04/04/2012 08:28 EDT | Updated 06/04/2012 05:12 EDT

While You Protest, I'm Going to Class

During this past Thursday's protests about tuition fees, Montreal's students found another foe worthy of their vociferous appeals to the masses: student scabs, who they claimed did not have the right to cross picket lines and go to classes. The protesters may indeed have 99 legitimate problems, but just to be clear, a scab isn't one.

Flickr: shahk

March 29 marked yet another student protest in Montreal over planned tuition hikes by the Quebec provincial government of $1625 over the next five years, which would still make Quebec's tuition among the lowest in Canada.

As the child of immigrants, I often find it hard to air grievances pertaining to matters that would be hashtagged as #firstworldproblems. So, when a bunch of over-privileged, entitled kids overreact to situations that really aren't that bad, I have a hard time relating to them.

Moreover, I have had the great privilege of attending two of Canada's most reputable universities, McGill and Université de Montréal, at a fraction of what it would cost other Canadians. At the end of my six years of post-secondary education, I will have paid less than what it costs the average out of province student to attend either school for half of the time that I did. I for one am very grateful to our province's low tuition fees, and can understand why maintaining a tuition freeze over the last 33 years is simply not sustainable.

Yet even though I do not agree with the students' grievances, I believe in their right to express their opinion. Additionally, one cannot help but sympathize with the protesters' initial argument that the tuition increases will become a new barrier in accessing post-secondary education for lower socioeconomic classes.

However, as time goes on, it is becoming increasingly clear that the students' message is mixed at best and flawed at worst. Dispersed amongst their signs of a "printemps érable" and effigies of "John James Charest," the cries from the protesters range from maintaining the status quo, to demanding free tuition, to the obvious underpinning of all Québécois malaise -- demanding an independent Quebec.

During the most recent protests, the students were grouped into four different groups -- orange, blue, yellow and green -- in order to represent their different messages. My gripe pertains to the yellow group, which found another foe worthy of their vociferous appeals to the masses: student scabs. The protesters claimed that the "scabs" in question had the right to be against the strike, but did not have the right to cross picket lines and go to classes.

This isn't a matter involving a unionized labour dispute with an immoral corporation illegally hiring people to work during a strike. This is a matter of students boycotting classes over an issue that is centered on their demand for further entitlements that serve their own self-interest; and because other students choose to go to class and learn, they are being shamed.

Never mind the fact that many student associations voted against the strike, the fact that students do not have a legal right to strike, and that because these students paid their tuition at the beginning of the semester, it is not only their right to go to their classes, but they are in fact simply being economical in not wasting their tuition money.

The protesters may indeed have 99 legitimate problems to deal with right now, but just to be clear, a scab isn't one.

This kind of "you're either with us or against us" mentality is a tactic that has been used by many authoritarian, bullying figures. George W. Bush famously denounced countries that refused to invade Iraq by declaring they were necessarily siding with the terrorists. Similarly, our own current Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, saw a barrage of criticism when he proposed Bill C-30 and claimed that by not supporting it, one was a de facto child pornographer sympathizer.

The striking students have taken a page right out of the authoritarian playbook.

The students are correct to state that it is their right to call me scab, after all, they have the right to call me whatever they want. They should heed notice though; it is the right of every student to reap the benefits of the tuition they paid by attending their classes and learning a thing or two. We refuse to be bullied into their boycott.