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


Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs to strike against tuition hikes

Strike planned on the anniversary of the Maple Spring student strikes which prevented tuition hikes in Quebec in 2012

At a special assembly on Wednesday, March 16, Concordia University’s School of Community and Public Affairs Students’ Association (SCPASA) voted to strike. The demonstration will take place on March 22 – the ten year anniversary of the Maple Spring student strikes, one of the largest student walkouts in history, which saw thousands of students protest tuition hikes.

Today the SCPASA is striking for many of the same causes which students walked out for in 2012. Their primary concern is ongoing tuition hikes, although specific numbers regarding hikes were not shared in the motion.

“We continue the concerns about the ongoing privatization of education and the increasing tuition,” said Ellie Hamilton, a co-chair of the SCPASA Strike Readiness Committee and third year student at the School of Community and Public Affairs. The SCPASA is also striking for reasons that students in 2012 could never have seen coming – a lack of what they believe to be adequate health and safety measures provided by Concordia to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Concordia Student Union (CSU) published an open letter in February requesting the university implement a number of additional health and safety measures to accompany the return to campus, however Concordia has yet to comply with many of these requests such as providing K95 and KN95 masks to students.

“COVID exposed weaknesses. It didn’t create them, and they don’t go away just because we’re pretending the pandemic is over. So primarily tuition, secondarily health and safety and accessibility on campus.”

According to the SCPASA, 30 per cent of students at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs voted in favor of the student association at the special general assembly where the strike was voted on. The School of Community and Public Affairs is an interdisciplinary program which integrates public policy, advocacy, and community development.

“For our first vote we had 76 per cent in favor, which is a very strong start. And again, we’re emphasizing over and over this is the first step, not the last.” said Hamilton.

The SCPASA will be planning other strikes in the near future with one set to take place on March 25, in order to line up with a future climate strike.

On March 22, the SCPASA will send representatives to the Large Protest for Free Education, an event organized by many Quebec student associations including the CSU, which will take place at Place Du Canada. Those involved will also be walking out of classes and engaging in friendly picketing on campus.

“In the short term, we want students to get experience with these types of mobilizations and we also want them to see that this is part of a bigger moment,” said Hamilton who explained that one of the main goals of this strike is “To help people place themselves within history. Understanding that this is the first step that builds us towards that point we saw with Maple Spring, where students were actually at the negotiating table directly with the government and not trying to do it by proxy through the provincial legislature.”

To Hamilton, organization, mobilization, and strikes like these are important because they have yielded very real and tangible results in the past, as was the case with the Maple Spring.

“This is what democracy looks like at its strongest; it’s when the people are able to get to the negotiating table and have a much more active voice informing policy than just casting a ballot through party machinery that they’ve never touched in their life,” said Hamilton.

Furthermore, to Hamilton fostering this democratic involvement is an essential role of education, which is hindered when universities become further privatized by increasing tuition costs.

“It’s important to protect education, because this is a necessary component to democracy,” said Hamilton.

“We want people to get good work from their university degrees. But if that’s all a university education is to people, we’re losing sight of that second piece that we need to be democratically engaged citizens.”

Photo by Caroline Fabre


Let’s talk about the environment

Why the upcoming protest about climate change is needed

On Friday, March 15, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., many Concordia students will participate in a walkout to protest inaction from authority figures on the issue of climate change. The strike will be in solidarity with international climate strikes and walkouts in other institutions in Montreal, such as McGill and UdeM. Later in the day, protesters will join a Montreal-wide march to stand up for climate action.

Now, although I do not condone skipping class, I would like to stress the importance of the call to action this protest aims for: to raise awareness on the current environmental crisis we find ourselves in and to act now for a more sustainable future for our planet. To get a little scientific, the Keeling curve (which many aren’t aware of) is a graph of the accumulation of measurements of the concentration of CO2 emissions taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii from 1958 to today. The sense of urgency to take action stems from the Keeling curve, as it has been increasing—this year it has reached its highest level of CO2 concentration measured ever!

As a Master’s student in environmental assessment, in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, I’ve learnt about the environmental science behind these issues firsthand and the detailed extent of how humans impact the planet. Just last week, our class visited the Anthropocene exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada. Witnessing attendees appreciate the beauty in photos of environmental destruction as art was terrifying, to say the least. However, it did bring about an opportunity for the public to learn about the effects we’ve imposed on our environment, similarly to what the walkout aims to do.

March 15 is an important date since many schools will be on strike that day to follow the European demonstration movement initiated by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish political activist working to fight against climate change and global warming. It is crucial to acknowledge that this walkout is a response to a global issue. It is also important to emphasize the international scale of this crisis, as seen by the lone protest of Thunberg. Her actions have led to a powerful global movement of school climate strikes, spreading to countries in the UK, Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and dozens more, demanding politicians act on behalf of the planet, according to The Guardian.

At the UN Climate Change COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018, Thunberg announced, “[World leaders today] only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess even when the only sensible thing to do is to pull the emergency brake.” Following this urgency for action against today’s environmental issues, Concordia’s Department of Geography, Planning and Environment has begun a number of projects in support of raising awareness and promoting ways to reduce our environmental impact.

Some of these projects include Concordia’s Climate Clock, which shows how current greenhouse gas emissions affect our planet’s trajectory to reach two degrees. Another project is Climate Bytes, which aims to translate complicated studies on climate change into “digestible byte-sized pieces of information” for the public to more easily understand the science behind these issues. Another is the newly formed Climate Emergency Committee, which allows students within the department and professors in the field to come together and discuss the issues and ways to move forward in addressing these problems.

To learn more about these issues, I invite you all to attend the upcoming Sustainability in the City and Beyond conference from March 19 to 21 at the Loyola Jesuit Hall and Conference Centre. Here, the Climate Emergency Committee will be speaking more about their work.

Remember, the need for action is urgent, and the time to become aware of environmental issues and how to help is now!

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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