Following the end of the education summit, over 10,000 protesters led the way through downtown Montreal last Tuesday in the largest protest since last summer.
The protest was organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante in response to the exclusion of any discussion about free education at the education summit and the provincial government’s subsequent proposal to index university tuition fees. While it was largely peaceful, the protest was eventually broken up by police following incidents of snow, rocks, eggs and glass being thrown at police and their horses.
Premier Pauline Marois declared at the end of the two-day conference that the civil unrest of last spring was over but nonetheless thousands marched through downtown Montreal for hours shortly afterwards.
The demonstration officially began at 2 p.m. at Victoria Square, the former location of Occupy Montreal, opening with speeches and rallying cries before proceeding slowly but peacefully through the downtown core. The protest was deemed illegal almost immediately because an itinerary was not provided, violating a Montreal bylaw. Some protesters repeatedly pelted Service de police de la Ville de Montréal officers with snowballs whenever they approached, in some cases causing them to retreat.
By the time protesters reached Berri St. police had formed barriers and fired stun grenades to break up the protest. After charging the crowd, police followed protesters down Berri where they divided the demonstrators and attempted to disperse the crowd.Tear gas and stun grenades were used at certain points against protesters, as was a weapon the SPVM identified as a 40mm gun which fired green paint. The SPVM declined to elaborate on the purpose of the green paint saying that they cannot discuss strategies.
After being divided repeatedly by police lines and charges, the protest finally came to an end not far from the Berri-UQAM metro station around 5 p.m., with individuals still lingering and small contingents roaming nearby streets.
The SPVM confirmed 13 arrests once the protest was over for reasons including damaging police cars, attacking police officers and illegal assembly. According to the SPVM two individuals were also found to be carrying molotov cocktails.
Benjamin Prunty, a councillor for the Concordia Student Union who attended the protest, explained he was pleased with the turnout and with the message they sent, but was critical of the actions of the police.
“I am a peaceful person, and I felt very much provoked. There were way too many riot police and they were way too close to us,” he said. “[The police] represent the use of force and the protesters represent discontentment. Discontentment should be allowed to express itself freely and loudly without the looming threat of being beaten back by batons or burning chemicals.”
Prunty also said that he hoped the goal of free education continued to be a part of the conversation going forward.
“I think that having free education, combined with a responsible free press, is one of the surest methods of equalizing all segments of our society,” he said. “We need to worry far less about the people on the top and far more about the people on the bottom, all the while bringing each side closer to the other within a framework of healthy, diverse, and inclusive dialogue.”
Another protest is planned for Tuesday night at 8 p.m. from Place Émilie-Gamelin, where more than 3,000 individuals have already confirmed their attendance.