For over four months a minority of post-secondary students have been boycotting their classes in an attempt to corner the government into brokering a deal with the student leaders over tuition increases. Up until recently the Liberal government has made three haphazard -- albeit, conciliatory -- moves.
However, a much larger concession was made late in the afternoon yesterday by the Quebec Liberal Party, as Quebec's Education Minister, Line Beauchamp, resigned from her position. She claims she is not resigning over the violence of the student protests, but rather, is resigning because she feels she is no longer a contributing factor to finding a solution.
Her admission is honest, introspective and poignant, but above all, it is something an adult would do. Feeling as though she could no longer actively negotiate and deal with the students in a way that would benefit Quebeckers at large, Beauchamp recognized her failing(s) and stepped aside.
The students, meanwhile, have not mitigated their original position of maintaining a tuition freeze in any way. Conversely, as the protests continue, violence and vandalism has become increasingly commonplace as protesters become ever more uncompromising and antagonistic.
Last Thursday, four students set off smoke bombs effectively paralyzing Montreal's subway system for over two hours, at the peak of rush hour traffic. They turned themselves in to the police, and now face charges of committing a hoax regarding terrorist activity, conspiracy and mischief, meaning they could face fines up to $5,000 and a maximum of five years in prison.
The first charge is the most interesting, considering it can easily be argued that the allegations of setting off a smoke bomb do not merit being qualified as a "hoax" regarding a terrorist activity, but rather a terrorist activity in and of itself. It does, however, bring to light the kind of social injustice that is unfortunately present in our legal system, as it becomes hard not to wonder what the charges would have been if the four suspects had been anything but white.
But this isn't the kind of social injustice the protesters are concerned with.
Despite the fact the vast majority of students are intent on remaining peaceful, there is an increasingly aggressive minority that is hijacking the student movement. This is something that can no longer be overlooked, as the student protest supporters often claim that anarchists and anti-capitalists, as opposed to students, are the perpetrators committing the violence. However, last I checked, being a student and an anarchist/anti-capitalist wasn't something that necessitated mutual exclusivity.
The bleak reality is the student protests are progressively siphoning off into protest movements within the larger protest movement itself. This statement had some truth to it from the onset of the protests, as the students were somewhat unclear regarding their mandate and goals, but within the last month the "protest within the protest" phenomenon is painstakingly clear with two patent examples:
1. Students interrupted a press conference held by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and La Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), denouncing the very notion of the student leaders negotiating with the government.
2. The Force étudiante critique, which is a more militant faction of the already militant Coalition large de l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), organized a student rally yesterday to show support for the arrested suspects in Thursday's smoke bomb incident. Supporters of the alleged smoke bombers accused the media of biased reporting as the climate quickly became heated.
As the Quebec government is making concessions and trying to find solutions, the student movement is gradually making headway as a radical and combative lobby group, opposing any compromises on their end and refusing to condemn acts of violence and terrorism.
It seems as though this is the natural progression of the movement. The minority of extremist students within the larger minority of protesting students has no reason to act differently. In fact, they seem to simply be emulating the model put forth by the student leaders to begin with: garner a minor -- yet vocal and determined -- faction of the population and don't stop until the other side concedes. So far, it is a tactic that seems to be succeeding, just ask Line Beauchamp.