By Christopher Curtis, Roberto Rocha and Max Harrold, The Gazette (Canwest), April 28, 2012
MONTREAL – For the third night in a row, students took to the streets in downtown Montreal Friday, venting a fresh sense of betrayal and with no end in sight for the 11-week-old strike by 180,000 students across the province.
Police made 35 arrests. Of those, 24 were men, 11 were women and three were youth, according to the Montreal police.
Photo: Thousands of Students leave La place Emilie-Gamelin to demonstrate in Montreal, Quebec late Friday, April 27, 2012. The demonstration labelled “Its not an offer, its an insult” follows a joint Charest/Beauchamp press conference earlier in the day, proposing $1,625 tuition hike that would phase it in over seven years, rather than five, as was originally planned.
Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp made public earlier on Friday the government’s offer to the students, which includes $39 million more for bursaries, increased eligibility for student loans and phasing in the tuition hike over seven years rather than five.
But student leaders rejected the proposal, and titled the nightly demonstration’s theme as “It’s not an offer, it’s an insult.” Protesters expressed deep disappointment with the government which, until Wednesday had been in face-to-face talks with the three main student groups.
“I don’t feel it was an honest offer,” said Étienne De Sève, a 31-year-old student at Université du Québec à Montréal, about the proposal, saying that it does not deal with the students’ core demand – a freeze in tuition fees at 2012 levels.
He voiced frustration with vandals who have been present during other protests, such as on Wednesday night when store windows were smashed and police cars were damaged. “If I see anything violent or anyone trying to start trouble, I will immediately tell the police,” De Sève said. “These kinds of tactics undermine what we are trying to do.”
The evening started, once again, at Place Émilie-Gamelin, where more than 1,500 people gathered about 8:30 p.m. and then wended their way through downtown. The crowd moved north up Berri St. from Ste. Catherine St. about 9 p.m., forcing a bus to back down the street to get out of the crowd. The crowd turned on St. Laurent Blvd. into oncoming traffic, and some students sat down on the street on The Main near Ontario St. facing an armada of cops.
Police sprayed tear gas at some protesters. Although it was peaceful for nearly two hours, the march was declared illegal by Montreal police at 10:15 p.m. after rocks and bottles were thrown at police. A window was smashed at the Canadian Forces recruiting centre on Ste. Catherine St.
By 11:30 p.m. 30 people had been arrested, Montreal police Constable Yannick Ouimet said, and the protesters ended up back at Berri-UQÀM métro where most left and went home. Several tweets actually congratulated the police for making targeted arrests rather than mass preventive ones.
The evening’s bitter chill seemed to only fire up the students and their supporters after a day of dramatic statements in the media by politicians and student leaders.
Student Marie-Lyne Caisse said the premier may be attempting to divide the student movement but is failing, big time. She noted that mandates to continue the strike are still being approved by students.
Student Marc Thibaud said Charest is trying to win in the court of public opinion, going above the heads of student leaders. “He hasn’t really made an effort to sit down and listen to the students.”