PHOTOS: Quebec student strike ‘Maple Spring’ marks 10 years

Students and teachers protest against tuition hikes and demand free education at all levels

On Tuesday, March 22, hundreds of students gathered around Place du Canada to strike and mark the tenth anniversary of the 2012 Quebec strike against the provincial government and its increase in tuition fees. The demonstration was organized and led by several student associations across Quebec.

While others were marching and blocking the streets of Montreal, dozens of Concordia students set up tents on the second floor of the Hall building to show their support.

Concordia University students camped out in the Hall building in solidarity with the Free Education protest. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

At the march, Ludmila Hérault, a 17-year-old student and spokesperson for Collège de Bois de Boulogne, addressed her speech to the government of Quebec.

“Dear government, aren’t you supposed to encourage a world in which every individual would have the same rights?” Hérault asked. “A world in which education is not about money, or a world in which each person is given the same opportunities in order to build the future they wish?” Hérault added.

According to Gratuité Scolaire, 85,000 students from 50 student associations in Quebec planned to go on strike that Tuesday.

The strike was largest downtown near UQAM, Concordia, and McGill University areas. KAITLYNN RODNEY/The Concordian
Students moved from downtown to flood St. Laurent St. in the Village. KAITLYNN RODNEY/The Concordian

Among the different students associations across Quebec demanding reduced fees was l’Association étudiante du Cégep de Sherbrooke (AÉCS) who travelled close to two hours to attend the protest.

“We came today [with] two buses from CEGEP Sherbrooke because we think that education is a right and not a privilege,” said Hugo Forget, a member of the AÉCS.

Since 2006, annual tuition for undergraduate students in Quebec has increased by $111 every year. Today, tuition for an undergraduate student reaches $4,310, compared to $2,506 in 2006. The Quebec government recently announced a 5.4 per cent increase in spending on education.

Many demonstrators marched wearing a red square of fabric to symbolize support for the 2012 student strike. The symbol has been used historically to represent students opposed to tuition increases and their supporters.

On March 18, 2011, the Quebec government, led by Jean Charest and the Quebec Liberal Party, announced a budget that hiked university tuition fees in what would amount to a 75 per cent increase from $2,168 to $3,793.

The decision to increase tuition fees sparked the longest student strike in history. From February 13, 2011, to September 7, 2012, student associations went on strike for an indefinite period before Bill 78 was passed, which forced students to go back to class and limited their right to protest.

At the strike on Tuesday, the Fédération nationale des enseigantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ) walked alongside student associations in solidarity. Benoît Lacoursière, a member of the FNEEQ, was one of the many teachers present at the 2012 strike and was back to show his support.

“For us, it is a fundamental value to access education, and solidarity is a fundamental value,” said Lacoursière. “It is important to continue to maintain this current struggle.”

The main message of the recent protest was to give students a voice and hope for their future education. Speakers also called attention to unpaid internships and demanded free education at all levels.

“We are on their side not only in class, but outside in their demands, and then it is their turn to speak,” said Martine Huot, a professor at Cégep du Vieux Montréal.

Following Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs Students’ Association (SCPASA) assembly on March 16, many members of the SCPASA joined the free education strike.

“Today is about showing the students are capable of mobilizing and creating momentum for future movements,” said Joshua Sallos, a member of the SCPASA.

At Concordia University, the students who set up tents on the second floor of the Hall building to occupy the space requested to be referred to by their first names to demonstrate a group effort.

“We’ve been a group of non-hierarchical students who are looking to democratize education, to exercise our power and our right as students to demand change and to organize as students to kind of force that change upon institutions, rather than just as individuals trying to approach an institution with issues,” said Luna, a participant.

Though the occupation was a joint effort among students, a source clarified both Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) and Concordia Student Union (CSU) helped fund and provide food for the protest.

The group camped for three days and held general assemblies every night at 7 p.m. to discuss their demands about free education.

“We were trying to keep it under wraps. […] It was mostly affinity-based,” said Errico, one of the group’s security liaisons.

On Tuesday night, students shared their demands, writing them on a whiteboard. A few requests included free education, commitment to divest, more voices in student government, disability justice, non-corporate education, better engagement from faculty, and more.

A list of demands was written by the protesters to put on display. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

On Wednesday morning, Andrew Woodall, dean of students, was on-site to speak to the occupiers.

“My role is to develop relationships with the students, understand what they are doing and make sure that they have someone to whom they can reach out if there are any problems or concerns about logistics or anything else,” said Woodall.

The occupation ended on Friday following a teach-in rally where Indigenous leaders and activists spoke about the climate crisis at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Monument in Mount Royal Park.

The sit-in lasted 3 days and ended on Friday, March 25. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney and Catherine Reynolds

Student Life

Memories of the SGW Affair

Re-examining the socio-political climate of 1960s Montreal

In light of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Sir George Williams Affair, Protests and Pedagogy, a two-day conference commemorating the largest student occupation in Canadian history, took place at De Sève Cinema in the LB building on Feb. 8 and 9.

The series of panels saw speakers, academics and activists from across the country join together to share information and memories of the events on Feb. 11, 1969. Resituating the occupation within the broader socio-political context of racial tensions in the 1950s and 60s in Montreal, as well as globally, underpinned each discussion.

Michael O. West, professor of sociology, Africana studies and history at Binghamton University, kicked off the conference by giving some much-needed historical context to the occupation. On April 28, 1968, eight students approached the Dean of Students with the initial complaint regarding their biology professor. “1968 was a year of protests and rebellion worldwide,” said West. “The Sir George Williams Affair was deeply rooted in the revolution of 1968.” Twenty-two days before the students came forth with their initial complaint “was the assassination, on April 4, 1968, of the King of Love,” said West. “Martin Luther King.”

Following West, H. Nigel Thomas, an author of various novels, poems and scholarly texts, chaired the second panel discussion between four individuals who were all involved, in one way or another, with the events surrounding Feb. 11.

Clarence Bayne, a then-professor at Sir George Williams University; Philippe Fils-Aimé, one of the Hall building occupants as well as one of the 97 people arrested that day; Brenda Dash, a Montrealer who vocally supported the students and was also arrested; and Nancy Warner, then a student-supporter from McGill who was outside the Hall building on Feb. 11. Every panelist had unique, insightful details of the intentionally misrepresented protest-turned-riot, all to convey one theme: it’s time the truth got a fair hearing.

The 9th floor computer centre after Feb. 11, 1969. Archive photo courtesy of Concordia University.

“Many people saw a face of Montreal that they had never seen before. The sheer hostility, the racism, the things that were said to people,” said Warner. “The degree to which what we thought were the rules of due-process, of the people being treated like they had some kind of civil liberties, were dashed.”

Some major news outlet headlines from Feb. 11 and onwards read: “Police Stay Cool in Chaos” and “Riot Squad Impressive” (The Gazette, Feb. 12, 1969) in which police are praised for appearing “relaxed and in good humour,” as well as “Student Moderates Alienated—Extremists go it Alone,” (The Star, Feb. 12, 1969) which stated that black students wanted to “burn down the university.”

“Much has been said about the destructive danuma of February 11,” said West. “A favourite description became and remains: riot. It being assumed that the rioters and protesters were one and the same.”

To this day, the administration and major news outlets present the mysterious fire as a point of contestation from the riots that day, despite the fact that students were arrested and charged with arson, among other offences, in the ensuing trials.

“I am going to also make a few comments on the question of this fire at the computer centre. I will tell you things that I have never said or mentioned before,” said Fils-Aimé. “As we were in jail, I had the chance to talk with Rosie [Roosevelt Douglas] and I said ‘Rosie, did you start this fucking fire, man?’ and he said ‘Phillippe, I must tell you, I didn’t have to.’” Fils-Aimé went on to explain how Rosie speculated that an individual whom they knew to be a devoted anarchist was the arsonist.

Details of the brutal events that took place once the riot squad stormed into the Hall building have not been downplayed—they have been left out of the history books altogether. “It is true that a riot occurred at the computer centre,” said West. “Except the riot only began with the arrival of the Montreal police riot squad.”

“The black occupiers were singled-out for especially brutal retribution. Black women, as could be expected, got the worst of it,” said West. “Subjected to bigoted bile as well as sexual violence. [Black men’s] bodies were ground in broken glass, they were kicked in the groin and genitalia.”

The students who made the initial complaint were taking a biology course, many of whom had dreams of attending medical school and ascending to the professional realm of society. “In sum, the police riot was also an attack on black sexuality and black reproduction,” said West.

West explained that, in regards to holding the police and the university accountable for the riots, “that has occurred to no one; that is, no one in a position of authority.” Fils-Aimé left attendees with a metaphor: when history is written by the lions, you’ll never hear the side of the antelopes. “In the process, truth became another victim,” said West. “It’s time, officially, that truth got a hearing at Concordia University. It’s time.”

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

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