“This protest is the outcome of several inter-university meetings we held at the end of last year,” said Rushdia Mehreen, formerly of the Graduate Students’ Association and member of the Mob Squad, a student group that has given itself the mandate of staging protest and demonstrations against tuition hikes. “In these meetings, we wanted to find out a way to build more ties between francophone and anglophone universities and CEGEPs.”
The idea of demonstrating French and English came shortly after the incident that took place at McGill University last Nov. 10, when several students faced police brutality after the massive rally that saw 30,000 students against tuition hikes flood the streets of Montreal. The group of protesters was attacked by anti-riot police and sought refuge in McGill premises where the police followed them and continued to fight them back.
The incident sparked the movement “We are all McGill,” inspired by the Egyptian movement “We are all Khaled Said,” a movement created in Jan. 2011 condemning police brutality.
Students from various schools in Montreal felt the need to express their support furthermore and decided to meet last December in order to find an effective way to demonstrate unity and to solve a potential miscommunication between francophone and anglophone schools.
“On s’en calisse [we don’t give a damn] about which language we speak,” exclaimed Frank Lévesque-Nicol, one of the event organizers and member of the Comité sur la lutte sociale of the UQÀM student union. “We have to put aside these futile language quarrels and go beyond these usual divisions. We are subjected to the same threat and we are fighting the same struggle.”
The slogan of Thursday’s protest symbolically alternated between French and English, with flyers reading: “Don’t fuck with notre éducation.”
When marching through the McGill campus, protesters honoured those affected by last year’s police brutality by chanting: “Who’s McGill? It’s our McGill!”
Some organizers joked by informally calling the group who organized the protest the “Anglo-Franco committee,” but Levesque insisted that the protest was organized by concerned students and was not to be affiliated to any group or association.
However, the wish to remain a grass-rooted movement slightly backfired for Concordia organizers as only a few Concordia students showed up to the protest, with the Concordia Student Union making no publicity of the event.
“I know very little about what’s going on today,” said CSU VP external Chad Walcott, former head of the Mob Squad, who was not participating in the protest. Walcott said the CSU was not entirely informed about the protest and that it was “purely a Mob Squad initiative,” adding that he still supported the protest.
Mehreen explained that the Mob Squad was an entity made out of concerned students and that it was autonomous from any unions.
Thursday’s protest came only a day after the UQAM Faculty of Arts and Science voted in favour of an unlimited general strike set to take place next March. A similar vote will take place at Concordia during a general assembly on March 7 where undergraduate students will decide whether or not they want to go on a general strike.