by Stefan Christoff
Montreal, Canada – A mass student strike in Quebec over rising university tuition fees is quickly turning into a major social movement and a real challenge to the provincial Liberal government.
Despite growing international attention and constant protest, including demonstrations among the largest in Canada’s history, Liberal politicians continue to hold firm on a decision to hike post-secondary tuition fees by C$1,778 over seven years, a 82 per cent increase per student.
Symbolised by a carre rouge or red square, inspired by the French phrase carrement dans le rouge, meaning “squarely in the red”, in reference to growing student debt, the Quebec student strike is clearly gaining political momentum. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets on May 22, marking 100 days on strike, as local media and politicians now openly acknowledge that Quebec is facing a “political crisis”.
In response to growing social unrest, the Liberal government drafted and quickly passed Law 78, a radical legislation making all protests inside or near a college or university campus illegal. Additionally the law makes any spontaneous demonstration across Quebec illegal, forcing all to seek discretionary police permission to protest. Now the police have the power to alter or reject public demonstrations, while individuals or organisations acting to defy the law face arrest and major fines ranging from C$5,000 to C$125,000.
Amnesty International describes the law as granting “unprecedented police powers,” and as violating “freedoms of speech, assembly and movement in breach of Canada.s international obligations.”
Student unions are now challenging Law 78 at the Superior Court of Quebec, while hundreds of lawyers joined an evening demonstration against the law in Montreal.
On the streets the emergency law is sparking a new wave of mass protests.
Across Quebec every night thousands are joining cacerolazo, or casseroles protests against Law 78, banging pots and pans in the thousands on the streets and off balconies. Protests commonly start on neighbourhood streets across the city, a few metallic bangs echoing off buildings slowly crescendo into street protests of thousands.
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