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Students paralyse Quebec with strikes, demos

Canadian province's plan to increase tuition fees by 75 per cent behind anger and bitterness. Concerted student action culminated over the weekend with police clashes and injuries

University and college students’ protest against a government tuition hike in French-speaking Quebec – also known as the ‘Maple Spring’ – may be coming to an end after more than three months of strikes. The second round of negotiations between students associations and the government appears to have given some results, report Canadian media.

Tens of thousands of university and college students have been protesting for months, after the Quebec provincial government announced plans to impose a 75 per cent tuition hike over the next five years. For the first time, it seems that progress has been made over the course of the weekend in order to escape the crisis paralyzing the Canadian province. At the same time, a demonstration went wrong and several people got severely injured, reports Ledevoir.com.

See the University Post gallery from the protest here Gallery: Canada students’ protest.

There have been over 180 demonstrations, and a series of public actions against the plans to increase tuition. Currently, over 175,000 college and university students are on strike in order to protest against the government policy according to student associations.

Quebec has lowest fees in Canada

After having interrupted the first round of negotiations, the government finally got back to the table for what turned out to be a 22-hour long negotiation. The outcome is an agreement in principle that is to be voted by students over the week, the media report.

Simultaneously to those negotiations, a demonstration turned violent over the weekend when rioters began throwing projectiles at policemen and the riot police intervened. Four policemen were injured and three protestors were seriously injured – two of them suffer head injuries and one lost an eye.

The tens of thousands of students that have been protesting the tuition hike for the last 13 weeks, have done so in spite of the fact that the province has the lowest fees in Canada.

Risked postponement of semester

The movement started last February as students started mobilizing through strike votes in General Assemblies held by their student associations. Their first objective is to force the government to retreat from the increase of 325 Canadian dollars per year over five years.

When the students voted for a strike, they engaged not to attend classes until the next vote is conducted. As the strike endured, the pressure was supposed to increase with the threat of having to extend or even postpone the semester.

In 2011, it cost an average of 2,168 Canadian dollars per year for a Quebecker to study at the University. This might seem a large amount of money for university students from countries such as Denmark, Germany or France, but it is a small amount in comparison to other North Americans where it might cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Opposing students too protesters to court

The student demands in Quebec go from a freeze of tuition fees to proposals for free education.

Since the beginning, students have been picketing in front of their classes and organizing demonstrations in the streets. Later, protestors started using more diverse types of protests such as perturbation of public transportation, the blocking of harbours, offices and even some bridges.

A protest March 22 attracted 200,000 people. The government’s inaction encouraged some students opposed to the strike to go to the courts and try to force a return to normal class by themselves. Favourable rulings for them contributed to increase the pressure on the student movement.

Amnesty: Violation of human rights

The police have got more and more involved in the conflict. Recently, a university was occupied by the police to monitor the return to class forced by the courts and several arrests were conducted – including that of professors involved in the movement. Some social media report over a thousand arrests in total.

According to a press release from Amnesty International Canada, »the approach chosen to ensure security during demonstrations seems to have triggered violations of fundamental human rights associated to pacific demonstrations«.

universitypost@adm.ku.dk

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