Students took to the streets of downtown Montreal last Tuesday in the first night protest since last spring to denounce a planned indexation of tuition fees by the provincial government.
According to the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, 72 people were detained during the course of the night. The SPVM ticketed 62 protesters for unlawful assembly while the remaining 10 were arrested during clashes police officers.
Several thousand students were protesting increases that will see tuition rise by three per cent a year. The proposal was brought forth during the summit on higher education hosted by the provincial government in late February. As part of their election platform, the Parti Québécois were adamant on addressing unresolved issues from last year’s tumultuous spring where students condemned former Premier Jean Charest’s tuition increase of $1,625 spread out over five years.
In a statement on Wednesday, Premier Pauline Marois urged people to stay calm.
“I believe what we proposed is reasonable and I hope it will be seen that way,” she said. “In the meantime, I’m inviting everyone to remain calm.”
The protest kicked off from Place Émilie-Gamelin around 8 p.m. and was declared illegal as soon as demonstrators started marching. The SPVM agreed to allow the protest to continue if it remained peaceful but intervened just over two hours later.
Cries of “À qui la rue? À nous la rue!” echoed through downtown alongside the occasional blast of fireworks as protesters followed a banner bearing the words “social peace is behind us,” while helicopters followed overhead.
At around 10:15 p.m., windows of the Sheraton Centre on de Maisonneuve Blvd. and glass at several banks were smashed with pieces of concrete. Protesters ran as police officers split the group in two on Viger St. just outside the Palais des Congrès. Police charged the large crowd and used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters.
Several hundred protesters made their way back to Place Émilie-Gamelin where clashes with police continued. After 45 minutes of a cat-and-mouse game, the SPVM detained the remaining 62 protesters who refused to leave the corner of Beaudry and Ste-Catherine Sts.
One student was hospitalized after being injured by a stun grenade and one officer was also treated for minor injuries to his eye after a firework reportedly hit him in the face.
Some are arguing that Montreal police targeted people indiscriminately.
Frederic Bourgault, 24, was detained by police after he went to retrieve his bicycle on his way home after the protest was over and received a $625 fine.
“What they did was unjustifiable as none of us were dangerous,” said Bourgault. “Everyone I was with was going home.”
Bourgault claims that officers threw his bike on the ground before handcuffing him.
“I didn’t do anything wrong but I was treated terribly.”
A similar protest in Quebec City last Thursday lasted just several minutes and resulted in three arrests. More night demonstrations are planned throughout the month of March in Montreal, including a protest this Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Place Émilie-Gamelin.