Concordia officially apologizes for mishandling 1969 Black student protests

The University recognized its role in anti-Black racism during Computer Centre incident

On Friday Oct. 28, 2022, Concordia’s President and Vice Chancellor Graham Carr formally apologised on behalf of the University for mishandling the events leading up to the 1969 Black Student Protests. 

“We recognize the deep and often dire consequences that the actions of the University had at the time, and how these consequences have continued to echo through the years,” said Carr.

Carr delivered the apology at a press conference on the Sir George Williams campus last friday. In attendance were Rodney John and Lynne Murray, two of the students whose complaints of racial discrimination at SGWU ultimately lead to the 1969 Black Student Protests.

The University’s apology comes after the President’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism issued its final report on systemic anti-Black racism at Concordia. Assembled in the fall of 2020, the President’s Task Force was charged with investigating how anti-Black racism is perpetuated throughout Concordia. Its findings encompass over 88 recommendations for combating anti-Black systemic racism at Concordia, including acknowledging “the role of racism in the events of 1969 at Sir George Williams University.”  

“Sadly, the University’s actions and inactions were a stark manifestation of institutional racism,” said Carr. “The adverse effects of that behaviour reverberated widely, not just in Black communities in Montreal but also beyond, particularly in the Caribbean, where several of the Sir George students were from.”

After SGWU rejected the students’ complaints on Jan. 29 1969, 200 students took to the ninth floor of the Henry F. Hall Building in protest. Negotiations between the University’s administration and protestors broke down on Feb. 10 and the Montreal police were called in to resolve the conflict the following day. 

Riot police stormed the building, intent on dispersing the occupation by force. In response, protesters resorted to smashing windows and hurling University property onto the streets below. 

While police and protestors clashed, a fire began in the computer centre, the cause of which remains disputed to this day. Those who were still inside the building were forced to flee for their lives as crowds of onlookers chanted “let the n****rs burn.”

The riot’s aftermath resulted in over 97 people in police custody, $2 million in damages had been reported, and professor Anderson, who had been put on administrative leave during the unrest, was reinstated.

To this day, the Sir George Williams Affair remains the largest student occupation in Canadian history and a stain on Concordia’s reputation.

“For Concordia, reckoning with these events is a long overdue, necessary step. But it is not an end in itself,” Carr said last Friday.

For many, including co-founder and president of the Black Student Union (BSU) Amaria Phillips, this means ensuring that last Friday’s apology is followed up with concrete actions.

“I just really hope it’s not performative,” said Phillips. “I really hope that it’s sincere, with the intention of apologizing to make sure that we prevent anti-Black racism in the school and the University on campus for students, faculty and staff.”

According to Phillips, the BSU was heavily involved, both directly and indirectly, with the President’s Task Force on anti-Black racism during its mandate. She agrees with its findings and recommendations, but worries that the University’s commitment to tackling systemic anti-Black racism will wane if the public’s attention shifts.

“My fear is that, unless the story dies down, the cameras are off, and we’re not the focus of this anymore, they’re just going to let it slide through the cracks, and then we’ll slip back into that cycle,” said Phillips.


A year of protests in review

Photo by Sophia Loffreda

It’s been a year since over 200,000 students donning red hit the pavement on an irregularly warm day on March 22, 2012 to protest the proposed tuition fee increase of $1,625 by former Premier Jean Charest. It was the largest demonstration in Canadian history to date and marked the beginning of a tumultuous spring for Quebec. It raised questions about post-secondary education, triggered an election and gave way to unparalleled student unrest. It brought forward nightly demonstrations and forced a divide based on ideological differences in what could be argued as one of the most historic years in Quebec.

MARCH 22, 2012
Over 200,000 demonstrators pour in from all corners of the province to protest the proposed increase by the Charest Liberals of $325 per year over a five-year period for a total of $1,625. Traffic is affected for hours and protesters make international news. Not a single arrest is made.

APRIL 27, 2012
The provincial government offers a new deal to student leaders, including a revision in the tuition fee increase from a total of $1,625 over five years to a total of $1,778 over seven years. Angry with the revision, students take to the streets for the third night in the row in what becomes regular night protests for months.

MAY 4, 2012
Students arrive to protest outside the Quebec Liberal Party convention in Victoriaville, Que., a town located two hours east of Montreal. Tensions run high as the gathering quickly turns violent, pitting demonstrators against officers from the Sûreté du Québec. Over 106 arrests are made, with two officers and six demonstrators seriously injured by the end of the night.

MAY 14, 2012
Following failed negotiations with student leaders, Education Minister Line Beauchamp steps down from her position, saying that she is “no longer part of the solution” to the student crisis. Michelle Courchesne takes Beauchamp’s place.

MAY 18, 2012
The provincial government passes an emergency controversial law aimed at curbing protests in Quebec in response to large student strike demonstrations and growing civil unrest. Bill 78 imposes hefty fines for blocking access to class, suspends the winter semester for post-secondary institutions affected by the strike and requires an itinerary to be submitted in advance for demonstrations consisting of more than 50 people. A protest takes place the same night in downtown Montreal.

MAY 22, 2012
The student strike marks its 100th day by holding a large day protest in Montreal where thousands march peacefully through the streets. In commemoration, a large demonstration is held on the 22nd during the following months.

MAY 28, 2012
Approximately 700 lawyers march silently from the Montreal courthouse to condemn Bill 78. This marks the 35th consecutive night protest.

JULY 25, 2012
Léo Bureau-Blouin, former president of the the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, announces his candidacy with the Parti Québécois in the riding of Laval-des-Rapides.

AUGUST 1, 2012
Premier Jean Charest calls a provincial election set for only 34 days later on Sept. 4.

AUGUST 8, 2012
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois resigns from his position as the spokesperson of the Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante stating that the organization “needs fresh faces” in the ongoing student crisis.

The PQ wins the election with a minority government and Pauline Marois becomes the first female premier of Quebec. A shooting midway through Marois’ victory speech kills one man and injures another during the PQ’s celebrations. Charest officially leaves politics after a 28-year career.

Marois announces the abolishment of the tuition fee increase of $1,778 over a seven-year period.

NOVEMBER 20, 2012
The PQ announces its provincial budget but remains relatively quiet regarding tuition fees.

DECEMBER 6, 2012
The provincial government announces massive slashes to university budgets province-wide of $124 million by the end of the academic year. Concordia University suffers a $13-million loss.

JANUARY 23, 2013
The provincial government’s slash to Concordia’s funding runs so deep the university is forced to declare a deficit despite adjusting spending habits.

FEBRUARY 15, 2013
University rectors receive official invitations to the PQ’s planned education summit on higher learning, a two-day conference aimed to discuss unresolved issues from the student crisis.

FEBRUARY 25 and 26, 2013
The education summit leaves a bitter taste in student leaders’ mouths after the PQ announces an indexation of tuition fees by $70 per year indefinitely to match inflation. Universities face an additional $250 million in budget cuts and hundreds protest in downtown Montreal.

MARCH 5, 2013
A protest takes place to denounce the indexation of tuition fees, with over 1,000 participants in attendance. Over 53 people are arrested and more demonstrations are planned for the following weeks.

MARCH 22, 2013
Police swiftly end the one-year anniversary protest not even 30 minutes after it begins for violating municipal bylaw P-6 that requires a route to be submitted beforehand. Only a few hundred attend.


Student protest cut short

Photo by writer

A commemorative demonstration against the tuition indexation fell flat early Friday night when Montreal Police quickly shut it down.

Students gathered at Place Émilie-Gamelin for the one-year anniversary of the March 22, 2012 protest. Last year over 200,000 students exercised their democratic right to free assembly and flooded Montreal’s streets to protest a tuition fee increase of $1,625 over a five-year period by then-Premier Jean Charest.

Police have taken a heavy handed approach to student protesters and the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal seemed intent on shutting down the public assembly early Friday when it marked the third consecutive protest to be immediately declared illegal and kettled in under a week.

Kettling is tactic during demonstrations that forces protesters into a small space, sectioning them off and leaving them with a single exit usually determined by police.

The SPVM declared the demonstration illegal as a violation of municipal bylaw P-6 which states that groups must provide an itinerary.

“Police partout, justice nulle part, [police everywhere, justice nowhere]” cried protesters.

In squads, the SPVM surrounded Place Émilie-Gamelin. There were lines of cops blocking off Ste-Catherine St. and St-Hubert St. where police were quick to section off the small group that had gathered in commemoration and dissent.

The protesters were defiant but there was a relaxed air to the scene. Volunteers were handing out sandwiches and a man played the snare-drum. It resembled a parade more than a protest if it weren’t for the brigades of police.

The crowd marched up St-Hubert St. and turned east on De Maisonneuve Blvd.. As the protest neared St-Timothée St. police rushed in and forced them back. Before they could backtrack down a different path another line of police swept in and cut them off.

“Those last few protests; arresting people for nothing [except] exercising some rights even though they’re not strictly legal,” Mary Davis said, referring to Bill 78, “It is just a money grab to get $600 to pay for all the trouble that’s being made by the students but without trouble being made nothing will ever change, nothing will ever happen.”

Sandwiched between scores of flak jackets, batons, polycarbonate shields and jackboots, the bulk of demonstrators as well as journalists present were arrested and fined. Those not kettled were shooed and shoved away.

The protest was quickly over with over 150 protesters detained and fined for being part of an illegal protest.


A change in tactics from the SPVM

Photo by Keith Race

The Montreal Police are enacting mass arrests through a municipal bylaw in an effort to stifle protests in the downtown core over the last few weeks.

The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal has come under fire from some demonstrators who feel the police are stifling their right to protest.

“The exercise of democracy has to be done without disruption to ensure that no unfortunate event take place. Those who cause disruptions have to be excluded from demonstrations, so that individuals who want to be heard can do so peacefully,” municipal bylaw P-6 states.

A few hundred people set out from Place Émilie-Gamelin last Friday night for a demonstration meant to remember the one-year anniversary of the massive March 22 student protest that took place last spring. The protest ended with 294 arrests including journalists from The Concordian and The Link.

Police officers kettled demonstrators at the intersection of de Maisonneuve Blvd. and St-Timothée St. before announcing the protest was over. Kettling is a riot tactic employed during protests to control crowds; police section off demonstrators from all sides before containing individuals to a limited area with only one exit in order to swiftly end the protest.

“I’m still trying to understand why journalists would be fined,” Hera Chan, the photo editor at The McGill Daily said. “We’re all members of community, however I don’t think it’s a correct method, I don’t believe police should use this method — at the end of the day who is going to write the story?”

Chan explains that even though she identified herself as a member of the press, she was still arrested and fined last Tuesday night during a student protest.

“I do see a change in enforcing the law, in much stricter fashion, trying to do mass arrests of entire protests,” Chan said. “As you can see by numbers, people who come out to the streets has gone down drastically but numbers arrested have not.”

Many people who were arrested received a fine of $637 under the violation of municipal bylaw P-6 according to the media relations of the SPVM. According to bylaw P-6, protesters must “provide by writing, eight hours in advance, the date, time, the duration, location, and if applicable, the route of the demonstration.” However none of the protests did so and so were declared illegal.

The law also states that individuals are prohibited to participate in a demonstration assembly, parade or group with your face covered, such as by a scarf, hood or a mask. The municipal bylaw was simultaneously passed at the same time as Bill 78 last year in order to limit demonstrations.

However, while the municipal bylaw was not quick to be applied last year, there has been a noticeable change in the last few weeks.

“I thought the protest was really disgraceful and disgusting how they arrested more than 250 people after five minutes of the protest,” said Université du Québec à Montréal student Camila Martinez-Lisle. “No disrupting activity had been made apart from walking in the street and chanting slogans.”

Martinez-Lisle believes that the SPVM has “been more and more aggressive and violent against protesters.”

Similarly, Montreal’s annual anti-police brutality march this year led to many arrests. More than 250 people were detained and ticketed the night of March 15.

Christopher Curtis, a former Concordia student and current reporter for The Gazette, was also kettled and detained during demonstrations for hours.

“For better or worse, the police will be deciding who is a legitimate media source and who eats a $600 ticket,” Curtis said. “And I think that means student media and some lesser known media outlets can’t be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Curtis explained that while in the kettle he asked protesters why they came and many said that some of their friends didn’t come because they weren’t willing to pay another $600 fine.

Several thousand protesters also took to the streets on March 5 for the education summit where Premier Pauline Marois announced the indexation of tuition fees by approximately three per cent per year indefinitely. The protest resulted in 72 people being detained, 62 protesters being ticketed for unlawful assembly and 10 arrested during clashes police officers.

The SPVM was unavailable to comment by press time.

With files from Kalina Laframboise


The cost of the student movement

Dozens of student protests took place last spring, including this one on McGill College St. in March 2012. Photo by Navneet Pall.

The costs of this year’s student strike movement is the centre of attention yet again as the l’Université du Québec à Montréal claims the protests associated with the university amounted to $20 million and the provincial government estimates that overall costs for all post-secondary institutions are at $40 million and counting.

Both claims, made last week by the university’s rector Claude Corbo and Pierre Duchesne, the minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, respectively, attracted attention and criticism.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, was critical of the figures provided by UQAM and Duchesne.

“We have information that says it’s not 20 or 40 million dollars,” she said in an interview with The Concordian, “But that the strike cost the government over 150 million dollars, because we explain it to include costs for teachers, for assistants, also for people who work in the libraries. There are a lot of costs involved.”

“Of course the strike has cost a lot,” Desjardins added. “But I doubt UQAM has $20 million only due to the strike, actually I expect it to be more. They’re trying to get more and more money from the government because they’re a little bit shocked that there are no more tuition fee hikes anymore.”

For Concordia University the estimated costs came to a much lower figure of $226,755.39, all for additional security costs according to Chris Mota, university spokesperson.

“I know at other universities there was physical damage and there were other issues but at Concordia it was only the additional security,” she said.

In terms of security, McGill University devoted $275,233.39 of its budget for additional security while UQAM spent $841,414.95 and the Université de Montréal spent the least at $151,043.19 for the winter semester.

Outside of the education sector, other groups bore heavy costs from the protests as well. While the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal refuses to release any estimates of damage without a formal request filed under the Access to Information Act, the overtime pay for SPVM employees from February to June alone cost a hefty $7.3 million according to figures obtained by Radio-Canada earlier this year.

Steve Siozios, president of the Crescent Street Merchant’s Association, told The Concordian that they estimate their losses to be an average loss per business of 20 per cent at the height of the protests.

“We lost 20 per cent in April, May and June,” he said. “But it’s also more extensive than that because it kind of killed the whole summer. It had a very negative effect on merchants.”

Siozios also explained how a false perception of violence and danger in the downtown core scared people from outside of the city away from visiting.

“There were incidents, but it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was,” he said. “All of it has led to a very bad year so far. It’s closed down businesses already and by year end it’s going to close down more.”

Desjardins, meanwhile, believes the blame for costs lie firmly with the Liberal government, which is currently the official opposition in Quebec.

“They should be ashamed. They should be the ones going out and explaining themselves, why did they take so long to sit at the table and negotiate with us?” she said. “It should have been done earlier and I’m pretty sure we could have achieved an agreement at that time, in April, in March, but they waited for a general election and I think they should be ashamed of themselves.”

“They should be in front of the population and answering questions because we have been losing a lot of money over their way of handling this crisis,” added Desjardins.


Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois could face jail time

Former-spokesperson for the Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, was found guilty of contempt of court on Thursday.

Judge Denis Jacques declared him guilty of encouraging students during the strike last semester to disobey an injunction filed by student Jean-François Morasse against students picketing classes at Université Laval.

The guilty verdict was based off a statement made by Nadeau-Dubois in a television interview in the midst of the student conflict: “We find it legitimate that people take the means necessary to uphold the strike and if that means picketing, we believe that is legitimate to do.”

In a press conference held Friday morning, Nadeau-Dubois told media that his message was for students to continue fighting for accessible education — not anarchy.

“My words last May were not mine — they were the words of the thousands of students who were fighting against the tuition hike,” said Nadeau-Dubois.

He also noted the irony of the situation emphasizing the adoption of Bill 78, or Law 12, only weeks later that cancelled injunctions.

Nadeau-Dubois could face prison time, fines up to $5,000 or community service for this offence. His sentence is to be handed down next week, however, he announced Friday his intention to appeal the decision.

“For me in 2012, in Quebec, [this decision] is a precedent that cannot be allowed to stand. We cannot accept that people still have to defend their political views even if they are expressed by thousands of others,” he said.

Though ASSÉ has announced its “unfailing support” for Nadeau-Dubois, the organization will not be paying his legal fees. Donations will be collected online for Nadeau-Dubois so as not to exhaust the organization’s coffers and free resources for the other students who face legal fees from the student strike.

In an effort to show their solidarity, about 200 demonstrators marched the streets of downtown Montreal, Thursday night, in protest of the guilty verdict.

Demonstrator Wina Forget views the decision as unjust.

“There are politicians accused of stealing hundreds and hundreds of dollars, getting away with next to nothing,” said Forget. “Whereas a young student who led a noble struggle finds himself in a courtroom with the threat of prison and high fines to pay.”


A march for free education

Hundreds of demonstrators marched in the pouring rain Saturday, to celebrate the repealed tuition fee increase and abolished Law 12 while continuing to take a stand for free education.

The newly formed provincial government scrapped the proposed seven-year tuition fee increase of $254 per year Thursday, following months of social unrest from the student strike movement. The Parti Québécois also abolished the controversial Law 12 aimed to limit protests implemented by the former Liberal government.

The Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante led the protest through the streets of the downtown core around 2:50 p.m. from Lafontaine Park. Members of CLASSE began the monthly protest with speeches congratulating the student movement on their victory.

“The goal of this protest is to revive the debate about free tuition,” said Jeanne Reynolds, a spokesperson for CLASSE.

Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec were not present for the march, as both student groups fought for a tuition fee freeze and not free education. Both student associations declared victory following the repeal of the tuition hike.

Concordia University undergraduate student Robin Sas marched in support of the PQ’s decision to stomp out the hike.

“We have to celebrate the victories because they are rare,” said Sas. “That’s not to say I think it’s over but it’s a big victory in a continued fight.”

John Aspler, a recent McGill University graduate, said this was the first monthly protest he did not participate in. Aspler felt that the PQ’s position on universities’ management of funds and financial aid for students remains unclear.

“I don’t even know what we’re protesting anymore,” said Aspler. “I mean, maybe learn to compromise.”

Bishop’s University student Matt O’Neil believes that the student strike movement already won their victory and that the demonstration was unwarranted.

“It’s ridiculous, they already got their freeze,” explained O’Neil. “Now it’s getting down to greed.”

“CLASSE is leading the way in the fight toward free education, a model I personally agree with,” added Sas. “Why have any barriers based on income to education?”

“As long as there is a fee, some will be excluded, regardless of ability. Loans and bursaries are often insufficient, and student debt can be crippling,” Sas explained.

The demonstration ended with the arrest of two protesters and a police officer was injured on Sherbrooke St. after being pelted with a projectile outside of Loto-Québec. The Montreal Police declared the protest illegal around 4:30 p.m. and asked demonstrators to disperse.

“I think the protests will continue but with the most radical elements involved which could be awful,” said Aspler. “All of the 22nd protests have been peaceful except for this one.

Anthony Kantara, a Vanier College student, said that students must put pressure on Premier Pauline Marois because of her plan to index tuition fees.

“She’s not perfect,” said Kantara. “That’s why we have to keep fighting.”


ConU withdraws charges against striking students

Concordia University officially dropped the formal complaints launched against striking students under the Code of Rights and Responsibilities following a meeting between President Alan Shepard and members of the Concordia Student Union last Tuesday.

President Shepard addressed the issue in an open letter, emphasizing it was time for a clean slate and that the student protests were an unprecedented situation for the university. Shepard explained that he felt the administration acted appropriately but that charges are officially withdrawn.

“As president of the university, I also believe it is time for our community to turn the page and focus on the future together. I acknowledge that some members of the community will not agree with this approach, and I respect their point of view on the matter,” the letter read.

Kris Szabo, an undergraduate student who faced seven formal complaints from Concordia, is glad to know it’s over.

“I’m incredibly relieved, I thought this may happen,” Szabo told The Concordian. “This would have been a disaster for administration.”

Szabo spoke to Shepard personally and said the president understood his concerns. Since June, Szabo attended several meetings with other charged students to strategize and organize a plan to have the charges dropped.

“The Advocacy Centre and the Concordia Student Union gave us a lot of peace of mind,” Szabo said. “They really helped us.”

“I think this happened because we were resilient,” he added.

CSU President Schubert Laforest met multiple times with administration on behalf of some of the students charged.

“It’s good to see how all of our collaborative work is becoming fruitful,” Laforest said.

“I was surprised, I had a little ray of sunshine when Shepard said he would think about it. I had never heard that before.”

“I have to tip my hat to Dr. Shepard for taking this decision,” added Laforest. “I felt that dropping the charges is the act of goodwill to prove that Concordia is changing direction for a brighter future.”

Several students received formal charges from Concordia for allegedly violating Code 29G for obstructing or blocking classrooms during March 26, 2012. Under the Code of Rights and Responsibilities, 29G states the following:

“Obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, study, student disciplinary procedures or other University activity. For example, peaceful picketing or other activity in any public space that does not impede access nor interfere with the activities in a class or meeting is an acceptable expression of dissent and shall not be considered an infraction of this article.”

The striking students, 23 undergraduate students and three graduate students, opposed the provincial government’s tuition fee increase. Concordia administration filed the formal complaints June 1 following approximately 40 inquires that were made during the winter semester.


Negotiations at an impasse: Education Minister

Negotiations between student leaders and the provincial government have come to a halt as the talks concerning the tuition crisis broke down in Quebec City on Thursday.

According to a statement from Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, the negotiations have reached an “impasse” and there is no going forward.

The government offered a new deal to student leaders during negotiations which would reduce the tuition increase to $219 a year over seven years for a total increase of $1,533. They also offered a second option of a small increase in the first year, followed by $254 a year over the next six years, which amounts to almost the same $1,625 total increase which was originally offered.

The representatives of the four major student organizations present at the meeting rejected both of the provincial government’s offers.

“For the student leaders it was a moratorium or nothing,” Courchesne said at a press conference held Thursday.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, expressed her disappointment with the failed negotiations publicly.

“Students have continued to make offers,” said Desjardins. “The government had already moved on to other things.”

At the press conference, Premier Jean Charest stood by Minister Courchesne’s decision, reiterating the provincial government’s previous offers to student leaders.

The Premier went on to say that the government would not bend to forms of intimidation or “threats” referring to the recent concerns that protesters would disturb Montreal’s Grand Prix next week as a pressure tactic. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, said that any comments made in relation to his organization were made in jest.

The latest attempts to solve the ongoing tuition crisis and civil unrest in the province have resulted in a dead end, but Charest emphasized that the discussion could be reopened in the future.

“We have made very important efforts but we’ve reached an impasse,” he said, “but the door is always open.”


Between a rock, a kettle and a hard place

Tweet sent by writer while covering May 23 protest.

I’m not entirely sure what happened.

It was the 30th nightly protest in downtown Montreal and I met up with thousands of protesters on the corner of Sherbrooke St. and University St. around 9:15 p.m. I carried a backpack with me, crammed with pieces of identification, extra water bottles, scarves and bandages in case things turned ugly. Except Wednesday was energetic and peaceful, and I wasn’t worried to be out on the streets reporting. It was hot out; protesters clanging pots and pans marched without incident through the downtown core.

This has become the norm in Montreal. Quebec’s tuition crisis has been a three month long affair and complex to say the least. A sea of red squares can be found on every street corner, every city bus in Montreal and beyond into the outskirts of the city. The iconic red square has been seen on Saturday Night Live on the shirts of Arcade Fire, in France at Cannes and even on individuals in Chicago and western Canada. The student movement has grown into societal discontent among more than just students, it’s spread to labour unions, older generations, families, lawyers, artists and citizens in general.

It’s sneaked its way into the homes of individuals on a worldwide scale, transcending international borders and divides. On May 22, various cities held demonstrations and events in solidarity with Quebec’s student protests. Outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, hundreds congregated to voice their discontent with the Charest government. The Occupy Wall Street Movement in New York City has come out in support of the students, holding their own protests in several areas of the city.

But the crisis coupled with the historic, controversial and questionable Bill 78 has created an environment of tension and backlash. People from all sides are tired; the government, students, protesters, police officers and citizens all caught up in what seems to be an endless and exhausting crisis.

On that Wednesday night, after three hours of following separate protests calmly move through the streets, the atmosphere changed within a matter of seconds. Marching south on St-Denis St., I was tweeting and snapping photos at the head of the protest when I spotted a line of police officers waiting on Sherbrooke – and a massive gathering of countless riot cops standing behind them. A tiny bit of apprehension gnawed at me; a warning sign.

Tweet by writer shortly before being kettled.

It happened so quickly. A weird standoff between police and protesters started and ended within five minutes. Protesters would charge, attempting to break through the line and the police would quickly respond in the same matter, sending dozens of students running in different directions. I tried to leave by going west on Sherbrooke but was met with an additional line of blue uniforms and shields. An officer not much older than me told me to move back into the middle.

Kettled. Kettling is a riot tactic that controls protesters by limiting them to a small area as police move in from all sides. It’s controversial because it forces everyone, including bystanders and law-abiding citizens, into detention and prevents them from leaving. In 2010, this crowd control method was used at the G20 summit in Toronto, enclosing hundreds people of all ages to a confined space, drawing criticism from many and spurring Toronto police to ban further use of this tactic altogether. In Germany, kettling has been challenged several times in court and has been ruled as inhumane or unlawful in many cases.

I was forced into the middle as police approached from all sides while protesters chanted in unison to remain calm and peaceful. This is a perfect example of a disadvantage of being a student journalist. We’re young. We’re students. And we’re not properly accredited. Therefore it’s difficult to be differentiated as a journalist rather than a protester. I’ve come to learn that police don’t discriminate.

It’s kind of scary to be caught in the middle, waiting to know what you’re going to be charged with and if you can leave. Fortunately I found other student journalists and we were instructed through Twitter by Canadian University Press Quebec Bureau Chief Erin Hudson and the Montreal Police to present ourselves to constable Daniel Lacourcière. It was quick and I was surprised with how helpful the Montreal Police’s media have been with young journalists.

Canadian University Press contacted Montreal police via Twitter

It’s surreal to be looked at with hard, blank expressions from both Montreal and provincial police like I’ve done something wrong just for doing my job. But I was ultimately released, along with a handful of other journalists. I had to present my press pass and submit pieces of identification, explaining that I was not participating but reporting. Demonstators looked confused, some asking why we were allowed to leave while they couldn’t. Some just wanted to use a bathroom but were met with little response, officers have an uncanny ability to remain stoic in a situation where emotions are so present they are almost tangible.

Montreal police Twitter account responded to student journalists tweeting from within the kettle

It was an illegal protest and we were warned that prosecution awaits if we are found in violation of the law. Over 500 arrests were made that night and we were lucky to leave.

I was escorted by two young Montreal Police officers, a firm grasp on my elbow, to a second point just outside of the kettle. I was held there for approximately ten minutes, where I was asked again for my press pass and identification in order to leave.

Once I was released, I walked through the McGill Ghetto in a daze, with a provincial police helicopter flying overhead, avoiding Sherbrooke where city buses waited to transport the detained. I’ve lived in this province all my life, and I can’t remember a time where I worried for the safety of everyone. I never thought the crisis would get to this point, but it’s escalated to the degree where it’s dangerous. It’s no longer just a student movement and I wonder where the answer to this problem lies.

And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how this will end.


Bill 78: Controversial and historic legislation passes

The Charest government adopted the controversial legislation Bill 78, in an effort to put an end to the tuition crisis Friday afternoon.

Bill 78 was tabled Thursday night and voted into law 68 for, 48 against. The bill aimed at calming the student conflict was finalized and accepted after undergoing amendments. In hopes of restoring order to Quebec after 14 weeks of protest, the law is set to expire in July 2013.

The new law imposes strict regulations for demonstrations and limits the number of participants, when, and how long individuals can protest. Hefty fines are to be imposed for students and organizations that violate provisions of the law. Furthermore, the emergency legislation also suspends the rest of the semester at post-secondary institutions affected by the strike.

An individual who blocks access to a CEGEP or university could face a fine anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. Student leaders could be charged up to $35,000 while student associations and federations could face a penalty of $125,000.

Demonstrations are now restricted to 50 people and an itinerary must be given to the police eight hours in advance of the action. This changed from the original proposal, in which the provincial government wanted to limit the protests to groups of less than 10 people. Protesters must also inform the police about the length of the protest beforehand.

Around the same time yesterday, Montreal’s city council passed a bylaw prohibiting the wearing of masks during public demonstrations.

Student leaders, the Charest Liberals’ opposition, and various civil rights associations have openly criticized the controversial legislation and the ethics behind it.

Following the adoption of Bill 78, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec’s President Martine Desjardins said that the situation is “not over until it is over.”

Members of the Parti Quebecois voted against the emergency legislation, still sporting the red squares associated with the student movement. Leader Pauline Marois denounced the provincial government for an “abusive” law, calling it “one of the darkest days in Quebec democracy.”

Despite the strict limitations imposed by the law, thousands took to the streets of Montreal last night in protest where Molotov cocktails were reportedly thrown at police.

Read Bill 78 in it’s entirety in English (via CBC news) or French (via La Presse)

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