder.

Wednesday's events were notable — in that they were actually taking place inside classrooms, in face-to-face confrontations.

The social conflict so far has consisted of different sides fighting in court, and in the court of public opinion. It has also seen scuffles between police and protesters, but the events inside the classrooms Wednesday came as a shock.

The crisis appears headed for a crescendo.

While those confrontations were taking place in Montreal, the provincial cabinet was meeting in Quebec City to discuss the possibility of adopting emergency legislation — a law reportedly laden with financial penalties for people who have played a role in encouraging the ongoing disruption.

Also on HuffPost

Photo gallery When Police And Students Clash See Gallery