Quebec’s conflict of contrasting social visions

Source: Al Jazeera

What began as a protest over tuition hikes has now become a standoff over a much deeper political discord in Quebec.

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.

40,000 people took the streets for the largest night cacerolazo rally to date on May 26, a noisy defiance to the new extraordinary legislation that police clearly are finding impossible to implement to date. Inspired by a grassroots protest tradition that took root in Chile during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and more recently in during Argentina’s 2001 financial crisis, nightly cacerolazo are gaining momentum.

Law 78, referenced on the streets as the “truncheon law”, undercuts the rights of all in Quebec and is clearly sparking a significant expansion of popular support for the student strike movement. Student unrest in Quebec is quickly becoming a broader social unrest.

Continue reading