05/30/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec Tuition Negotiations: Students, Government Resume Talks Amid Hope That End To Protests, Unrest Is Near

MONTREAL - Negotiations between students and the provincial government will resume Thursday after students left a third night of talks saying the government wanted time to study their latest proposal.

"There were exchanges of offers, like ping-pong, throughout the day. That ended with our last offer and we wait for the reaction tomorrow," Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a co-spokesman for the more hardline CLASSE group, told reporters.

He said the four student organizations remain around the table, at least for now.

"We will continue to discuss in good faith with the minister to try and find a way out of the crisis, ideally tomorrow."

Before they headed back following a supper break, Martine Desjardins, head of one of the university groups, said the talks had hit a wall when she said government negotiators hadn't examined the student's counter proposal submitted Tuesday.

As she left Wednesday's talks, Desjardins said she hoped the government would consider the offer more seriously.

"We hope this time the government will take the time to look at the numbers and tomorrow we will have a more positive response."

Leo Bureau-Blouin, who represents college students, said he hopes the minister's response will lead to an end to the crisis and believed all Quebecers would be encouraging the minister.

"We are still within the parameters that the government set."

Addressing the proposed tuition fee increase appears to be the key to hammering out an elusive deal to end the four-month dispute.

An offer to cut the proposed tuition fee increase by $35 was dismissed unanimously in talks Tuesday night, said two of the heads of students groups involved in the talks.

The government had already lowered the yearly increase, by offering to spread it out over seven years for an annual jump of $254, a move previously rejected by students.

Education Minister Michelle Courchesne's new proposal would have reduced the yearly hike to $219 over seven years.

The original increase, which kicked off the dispute in February, was for $325 a year over five years — a move that would bring annual fees to about $3,800 in 2017.

But the latest offer still wasn't good enough, student leaders said Wednesday.

"It was put on the table and it was automatically refused by the associations," Desjardins said earlier as she returned to the bargaining table.

Nadeau-Dubois said several areas were being considered as places where money could be found to lower the tuition fee increase. One option presented by students was to adjust tax credits.

As the two sides were trying to reach a deal to end the crisis, pot-banging protests in support of the Quebec student strikers were seen in New York City and several Canadian cities Wednesday night in an event dubbed Casserole Night in Canada.

Protesters in Calgary filled half a city block and held up traffic as they banged pots and pans on a march to city hall. Police officers walked alongside the peaceful demonstrators, many of whom waved signs calling for support for the Quebec students.

In Vancouver, protesters clanging on their casserole cans wove through the city streets as police looked on. A few in the largely young crowd wore black masks as they marched, but the demonstration stayed peaceful.

There were also marches in several Ontario cities, including Toronto, London and Kingston.

For the first time since the Montreal protests started, police declared the 37th nightly march legal since organizers provided a route ahead of time. One of the marches was subsequently deemed illegal, but no one was arrested.

The CBC reported Wednesday more than 130 people who bought tickets to next week's Formula One race in Montreal have had their personal information posted online, seemingly by the hacker collective Anonymous.

The names, email addresses and phone numbers of 131 ticket buyers were posted, along with the class of tickets purchased, the price paid and the date they were bought.

Anonymous had threatened to go after the Montreal F1 race as part of its campaign against Bill 78, the emergency legislation Quebec passed on May 18.

Meanwhile, two United Nations independent experts on freedom of expression raised concerns about demonstrations on May 24 that involved "serious acts of violence" and the detention of up to 700 protesters.

They urged the provincial government to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association of students.

"The recently adopted legislation unduly restricts students' rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly in Quebec," warned Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Kiai said fines ranging up to $125,000 that are included in the law are "disproportionate" and warned that a municipal regulation requiring protesters to provide their itinerary in advance should not be "misused to restrict the legitimate right to freedom of peaceful assembly."

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