The Montreal Gazette is reporting on Saturday afternoon (May 5) that an agreement has been reached during talks in Quebec City between the Quebec government, student associations and unions of education workers. A communiqué is reportedly being drafted.
Protesters, police injured in Victoriaville demonstration
About 1,000 protesters turned up in Victoriaville Friday evening as Jean Charest and Liberal party gather for a general council By Monique Muise, Christopher Curtis, Marianne White, The Gazette, May 5, 2012
VICTORIAVILLE, QUEBEC – What began as a peaceful and well organized demonstration in Victoriaville on Friday evening quickly degenerated into a chaotic scene as hundreds of protesters clashed with police for over two hours in the small town just east of Montreal. Police said they arrested four people, but more arrests were likely as the investigation continued. (News reports on May 5 say there were more than 100 arrests.) Some protesters tweeted that a bus carrying students from McGill and Concordia Universities back to Montreal was pulled over by police and everyone on board arrested.
Surete du Quebec spokesperson Ingrid Asselin said she couldn’t confirm the reports, so as not to reveal any police action that was underway. She said four police officers were injured during the protest – two seriously after being hit in the head with rocks. Seven protesters were also injured, most after being hit by objects being thrown by other demonstrators, she said.
Many people were doubled over coughing as police lobbed dozens of canisters of chemical irritants into the crowd in an effort to push the demonstrators away from the Victorin hotel and conference centre, where the Quebec Liberal party is holding a general council meeting this weekend.
The event began peacefully at 5 p.m., with about 1,000 protesters turning up in the town to voice their discontent with various government plans, including the Plan Nord, shale gas exploration, and the impending tuition fee hike.
As protesters reached the conference centre, however, they started shaking the waist-high security fence. A group of masked men also began throwing rocks, projectiles and fireworks at the police and the building. One window was smashed, and moments later the protesters breached the fence and were a few feet from the doors.
About 200 Sûreté du Québec officers in riot gear responded with the chemical irritant know as CS gas, and the air quickly became nearly unbreathable.
What followed was two hours of violent confrontation that spilled into the parking lot behind the hotel and onto the properties of several residents of the town, who watched nervously from their living room windows. Projectiles flew, dozens of gas canisters were deployed and rubber bullets were fired as the protesters were slowly but surely pushed back toward the Wal Mart parking lot where the event began. The worst seemed to be over by 9:30 p.m.
Inside the convention centre, Transport Minister Pierre Moreau deplored the resort to violence. “It’s outrageous,” he told reporters. “Democratic people don’t like that kind of violence.”
Student leaders, meeting with a government negotiator in Quebec City in a last-ditch attempt to bring an end to the weeks’-long impasse, emerged briefly to condemn the violence and called on both the students and police to stay calm.
“We saw violence against people and this is something that we strongly condemn,” CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said. “The escalation of violence and confrontation doesn’t help at all our negotiatons,” added Nadeau-Dubois who condemned violence for the first time since the beginning of the strike.
He said the student associations are continuing their discussions with the government to resolve the conflict “as soon as possible.”
Leo Bureau-Blouin of the FECQ urged students and police officers to remain calm. “I’m very concerned by the situation,” he said briefly.
FEUQ’s leader Martine Desjardins said the protest needs to quiet down in order for negotiations with the province to continue.
But frustration among the protesters was palpable. “I’m tired of not being heard,” said Université de Rimouski student Judith Savoie. “I came to protest, but I wasn’t prepared for this. Everyone is being gassed.
“I don’t support violence, but it has reached that point. We’re very angry.”
She said that she felt the use of flimsy barricades at the beginning of the protest was “a trap”, to give police an excuse to use force when the fences were toppled. “The police even gassed the community organizations that came out,” Savoie said.
Friday’s demonstration began about one hour after representatives from Jean Charest’s government sat down in Quebec City with representatives from the province’s main student associations to try and find a way to end the longest student strike in Quebec’s history – now in its 81st day.
Earlier in the afternoon, when asked if he was concerned about possible violence outside the Liberal meeting, Charest said he was “not too concerned. I think everyone hopefully is chilling out.”
All of the 55 buses that ferried the protesters into town from Montreal, Quebec City and other urban centres were slated to head back out of Victoriaville on Friday night, said event organizer Veronique Laflamme.
Quebec students, government meet late into night
Last-ditch attempt to end a three-month impasse over tuition hikes that has resulted in nearly 200 protest marches over the past 11 weeks
By James Mennie, Brenda Branswell and Marianne White, The Gazette, Postmedia News, May 5, 2012
MONTREAL – Representatives of Quebec’s three student federations, the three largest unions and university rectors met with government officials late into the night Friday in Quebec City in a last-ditch attempt to end a three-month impasse over tuition hikes that has seen Montreal turned into the site of nearly 200 protest marches over the past 11 weeks. Pierre Pilote, chief negotiator for the Charest government on the issue, called the group together Friday morning.
While federation officials were not reacting publicly to the timing of the government’s invitation, there was no denying Friday’s meeting – and whatever results it produced – would have an impact on the scale and duration of demonstrations planned to coincide with the Quebec Liberal Party’s convention scheduled to begin Friday evening in Victoriaville.
Originally scheduled to take place in Montreal, the convention was moved in an effort to avoid demonstrators. But about 1,000 protesters weren’t deterred by a security fence and police perimeter around the convention centre in Victoriaville and the demonstration quickly turned violent. Rocks were thrown at Sûreté du Québec officers, while police responded with tear gas.
At 9 p.m., student leaders emerged from the meeting and called for calm from both students and police.
Heading into the meeting earlier in the day, the leader of the Fédération étudiante collégiale (FECQ), Léo Bureau-Blouin, said he hoped it would be more than just a public relations exercise on the government’s part. “There’s a lot of pressure from the public to negotiate. Maybe (Charest) wants to use this negotiation process to calm down the protests in Victoriaville,” Bureau-Blouin told reporters in Quebec City. “But we hope the government has a real willingness to solve the crisis.”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for CLASSE, emphasized the student associations won’t put an end to their strike until the government agrees to freeze or eliminate its tuition hike. The student associations will vote on the government’s latest offer, if one is indeed tabled Friday, Nadeau-Dubois added.
Martine Desjardins of the FEUQ appeared clearly open to a compromise as she walked in the meeting. “We need to stop polarizing the debate around tuition fees and whether we are for or against it,” she said. “We need to look at university financing, that’s the key for a consensus and we’re going to push for that at the (negotiating) table,” she added.
Union leaders Louis Roy of the CSN and Réjean Parent of the CSQ arrived at the meeting in downtown Quebec City Friday sporting the ubiquitous symbol of the student strike, the red square. The two workers unions – who represent many teachers – support the student movement and have backed them financially.
But Michel Arseneau of the FTQ said his union is attending the meeting in hope of finding a solution for all Quebecers. “It concerns all of Quebec. We hope our students can go back (to class),” he told reporters. Also at the negotiating table was the CREPUQ – the Quebec association of university rectors and principals – and the federation of CEGEP directors.
Friday afternoon’s meeting coincided with a pair of intriguing surveys published by Montreal newspapers. A CROP survey presented by La Presse suggested that while 68 per cent of Quebecers favour Charest’s tough stand on tuition hikes, 67 per cent remain dissatisfied with his government.
Survey results in both La Presse and the Journal de Montréal reported that if an election were held this week, it would be a three-way race between the Liberals, the Parti Québécois and the newly formed Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec.
An offer by the government last week to spread the tuition fee hikes over a period of seven rather than five years has been rejected by the student federations. A counter-proposal from the federations that retained a freeze on tuition at present levels was described as “disappointing” by the government.
Meanwhile, nightly protests continue to draw thousands through downtown Montreal, sometimes diverting from the city core to picket in front of Premier Jean Charest’s Westmount home.
Student protests: Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier wary of jeopardizing talks
By Kevin Dougherty, Gazette Quebec Bureau Chief, May 5, 2012
VICTORIAVILLE – Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier would not condemn those who committed violent acts at a Friday demonstration sparked by the drawn-out dispute between the Charest government and students opposed to a $1,625 tuition hike.
Arriving for debates at a Quebec Liberal Party policy meeting Saturday, Fournier said he did not want to jeopardize talks aimed at ending the tuition conflict, which went through the night in Quebec City and were continuing. “I won’t comment on that this morning because everyone is at the table trying to find a conclusion in a discussion about the situation,” Fournier said, urging reporters to “respect this space where they could have an environment to have the best discussion.”
Asked why the government had waited so long before entering sustained discussions, Fournier, a former education minister, said in his experience there is a “right time” for talks and only when that time arrives will negotiations succeed.
The government has invited the four student associations, including the CLASSE, the most militant group, which represents about half those staying away from classes. Last month, Education Minister Line Beauchamp pulled the plug on talks after two days of discussions, saying the CLASSE had organized violent demonstrations. The CLASSE has denied this.
Also at the table in Quebec City are university and CÉGEP administrators and unions representing post-secondary teachers. “Let them have their discussions,” Fournier pleaded. “Please let that happen in the name of all Quebecers.”
Health Minister Yves Bolduc did condemn the violence, noting that he is a former coroner and saying some of projectiles thrown by protesters “can kill someone.”
“It is unacceptable behaviour and the public cannot accept it,” Bolduc told reporters. “No political party can accept that. I am happy this morning to see that the student associations have denounced the violence as wanton and unacceptable.
“No situation justifies throwing blocks of cement and chunks of asphalt,” Bolduc said. “There were big chunks.” While police tried to calm down the situation, he added, “There were people who are specialists in violence and we cannot tolerate that.”