Quebec Protest Loses Support as Violence Rises

April 19, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Student protesters
Student protesters gather in Phillips Square in downtown Montreal on March 29. (Nathalie Dieul/The Epoch Times)

A massive student protest in Quebec has seen over 165,000 students ditch class over proposed tuition increases, with tensions escalating in recent days even as support for the movement slips.

Reports Wednesday in various Quebec cities detailed street protests with Gatineau police arresting 80 people. Hundreds of students have been arrested in the protests, which began over two months ago.

On Monday, reports emerged that Montreal police are investigating incidents of vandalism at cabinet ministers’ offices. Molotov cocktails were found inside several offices.

Red squares, a symbol of the student protesters, were found painted on the sidewalks outside.

On April 14, thousands joined a march that wound through several blocks and obstructed traffic, but fell short of the violence that erupted the day before when seven students were arrested for trashing the office of the province’s education minister, Line Beauchamp.

Another group of students set up tents at the University of Montreal in an Occupy-style protest. The university has sought an injunction from the court after several hundred students caused extensive damage there on April 12.

A previous injunction was already handed down by the courts to prevent protesters from blocking access to the building.

Protesters also managed to temporarily shut down websites for the Quebec Liberal Party and the province’s Education Department.

Support Falling

But as reports of vandalism rise, support for the protests is falling in Quebec.

A Leger Marketing poll for the Journal de Montreal shows 38 percent of Quebecers support the protests, down seven percent from a similar poll March 28 that recorded support at 45 percent.

The poll also found 74 percent of Quebecers were not willing to pay extra taxes to stop the tuition increase.

Students march
Students march down Rene-Levesque Blvd. in Montreal on April 11. (Nathalie Dieul/The Epoch Times)

Now in their third month, the protests were sparked by plan to raise tuition by 75 percent over the next five years.

Quebec currently has the lowest tuition in Canada, and its tuition would remain the third lowest even with the increase.

The plan that has so angered students aims to raise tuition fees by $325 a year for the next five years for a total increase of $1,625.

Quebec has a unique history with post-secondary education funding. Broad support for free schooling or low tuition fees began during the secularization process that unfolded during the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s.

In Quebec, students receive the equivalent of one free year of university education, and the lowest tuition rates in the country.

Protesting More Than Tuition

Several students involved in the protests say the tuition hikes are part of a broader move towards a more capitalistic society, a trend they oppose.

Zachari Jolin, a biology student set to start his Masters degree next year, said the protests are a social fight involving the entire society.

“Democracy is not a package deal that comes with Quebec or Canada, it’s something that changes with the time, and at some point we won’t have it any more, so we have to fight in order to keep it,” he said.

Despite the fact the students have been able to take to the streets and oppose the cuts in the strongest terms possible, many, including Jolin, say the planned increases are a sign the government is no longer democratic.

Anthropology student Elvire Marcland echoed that point, describing the protests as closely linked to the Occupy movement that saw temporary encampments pop up in high-profile locations across North America and in other countries.

“I won’t speak about dictatorship, but about a society that doesn’t listen to us,” she said

“It’s more global, it’s also worldwide because we’re fighting against capitalism and its consequences.”

She said that movement will continue even if the protests end, which won’t happen unless the government relents.

“We won’t stop as long as the government doesn’t do anything, that’s for sure, we really have the motivation and [for] many of us, it can still last for a long time.”

Student protesters
Student protesters pump their fists in the air and chant slogans in Victoria Square, Montreal, on April 11. (Nathalie Dieul/The Epoch Times)

Félix Blequiére another anthropology student, said the protests are a part of a bigger fight to maintain the gains of the Quiet Revolution, a period in which the province took control over education from the Roman Catholic Church and increased funding to make higher education broadly accessible.

“The movement is bigger than [the increase in tuition]—the whole notion of education is in question,” he said.

“What we put in question is the way the government of Quebec wants to build its society based on education. The whole ideology is in question; it’s also enlarging capitalism.”

“Many students hope to work later on in a society that would not be based upon values such as money,” he said.

Tuition on the Rise Nationally

A ticker on the Canadian Federation of Student’s website puts Canada Student Loan (CSL) debt at over $14 billion. CSL is the main provider of student loans in Canada, though provinces also operate provincial programs.

Tuition fees have increased at twice the rate of inflation, notes the group.

According to Statistics Canada, tuition fees in Canada average $5,366, with Ontario students paying the most at $6,640.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the second lowest rates with an average of $2,649 while Quebec came in at just $2,519. Even if the total increase was implemented today, Quebec students would be paying $4,144. Fees in Manitoba are $3,645.