Several thousand protesters weaved through downtown Montreal in support of free education Thursday despite the Parti Québécois’ reversal of the tuition fee increase implemented by the former provincial government led by the Charest Liberals.
Starting with speeches from the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, students and their supporters gathered at Victoria Square at 1:30 p.m. to promote accessible education in solidarity with the week-long International Student Movement from Nov. 14 to Nov. 22 and address the quality of post-secondary institutions.
The Vanier College Student Association voted this week in favour of a strike and administration cancelled courses at Vanier on Thursday. As the only Anglophone institution to collectively go on strike, many were present for the march including VCSA student representative Nhat Martien Pham.
“After the tuition hikes were cancelled, we […] thought that it could have been over, since the purpose of the protests were to oppose the hikes,” said Pham. “I liked that we could show that we are still socially and globally conscious. I was happy to participate, and I was happy Vanier participated.”
The contingent marched for hours without incident before arriving at Place Émilie-Gamelin. While an itinerary was not provided before the march, the Montreal Police allowed the demonstration to continue since it remained peaceful.
Many expressed concern over the provincial budget presented by the PQ last Tuesday. While a higher education summit is planned for February to address concerns associated with the governance of universities and CÉGEPs, the budget provided little information on tuition but reversed the increase in bursaries.
According to Anthony Kantara, a VCSA Mob Squad member, the protest served as a warning to the PQ to abide by its promises.
“It is a statement and reminder to the current PQ government that we are watching and have not forgotten what has been promised,” said Kantara. “We hope that going on strike [will] help put more support in for the major student associations, like ASSÉ.”
L’ASSÉ announced Sunday it will send representatives to the higher education summit.
“We remain distrustful of this consultation,” said spokesperson Jérémie Bédard-Wien, “and we stress that only a large, collective action can bring social change.”
Therefore, the ASSÉ will bring the notion of complementary education to the discussion and organize a protest beforehand so “all voices will be heard.”
Conversely, other student associations including the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and the Concordia Student Union, championed for a rollback and freeze of the tuition fees but not the abolishment of fees altogether.
“The CSU has no mandate for free education,” said VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon. “We’re mobilizing our student body in order to get a clear idea of their wishes. Once this idea is clear, we will push for it at the education summit.”