Quebec students opposed to the tuition hikes promised a strike every Thursday that would grow in intensity with each passing week. They lived up to that promise last week when they took to the streets of downtown Montreal and blocked the Jacques Cartier Bridge for almost an hour.
Approximately 15,000 students marched on Feb. 23 and blocked the traffic for more than four hours on major streets such as Ste-Catherine Street and René-Lévesque Boulevard.
When the protest officially ended around 4 p.m., a group of about 300 students left the pack shouting “To the bridge! To the bridge!” and headed toward the Jacques Cartier Bridge
where they blocked both the north and the south exits.
The protesters were met by Montreal riot police, an encounter that ended in a brief clash with some protesters being pepper-sprayed before they were pushed away from the bridge and back toward Place Émilie-Gamelin, next to Berri-UQAM metro station. The SPVM reported only one arrest.
“From now on, our demonstrations will crescendo,” said Simon Jalbert, a protester and a member of l`Association des étudiants en géographie de l’Université de Montréal. “It is important for us to keep the pressure going up against the Charest government.”
The move to block the bridge was not planned by the protest organizers from l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, who regretted that the actions of a small group attracted more attention than a peaceful and orderly march of 15,000 students.
“The protest ended before this group of students moved toward the bridge,” said ASSÉ spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. “It’s a shame this action caught so much attention.”
Nadeau-Dubois added however that he sympathized with people’s frustration toward the tuition hikes and found the action to block the bridge “understandable.”
Stopping traffic on one of Montreal’s busiest bridges during rush hour seems to have alienated the students’ cause for a part of the population, as many felt the action was inappropriate and unrelated to the protest.
“Obviously, taking such actions is going to put some people against us, but fortunately [the blocking] did not last too long,” added Jalbert. “This is just our way of warning the government that if they insist on passing the tuition hikes, we will make their lives harder.”
Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill also kept her distance with the action taken by the group of students.
“It’s a clear show that students are angry and are willing to go to considerable ends to show their frustration and make this a public issue,” said Gill. “But from my perspective, peaceful and non-disruptive actions like sleep-ins and information campaigns are the values that we should put forward as they are more productive ways of voicing our concerns.”
Nadeau-Dubois also added it was not student associations’ role to tell protesters what to do, and that the Liberal government should not be surprised to see more of these disturbances.
This Thursday’s demonstration will be held in Quebec City and student organizations already announced a massive protest set to take place in Montreal on March 22.
So far, more than 55,000 students across the province are reported to be on strike. Concordia students will vote on a general strike mandate on March 7.