The last day of the week-long strike voted on at the Concordia Student Union’s March 7 general assembly will coincide with the massive province-wide protest against tuition hikes set to take place on Thursday, March 22. On that day, Concordia University will shut down both of its campuses.
An email sent by Provost David Graham and vice-president institutional relations Bram Freedman on Monday to all students and staff stated that, considering 15,000 protesters are expected to gather around Concordia before heading for the march towards Canada Place on Thursday, the university had to ensure the safety and security of the university community and members of the public by closing down and stopping all university activities for one day.
The university, however, will reopen on Friday, March 23.
“The area is going to be congested with people,” said Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota. “There is not enough space in and around campus to allow people to gather and facilitate access in the same time. [Closing the university] was the right call to make.”
The March 22 protest will see tens of thousands of students gathering in the streets of Montreal, according to organizers at the Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante.
A Concordia delegation will be meeting in front of the Hall building at 12.30 p.m. and will be led by the CSU to meet with the rest of the protesters at Canada Place.
The Concordia week-long strike already kicked off last Thursday with a march of more than 200 ConU students through the streets of downtown Montreal.
Some of them gathered early in the morning in front of the Hall building, chanting, dancing and peacefully blocking the front entrance of the building with tape and balloons. At 11.30 a.m., about 100 students started marching around the downtown campus, eventually joined by at least 100 more protesters along the way.
“At the beginning, we were supposed to stay around the Hall building, but then a bunch of people said ‘let’s go to Charest’s office [on McGill College Avenue],’ so we did,” said CSU VP external Chad Walcott. “It went amazingly well and our numbers more than doubled during the march. I think we proved loud and clear that English students are not that apathetic and we definitely gave Montreal a little wake-up call saying that Concordia University is still alive and well.”
After a couple of circles around the Hall building, the protesters — accompanied by a giant bookworm made out of a dozen students hiding under sewed sheets — started walking on Ste-Catherine Street, escorted by police cars and attracting drivers’ and pedestrians’ attention with vuvuzelas. The students then went up McGill College Avenue for a quick stop in front of Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s office, before heading back towards Concordia.
“I am extremely proud of Concordia students today,” said School of Community and Public Affairs professor Anna Kruzynski, while dancing with the students after taking part in the march. “It’s the first time in Concordia’s history that students go on strike for more than one day. We have to take the tuition hikes issue to the street in order to be visible and gain the most support before the provincial government passes the budget on March 20.”
Kruzynski added that even though the decision to strike was not an easy or a unanimous one, it was a necessary sacrifice for the future of the education system in Quebec.
“There’s a lot of students who probably don’t understand why we need to strike,” she said. “But if you look at the history of student movements, the many strikes we had made it possible to stop tuition hikes or improve the loans and bursaries programs. If it weren’t for those strikes, people here would be in the same situation as students in other provinces where they have to pay $5,000 in tuition fees every year.”
When Tuesday’s march ended around 1 p.m., students remained in front of the Hall building, enjoying free food and partially blocking traffic by chanting and dancing in the street to the sound of drums.
“It’s just day one so people are still trying to figure out what is going on,” said psychology student Kathleen Khall about the turnout at the march. “The strike went really well and there was a lot of support from people who weren’t Concordia students as we were marching. As the days go on, people will probably participate more and I hope the movement grows and that we don’t let the French schools do all the work for us.”
As for the CSU’s strategy in preparing the March 22 protest, Walcott said he aimed to move away from the picketing “inside,” as such action was more in the hands of faculty associations, and “bring everybody to a festive atmosphere outside in the streets.”
“We’re going to keep people active, motivated and marching,” Walcott said. “If we continue like this, we will hopefully get a positive momentum and make all students join us without even having to picket.”