With just five days left before finance minister Raymond Bachand was set to table his budget, more than 50,000 people from across Quebec converged on downtown Montreal last Saturday to take part in a largely peaceful protest against the tuition hikes and privatization measures that the Charest government is likely to enforce.
The protesters, representing close to 150 unions and other organizations, made their way from Place du Canada to Premier Jean Charest’s office on McGill College, causing the temporary closure of several downtown streets.
Organized jointly by the Alliance sociale and the Coalition opposÃ©e a la tarification et a la privatisation des services publics, the event saw Quebecers march in support of a wide range of issues including tuition freezes, accessible health care, and a moratorium on shale gas drilling. Many of the banners targeted the premier personally, such as a poster that had Charest’s face taped to the head of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, illustating the protesters’ belief that Charest and the Conservative Iron Lady were the same person in terms of policies.
‘’I think they [the government] should be scared,” said Concordia student and former CSU VP sustainability and promotions Morgan Pudwell. “I’m so impressed that so many people from different groups showed up and I think the studentsÂ are amazed to see people from other unions out supporting them.”
Pudwell was part of a group of about 40 students who had met at the Hall building prior to the protest to prepare their banners. Although no figures exist regarding the number of Concordia students at the protest, Pudwell estimated that her group had inflated to about 60. Two Concordia Facebook groups created in the lead-up to the protest both had several hundred students listed as attending. Irmak Bahar, also involved in mobilizing students, felt that even during the final week before the protest, the CSU had not done enough to promote the event.
‘’I was hoping that they would, but I haven’t seen that unfortunately,’’ she said. One of her complaints was the CSU’s failure to follow up on her request to move their table promoting the protest from the Hive to the G-Lounge at Loyola, a place Bahar felt would attract more students.
But CSU president Heather Lucas, also in attendance at the march, countered by saying students should have directed their concerns directly to the executive.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if there were complaints they should be brought directly to our attention or else we simply won’t know that they exist,” said Lucas. “We have, however, done a lot in terms of publicizing the event as [VP external and projects] Adrien Severyns and representatives from our student lobby group the FEUQ came to help us table and flyer. There was also a link on our webpage, as well as a special newsletter sent just for this event.”
Lucas estimated that several hundred Concordia students were probably at the event, and noted that many CSU councillors and most of her executive were also there.
“We could see a real student movement that turned out because they wanted to see change,” she said. “They wanted the Charest government to know that we are students who don’t believe in inaccessible education and we’ve made that clear.”
Before the protest kicked off, ten people in their 20s – six men and four women – were arrested on charges on conspiracy. According to La Presse, the ten were dressed in black and were carrying weapons that included a hammer. One member of the group was also prohibited from attending protests. The CSU has not heard whether any of the ten were Concordia students. The group was due to appear in court yesterday.