Despite having to skip class and brave the wind and rain, thousands of Concordia students turned out to march in solidarity with Montreal CÃ‰GEP and university students on Thursday’s day of action in protest against tuition fee hikes.
At several institutions, like Dawson College, students blockaded the entrances to keep others from attending classes. The Dawson Student Union managed to arrange an 11th hour agreement with the CÃ‰GEP administration to cancel classes.
At Concordia, students who chose not to protest were not barred from classes. Those who did want to protest gathered outside at Reggie’s on Mackay Street throughout the morning, and at Loyola, in activities planned by the Concordia Student Union.
After leaving the Reggie’s terrace shortly after 1 p.m., the body of students, armed with placards, banners, and a palpable level of excitement, inched its way along Ste-Catherine Street towards Place Ã‰milie-Gamelin to join forces with tens of thousands of students frustrated with their government’s decision to raise tuition by $325 a year for the next five years.
While CSU president Lex Gill said they didn’t have a crowd estimate for Concordiaâ€”the FÃ©dÃ©ration Ã©tudiante universitaire du QuÃ©bec estimated the entire protest drew around 30,000 peopleâ€”she said they had far surpassed the 920-people capacity of the Reggie’s terrace.
“I think what really blew me away was being at Ste-Catherine Street and de la Montaigne Street and getting a phone call saying the last bit of people were just leaving Concordia,” Gill said.
She explained that students had spilled into the parking lot and onto both Mackay and Bishop Streets, and that the entire second floor of the Hall building had emptied. “It was thousands of people,” she said.
As the students marched along the thoroughfare, they were greeted by a host of McGill University students expectantly waiting at the intersection of Ste-Catherine Street and McGill College Avenue, hoisting their own banners and adding their voices to the cries of “We’ll stand! We’ll fight! Education is a right!” proclaimed by the marching crowd.
Members of the Occupy Montreal movement also swelled their ranks as they marched onwards to Berri-UQAM metro station.
A mass of students had already amassed at Place Ã‰milie-Gamelin by the time the host of students arrived around an hour later.
“I’m here because I’ve actually been to a lot of these [protests] previously ever since I was in CÃ‰GEP and I had been hoping that those would have been enough to stop [tuition fee hikes] but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. We’re hoping that this will show the government that there are enough people that are against it and hopefully it will change its mind,” said Alejandro Gomora, a fourth-year psychology student at Concordia.
“I want to be a teacher, and I really don’t like the idea that eventually I am going to have to tell my students that as long as you have money you can be whatever you want to be, but if you don’t, well just give up,” first-year child studies student Alexandra Peters added.
The provincial government, however, shows no signs of stepping down from the proposed $1,625 hike over the next five years. At question period on Thursday, Education Minister Line Beauchamp remained firm on her stance that university students should contribute more.
“A majority of Quebec taxpayers don’t have a university degree and will never earn the salary of a university-educated person â€” but they finance the majority of the system,” said Beauchamp. “So shouldn’t university students do their part?”
PQ education critic Marie Malavoy has said that the hikes are coming too soon for students, while criticizing the government for the lack of accessibility of loans and bursaries to students.
The 30,000-strong crowd left the park later that afternoon to protest in front of Premier Jean Charest’s office on McGill College Avenue.
The crowd filled the streets, with many students demonstrating peacefully and playing music. But a tense knot of students formed directly outside of the office building, with riot police forming a line blocking the entrance. One student let off a fire extinguisher, while others launched firecrackers at the police and threw paint at the building.
A line of community organizers, some of them students, wore neon vests and formed a line to prevent others from reaching the police, who eventually retreated into the building.
The crowd soon dissipated, with CSU executives taking to Twitter to say they were headed home.
Montreal police reported that four people were arrested the day of the protests.