(CUP) â€” Five people were arrested after riot police shut down an anti-tuition protest in Montreal on Thursday.
One was person was injured after protesters entered an office building downtown, but police said the woman was not a protester.
The protest remained peaceful for over three hours, as around 2,000 demonstrators snaked their way through downtown Montreal.
Protesters were upset with tuition increases proposed in Quebec’s provincial budget earlier this month. Protesters were also calling for free university education in Quebec.
Throughout the march there was heavy police presence, with officers on horseback and a provincial police helicopter overhead.
Clashes with police began around 4 p.m. As the majority of protesters were gathered outside premier Jean Charest’s Montreal office, a small group of protesters entered the nearby offices of the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities. The group, which represents administrators at all universities in the province, has come out in favour of the increase.
According to police, a woman who works in the building housing the CREPUQ offices suffered a fractured arm during a confrontation with protesters.
Police also scuffled with protesters in front of the building, with officers using pepper spray.
The main body of demonstrators soon moved in front of the office building.
Around 4:20 p.m., police ordered demonstrators to clear the street and move west. When a large number of protesters didn’t move, riot police charged the crowd. Police fired several stun grenades above the protesters. Police split the crowd into several smaller groups within a matter of minutes. At several points, large crowds of onlookers gathered as riot police followed small groups of protesters on busy downtown streets. Riot police began leaving the area before 5 p.m.
Police spokesperson Annie Lemieux said those arrested will face charges including assaulting a police officer and mischief. She said several vehicles, including two police cars, were damaged during the protest.
The protest was organized by the Association pour une solidaritÃ© syndicale Ã©tudiante, a large Quebec student lobby group. The protest coincided with a one-day student strike, also organized by ASSÃ‰, at several French-language universities and CEPGEPs across the province. The strike was endorsed by 21 student associations, which represent a total of over 50,000 students.
On March 17, Quebec’s finance minister Raymond Bachand announced that university tuition fees would rise by $1,625 over the next five years, beginning in 2012. Quebec currently has the lowest tuition fees in the country.
“Already, too many students drop out for financial reasons. What the government is proposing will aggravate this situation,” ASSÃ‰ spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said in French. “This is unacceptable and we will fight for everyone to have access to education.”