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Stand Strong and Do Not Despair: Some Thoughts on the Fading Student Movement in Quebec
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
As eight of the fourteen CEGEP preparatory schools have voted to return to class, and thereby end the strike which began in February, Quebec is beginning to witness the fading away of the first phase of the student movement, mobilized by the planned tuition increases, and which expanded into a broader social movement known as the ‘Maple Spring.’ As some students have returned to class, they were met with a heavy police presence, no doubt to ensure ‘order’ during such a “dangerous” situation in which students enter school property. After all, Bill 78, which was passed by Jean Charest’s government back in May (now known as Law 12), made student protests on (or within 50 metres of school property) an illegal act.
Bill 78 was, quite accurately, described as “a declaration of war on the student movement,” and included an excessive amount of violations of basic rights and freedoms. Regardless of the specific details of the illegalities of the Law, we – the people – do not need even our Charter of Rights and Freedoms to tell us what is right and wrong, just or unjust. The legal system itself, after all, has very little to do with ‘justice’, and far more to do with legalizing injustice. Not only was the Law a violation of legally guaranteed rights and freedoms, such as freedoms of assembly and expression, but it was an affront to a very basic sense of decency, an insult to a very common sense of democracy, and an attack on a very basic conception of freedom.
This Law remains in effect. The tuition is set to increase. And as students vote to end the strike, some are mourning the seemingly vanishing potential of the student movement to effect a real, true, and lasting change. But all was not for nothing, all is not lost, and resistance is not futile. We have witnessed but the starting actions, initiative, determination, and voice of a generation which, around the world, from Egypt, to Greece, Spain, Chile and Mexico, are standing up, taking to the streets, innovating new actions and forms of collective resistance and even revolution. Our generation is beginning – and only just beginning – to awaken our wider societies to resist and challenge a system which, in the wake of this new great global depression, which in the wake of new wars of aggression, has revealed its true nature: all for the powerful, and nothing for the people. It is a system which benefits the few at the expense of the many.
The most prominent symptom of this system is what we call ‘neoliberalism.’ I emphasize that this is a symptom, and not the cause, because neoliberalism was born of the very ideas, individuals, and institutions that have comprised and continue to comprise our system and structure of national and global power. Neoliberalism is but the malignant phase of a wider social sickness. Neoliberalism manifests itself by promoting the wholesale privatization of state and public assets, of resources, of industries, of services, of infrastructure, of roads, ports, electricity, railways, water, and yes, of education itself. It is the handing over of what is public – and thereby what is yours – to private hands: to corporations and banks. Neoliberalism is further represented by the deregulation of anything and everything that would benefit private corporate and financial interests. This means that everything from regulatory oversight of the institutions that plunged the world into economic devastation, however slight it may exist at present, will be completely dismantled. This means that any protections granted to workers, in the form of wages, collective bargaining rights, union rights, pensions and benefits… will be no more.
When economic crisis hits, there is a common scenario of reaction and response: the State moves in to bailout the banks and corporations that caused the crisis (in cooperation with the state itself, of course). As a result of the bailouts, the State buys the bad debts of banks and corporations and hands you, the people, the bill. The next phase is called “austerity.” Austerity is an economic and political euphemism for impoverishment. Austerity means that all social spending is reduced or cut entirely; so, no more public funding for social services, welfare, pensions, healthcare, education, public sector workers are fired, social housing is dismantled, and taxes are raised. The effect is obvious, more unemployment, lower incomes, higher costs for services, higher taxes, and a rapid acceleration of poverty.
The next phase, then, is what is called “structural adjustment” or “structural reform.” This means the privatization of everything, which also includes mass firings, deregulation, and an attack on labour, unions, and workers’ rights. The specific assault upon workers, by reducing their wages, eliminating pensions and benefits, and denying them the right to organize in unions, is called “labour flexibility,” meaning that the labour force becomes “flexible” to the demands of the powerful: it becomes a cheap source of easily exploitable labour for the corporations that now own everything they didn’t own already. Thus, when these corporations begin to open factories and employ the newly-impoverished population at sweatshop wages, this is called “investment.”
The result of “austerity” and “adjustment” is a massive program of social genocide. If you want to see the effects of austerity and adjustment, look to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where the Western nations, banks, corporations, and international financial institutions – like the World Bank and IMF – have imposed neoliberalism, austerity, and adjustment over the past 40 years. You witness the dismantling of healthcare, education, social services and protections, you see the exploitation of workers, the spread of disease and hunger, and widespread dehumanization. If you think this cannot happen in the Western industrialized world itself, look to Greece, where this system is currently manifesting itself at its most extreme, and where all the same effects that took place in the so-called ‘Third World’ are now coming to the ‘First.’ What our nations and dominant institutions of power have done abroad, they are now doing at home. And just as it spread abroad through a manufactured debt crisis, so too is that how it is now manifesting at home. In June, 146 Greek academics signed a letter of solidarity with the student and social movement in Quebec, writing: “We, Greek academics, declare our solidarity to your wonderful struggle, which is our struggle!” We must begin to recognize that their struggle is ours, as well.
The population of Greece is being punished into poverty, their healthcare system is in total collapse to the point where hospitals report shortages of aspirin, gloves, syringes, toilet paper, and band-aids; families abandon children on the streets because they can no longer care for them; people go hungry and children faint in school because their family had not eaten in several days; their taxes increase, they rely upon food banks and charity for the basics of survival; homelessness explodes, social housing is dismantled, pensions for the elderly vanish, and suicide rates rapidly accelerate. Why does this take place? Because the IMF and the European Union force Greece to impose ‘austerity’ and ‘adjustment’ in return for massive bailouts which only go toward paying the interest on debts owed to German, French, Dutch, and British banks. Each bailout becomes added debt with higher interest, and thus, Greece, just like the ‘Third World’, becomes enslaved to the global institutions of domination and exploitation.
The tuition increases in Quebec are but the first signs of austerity emerging in this province and country. At the national level, Stephen Harper has begun his campaign for austerity with his budget bill, cutting public sector workers, reducing spending on social services, and increasing subsidies to corporations. His government already bailed out Canada’s big banks back in 2008 and 2009 to the tune of $114 billion, approximately $3,400 for every man, woman, and child in Canada. That is almost the same amount that Quebec students will be forced to pay under the increases in tuition. Meanwhile, the banks announce record profits, and the government then cuts their taxes. Across Canada, student debt amounts to roughly $20 billion, yet Canada’s Prime Minister is planning to spend roughly $25 billion purchasing fighter jets from an American arms manufacturer so that Canada could jump at the opportunity to help the Empire bomb poor people in foreign countries so that our corporations and banks can freely plunder their resources. Our governments, through so-called “aid” programs, fund and train the militaries and police of oppressive foreign governments, so that they may establish ‘order’ over their populations while our corporations steal their wealth and future. The same tax dollars that help foreign governments crush their own populations pay the wages of the riot police that have beaten, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, attacked and arrested the students in Quebec. Again, what we do abroad is now being done at home.
In Canada, and in Quebec, we have seen but the start of austerity, but the vague rumblings of the captains of capital, the plunderers of people, and the exploiters of everything, who are now telling our corrupted parasitic political elites that the time has come: they now want it all, everything, and to leave us with nothing. The time has come for ‘austerity’ and ‘adjustment,’ the time has come, therefore, for impoverishment and exploitation. And mark my words, as they impose this system at home, they will blame us, the people, the entire way; they will blame us for amassing large personal debts, for buying mortgages we could not afford, for taking student loans we could not pay back, for spending credit on consumption, for living above and beyond our means. They will tell us, as Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF, has told the Greek people, “it’s payback time.”
Payback time for what, you ask? It’s payback time for our naivete in believing our political leaders, for engaging in a culture constructed by corporations, for doing what we were told was the right thing to do, for doing what was expected of us, what was designed for us, for being passive, obedient consumers. Simply put: the elite feel quite strongly that the population is too stupid, too malleable, to ignorant and irrelevant to decide for itself the direction society should take, or the purpose their own lives should have. Thus, it’s payback time for the slight concessions, for the minor benefits, and for the mirage of democratic trappings that they have begrudgingly granted our populations over the past century: it’s payback time for the once-radical workers movements that challenged industry and government and won rights for workers; it’s payback time for social movements that demanded revolutionary change and got minor reforms; it’s payback time for all of our ‘demands’ as purportedly free and independent beings.
Our elites, much like Marie Antoinette, looked upon the massive unrest and anger of the population and declared, “Let them eat cake”: let them have elections, let them buy televisions, iPods, and game systems; let them choose between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative; let them buy a house and have a car, let them go to school and get a job, let them think and feel as if they are free and in charge… but do not let them take freedom or take charge. So now, it’s payback time for all the small concessions they have granted us, each one in their eyes, an unjust and undeserving sacrifice, always proclaimed to have catastrophic consequences to the economy and society and “free industry” and “enterprise.” So now, it is “all for them, and none for us.”
Now, we don’t even get our cake.
Greeks now know this story well. But here in Canada, and here in Quebec, we are only seeing the starting shots of a race to repression and poverty. The students have seen the reaction from elites, from police, and from the media, that even such a relatively small issue (as compared to the situation in Greece or Egypt or elsewhere) such as struggling against a tuition increase, can result in so much violence, demonization, condemnation, misrepresentation, propaganda, and repression. Our political elites have begun to show us their true colours, something which First Nations and other internally colonized peoples (such as the black population in the United States) have known for a great deal of time. We’re now starting to catch up, to see our elites for who and what they truly are.
Jean Charest is not the problem. Jean Charest is but the vile mucus and malingering bile coughed up from a sick and struggling society. Charest is nothing but a symptom of a deeply suffering society, of a society whose priorities are all wrong, of a society that is so bizarre and incoherent that it is capable of producing and supporting political leaders as obscene, arrogant, and repulsive as Jean Charest himself. But again, he is not the problem. Altering the symptoms is pointless if you do not address the sickness, itself.
The media is now telling Quebec students that the “answers” to our struggle lie in the ballot box, not the streets. That our solutions can come through voting for politicians, not taking collective action. It’s a funny thing, growing up in the West, where we were always told how our societies were so free and democratic, and that our youth went to go fight wars abroad so that youth at home would have the right to go out into the streets and protest, to struggle for rights and freedoms, that these were the very actions and definitions of our democracy. We were told that this was the expression of our freedom… unless of course, we decide to take that course of action ourselves. Then, we become criminals, vandals, even terrorists. It’s an ideal of democracy unless we decide to actually act upon it: then we are portrayed as violators of democracy. Our elites complain that they already gave us our damned cake, why do we feel that we are so “entitled” as to ask for more, like Oliver Twist asking for a mere extra bowl of non-nutritional work-house sludge. Poor Oliver was met with the aghast and shocked, “MOOOORE?! You want MOOORE?!” How dare you. How dare you step out into the streets and demand more equality, more freedom, more accessibility, more opportunity, more POWER. How dare you demand that the elites should follow the direction of the people. What the hell kind of society do you think you live in, a democracy?! Well, that’s what riot police are for: to put you in your place. That’s what Bill 78 was for. That’s what Jean Charest was and is for.
So, while we have witnessed but the starting putrefaction of our society in the form of austerity, we have also only witnessed but that starting signs of hope, of struggle, of resistance, and of action in an age of rage, and a coming world revolution. We have been fortunate enough to witness and partake in the beginning of what will be a long struggle, of what will be the defining feature of the world in which our generation is entering into as young adults. We have witnessed but the start at home of what has already been starting elsewhere in the world, in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Greece, Spain, Italy, in Chile and Mexico; the start of our generation – both locally and globally – standing up to our rapacious elites, of rejecting their insane ideologies, and of opposing with both our bodies and our minds, their physical and psychological oppression.
They may look down upon us in disgust and with confused mental constipation, ask, “MORE?!”
But then we will look upon them, in larger numbers, in massive and ever-expanding varieties, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around this small little planet, and look at these morally vapid, small little people, who place themselves at the top of our world, who support themselves with hallow values and empty ideas, and we will say, “No more.”
So, to my fellow students, to my brothers and sisters in Quebec and beyond, I can only say, do not mourn the fading strike, do not regret your struggles in the streets, and do not despair: we are only in the beginning of our lives, and in the beginning of our struggle. And look, simply, upon the mass mobilization, the manifestation, the hope, and yes, the energized frustration that we had accomplished thus far. The strike was but the start of a much wider, much larger and longer social struggle, which we can only see the vague, misty hints of, which we can only hear like a distant train, but fast approaching.
We have shown to those who rule over us, that if this was the reaction to the issue of tuition, just imagine how terrified they are about what we can accomplish, about what we can represent and implement, when they decide to undertake expanded austerity and adjustment. The people have given the powerful reason to fear our mass awakening. Make no mistake, that is an accomplishment, even if you cannot see or hear it, it is there, and you can feel it.
Do not despair. Our generation is but rumbling and grumbling awake from centuries of injustice, groggy and confused, unaware entirely of our surroundings, not knowing yet which direction to go, but we know this: where we are, and where we are being led, is not where we want to be or go, and we have stood up and said so. We are finding our freedom the only way any people have ever found it: by taking it and acting on it, not asking for it. You do not demand cures from cancers. You must find and create them yourselves.
The strike might end, but the streets won’t be empty for long. So stand strong, students and supporters. Your energy, ambition, and inspiration will be needed for some time to come. The whole world is waiting for it, even if they don’t know it yet.
The future is ours, but only if we recognize that it can be, and only if we decide that it will be. And only if we act as if it already is.
I’ll see you in the streets.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer living in Montreal, Canada. His website (www.andrewgavinmarshall.com) features a number of articles and essays focusing on an analysis of power and resistance in the political, social, and economic realms. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, and is currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and resistance movements emerging around the world. To help this book come to completion, please consider donating through the website or on Indiegogo.
Writing About the Student Movement in Québec: You’re Damn Right I’m “Biased”! … Confessions of a Non-Neutral Observer
Writing About the Student Movement in Québec: You’re Damn Right I’m “Biased”!
Confessions of a Non-Neutral Observer
For the past month, I have been writing almost exclusively on the Québec student strike and social movement, which erupted in February and has resulted in the provincial government of Québec recently passing a law (Bill 78) which severely limits the rights of students to freedom of assembly and expression, imposing harsh financial penalties for practicing our basic rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (as if we even need a document to tell us we have these rights!).
I have been writing professionally for roughly four years, and on a wide range of topics, many of them far more controversial than a student strike. However, never before have I experienced such an enormous reaction – both positive and negative – to any issue I have ever written about. My articles are reaching more people – and more varied audiences – than ever before, but they are also inciting more reactions and responses than I have ever been faced with. I always try to respond to comments and emails, but if I were to do so on this issue, I would never get around to writing anything new. So instead, I would like to address the main critique and complaint of my writing on this issue: that I am – and my writing is – extremely “biased” in how I report on this issue.
First off, I would like to thank all who have sent me words of encouragement and support, and who have been sharing and re-posting my articles, it is very important that this information spreads elsewhere, as the English-speaking media in Canada have been almost exclusively terrible in their coverage of the student protests here in Québec. Secondly, I would like to thank all those who have sent me critiques, who have pointed out flaws and problems in various points and arguments I have made, and in doing so, have provided further avenues for research. Without critique, no researcher can make progress. There are a number of issues related to the student movement that I know I will need to do more research on, and it is entirely due to these critiques that I will do so. So keep on keeping me on my toes!
I would, however, like to address the most common ‘critique’ and complaint about my writing and my point of view: that it is “biased.” My simple response to this is: you’re god damned right it is!
We all have bias by the very simple fact that we are all biased to our own opinions, so long as we are capable of developing our own individual opinions and beliefs. We are all biased for the simple fact that we view ourselves and the world from our own individual perspective. When anyone or any information source claims to be “unbiased,” that is when my internal alarm begins to ring. There are, arguably, unbiased ‘facts’ (as Einstein once said, “facts are stubborn things”), but there are not unbiased ‘views.’ Facts can help inform our views, and what facts we gather, how we gather them, from where we gather them, largely determine the ‘view’ we take in constructing them together.
So yes, I have a bias, but let me explain what it is. I am biased in favour of people over power, in favour of the oppressed over the oppressors, and in favour of freedom over domination. I am, however, a researcher. I don’t have many talents: I can barely cook, I don’t speak more than one language, I don’t play sports, I don’t play an instrument, I can’t even whistle; but one thing I am good at, is research. I know where to look, how to look, to draw from a multitude of sources, and to put together a massive array of information into something that is at least a half-coherent composition of information. Like all talents, it’s practice that makes it better, and I am still learning and improving (as I should be). My writing is almost always heavily cited and sourced, so that people may track my research and where I got my information from, instead of just “taking my word” for it. The only reason I progressed as a researcher is because I would try to find the original sources of others, to see the information for myself and to see how and if I would interpret it differently from them. I have even spent hours tracking down original sources in government archives which were cited by Noam Chomsky, not because I think he is lying or misrepresenting the facts, but because it is simply important for me to see the original source for myself. I encourage others to do the same, so I always try to make my writing accessible to this approach. Despite this, I have received many critiques that I have not “supported my arguments” in my recent articles on Quebec. This, I simply cannot understand, save for the possibility that those making the critique do not know what hyperlinks are or how they work (I don’t just highlight the words for fun!).
But back to the bias!
My research in history, on a number of different social, political, economic and cultural issues, has not been defined by my bias, but has rather defined my bias. It is precisely the research and reading and studying I have done that has established, informed, and strengthened my own personal bias. That is not to say it is unchanging: with each new subject studied, with new information gathered, I must adjust, evolve, and alter my views according to the knowledge I come across. And yet still, I find this central bias remains: that of favouring the oppressed over the oppressor. It is this view that shapes my own understanding of history and the present, and for that reason, this has become my own ‘Truth’: how I see and understand the world.
I do not pretend to be unbiased, or balanced, or neutral in my writing, simply because I do not see the value in doing so. I see no value or honour in presenting oneself as ‘balanced’ in reporting on circumstances which are so imbalanced. I see no value in being ‘neutral’ in writing about circumstances of injustice, oppression, and domination. I see no justice in presenting an ‘unbiased’ view of injustice. Why should the oppressor get “equality” in how situations are interpreted and presented when the oppressed never have equality of power with the oppressor? How is this “balanced”? Situations which are inherently imbalanced do not require black and white interpretations, do not require an equal presentation for the oppressed view as well as the oppressor’s view. One does not give “both sides of the argument” on the issue of war and mass murder, on the issue of slavery, on the issue of domination and oppression. The simple reason for this is that it is morally reprehensible to put the perspective of injustice and oppression on the same moral grounding as that of the dominated and oppressed. A more “logical” reason, perhaps, is that because of the simple social position of the oppressor – always in positions of power – is that they already have a larger share of control over the discourse: they speak for the state, providing the “official” line; they control the media, they have a monopoly of interpretation and control over dissemination.
This creates an automatic imbalance in how things are interpreted and presented. Rarely are there cries against this information-Casino system (where the house always wins), proclaiming it to be “biased” or “imbalanced.” Instead, publications like the National Post and the Globe and Mail may say anything they like, any way they like, and they are simply “reporting the facts.” Across Canada, newspapers may refer to the students in Québec as “violent,” “thugs,” “spoiled brats,” wannabe terrorists,” and “idiots,” and yet, where is the outcry against their “bias” and lack of “balance.” The media, almost without fail, make reference to official statements from the police regarding protests and “riots”, without providing any other perspective or statements. You read this in the media as, “a police spokesperson said…”, etc. How often do you read, “participants in the protest stated…” etc.? Is that not a lack of balance?
Gary Lamphier writing for the Edmonton Journal referred to the students, in the span of one article alone, as the following: “gangs of kids, buffoons, wannabe terrorists, idiots, miscreants, sanctimonious jerks, selfish, loutish, moronic,” and lastly, “rock-throwing idiots in Quebec.” This is, of course, compared to the “hard-working students and citizens” whose lives are being disrupted by “a cancer.” Perhaps the most common term used to describe the students in Quebec is “entitled.” Of course, this type of elevated intellectual discourse is perfectly acceptable in the mainstream media. When some protesters entered UQAM school and disrupted classes, with one report of even attempting to pull two students out of the class, the media reaction was swift, furious, and international. These are not tactics I particularly favour or condone; it certainly doesn’t help the image of the student movement and I think there are more effective avenues for engagement and action. However, the reporting on this incident was almost exclusively in a chorus of condemnation. The students who occupied and disrupted the school were called: “protest gangs“, “hard-core protesters,” and “thugs.”
Now, the tactics may not have been good or helpful, but perhaps a little context would be important: for three months of striking, the government spent two months ignoring and dismissing and refusing to talk to the students, then it attempted to divide the students against each other. The state has intervened to provide legal injunctions to even small groups of students in an effort to use them as “strike breakers” by legally enforcing their return to the schools (as the state does not recognize the legal right of students to strike), and it has been enforcing that with the blunt force of the baton, the sting of pepper spray, and the taste of tear gas. The state has repeatedly used violence against protesters: pepper spray, beatings with batons, tear gas, smoke bombs, concussion grenades, driving police trucks and cars into groups of students, shooting them in the face with rubber bullets, and undertaking mass arrests. One student lost his vision in one eye after being shot in the face with a concussion grenade, another lost his eye after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet, and another ended up in the hospital with a skull fracture and brain contusion, also after being shot in the head with a rubber bullet. When a few students threw smoke bombs in the Montreal Metro, they were charged on “anti-terrorism” charges, and the national media loudly condemned them. Again, the tactics were not helpful, but this also followed the Victoriaville violence against students, where several were almost killed (which did not get anywhere near the same national and international media coverage). Violent actions create increasingly violent reactions. While throwing smoke bombs in the metro is a bad tactic, police shoot smoke bombs at students on a regular basis, but the students are “terrorists” and the police are “restoring order.” All this context does not exist in the media discourse.
And now, with the passage of Bill 78, which is “unconstitutional,” as it puts severe limits on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and imposes immense financial penalties for exercising our rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter and Rights and Freedoms, the situation has become more intense, the risks are greater, and the state is all the more oppressive.
In short, the situation which exists between the students and the state in Québec is inherently imbalanced. I see no value in presenting a “balanced” argument about a circumstance in which no balance exists. I see no value in presenting oneself as “neutral” in situations of oppression, exploitation, and domination. The perspective of the state is given by the state and its spokespeople, is repeated in the media, and backed up with the economic power of the corporations and banks (who own the media). It’s always easy for power to speak in support of power. Nothing is demanded of them, except for allegiance. They are held up to low standards, require little to no proof, and can even openly call for violence to be used against students, and it all goes unquestioned, their views are “facts” and their “bias” is overlooked.
I may use harsh rhetoric, but I back it up with hard facts. I may write that the National Post knows nothing of democracy, but that is because I have never seen that publication support any grassroots, indigenous, or social movement for democratic progress: I have seen that publication support war, justify empire, encourage violence, condone oppression and demonize progression. Respect must be earned, and I have never read anything worthy of respect out of that publication, worthy of the values and ideals I hold dear. So yes, I do not restrain my rhetoric in describing it. Is it inflammatory? Perhaps. But I believe it to be the truth, at least as I see it.
What we, here in Québec, see and experience in the streets is a world away from what we read in the English media across the country. The disparity is so vast, the misrepresentation is so consistent, the rhetoric is entirely dismissive, insulting, and even hateful, the discourse is vitriolic and ill-informed, the lies are expansive, and the presentation is perverted. So am I biased? Absolutely! I will always stand with the people against the violence of the state, against the lies and misrepresentations of the media, and the abuses of authority. What others call neutrality, I call cowardice. I do not pretend to be or present myself as an unbiased or “dispassionate” observer. I have marched in the streets, I have friends far more involved at every level of the protests than I have been, I know people who have been arrested, attacked, and gassed; I marched in peace with peaceful friends, and we were charged by riot cops. I watched as the police threw students face first into the pavement and ran out of the way as the riot police drove their van through a crowd of students. I listen to more intense and infuriating stories from friends and others. We see the images and hear the stories and watch the videos of those who have been seriously injured. We are pepper sprayed, gassed, beaten and bruised, and then to add… we are insulted and degraded by the national media. We are referred to as “spoiled brats” and “entitled” fools.
Am I biased? You’re damn right I am!
Solidarity, brothers and sisters!
For a “biased” view of the student movement, here is list of my articles on the subject:
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Quebec se acerca a la ley marcial para reprimir a estudiantes
The following is a Spanish translation of a recent article, “Quebec Steps Closer to Martial Law to Repress Students,” courtesy of Verdad Ahora.
El viernes 18 de mayo, el parlamento de Quebec aprobó una “ley de emergencia” para “restaurar el orden” en la provincia después de tres meses de protestas estudiantiles en una huelga contra la propuesta gubernamental de aumentar en un 80% el costo de la matricula. El debate legislativo duró toda la noche y resultó en una votación de 68-48 a favor de la legislación. La legislación tiene tres ejes principales: (1) “suspende” el semestre escolar para las escuelas más afectadas por la huelga, (2) establece multas muy altas para cualquier persona que intente organizar piquetes o bloquear las escuelas, y (3) impone restricciones masivas sobre dónde y cómo la gente puede manifestarse y protestar en las calles. La ley expira el 1 de julio de 2013.
El lunes 14 de mayo renunció la ministra de educación de Quebec, Line Beauchamp, y fue reemplazada con el presidente de la Junta del Tesoro de Quebec, Michelle Courchesne, ex ministro de educación entre 2007-2010, que también había participado en las fallidas negociaciones del fin de semana del 4 de mayo. Jean Charest, comentó sobre el cambio de ministros y la continuidad de la posición del Gobierno sobre los aumentos de matrícula, declarando que, “Creemos que en esta política… Esta política va a seguir adelante.” El martes 15 de mayo, las protestas continuaron en Quebec, con cerca de 100 policías antimotines pidieron terminar un bloqueo de los estudiantes en huelga de un colegio de la comunidad en Montreal. A los estudiantes se les dijo que “toda la fuerza necesaria” sería utiliza para asegurar que las clases se reanudaran, en línea con una orden judicial obtenida por 53 de estudiantes de la escuela para regresar a clases. Órdenes judiciales han sido regularmente utilizados para socavar la huelga estudiantil, ya que el Estado se niega a reconocer el derecho de los estudiantes a la huelga. Como resultado, una docena – o incluso uno o dos – estudiantes pueden obtener órdenes judiciales para obligar a las escuelas a reabrir e ir a clases. Las medidas cautelares están respaldadas por el poder del Estado, por lo que la policía antidisturbios está obligada a rociar con gas pimienta, gas lacrimógeno y golpear con lumas porras a los estudiantes que formaban los piquetes que bloqueaban el acceso a las escuelas. El 15 de mayo, padres y maestros de los estudiantes en huelga se involucraron para ayudar a organizar el piquete lo que terminó cuando el escuadrón antidisturbios lanzó gases lacrimógenos y arrestó a varias personas.
Esa noche, los líderes estudiantiles se reunieron con la nueva ministra de educación, Michelle Courchesne, en una reunión que duró poco más de una hora, donde los estudiantes instaron al gobierno a “abandonar cualquier estrategia de línea dura e imponer una moratoria.” Los estudiantes presionaron a favor de una “tregua” con el gobierno y señalaron, tras la reunión, que el nuevo ministro fue “receptivo”, pero que “se negó a comprometerse con una postura.” A los estudiantes, sin embargo, el nuevo ministro les aseguró que no debían adoptarse leyes especiales que para forzar un acuerdo. El portavoz de la asociación de estudiantes más grande – CLASSE – Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, declaró que, “No podemos decir que el impasse ha sido superado. El ministro nos dijo que la decisión será tomada por el gabinete (el miércoles).” Martine Desjardins, otro dirigente estudiantil se mostró optimista al pensar que una solución podría estar a mano, “Esta es una crisis y tenemos que resolverla de manera rápida y todo el mundo está trabajando duro para hacer eso.” Leo Bureau-Blouin, jefe de la federación de estudiantes universitarios, declaró: “Por cierto, esperamos que el gabinete estará abierto a los compromisos.” Los líderes estudiantiles se manifestaron contra el uso de legislación para poner fin al conflicto, con Nadeau-Dubois diciendo: “Sería un gran paso atrás… No se puede poner fin a una huelga como ésta, con la fuerza de la policía.” Gabriel Nadeau señaló que CLASSE estaba discutiendo la posibilidad de perder el semestre, y Martine Desjardins de la Federación de Estudiantes Universitarios de Quebec (FEUQ) indicaron que estaban dispuestos a hacer concesiones en las negociaciones, pero expresó su preocupación por la línea dura del gobierno con órdenes judiciales e intervenciones de la policía, que sólo la reforzarán la rabia y llevaran a reacciones más duras. Leo Bureau-Blouin de la asociación de la universidad declaró que, “estoy seguro de que si nos dan nuevas propuestas nos ayudarían a avanzar”, pero condenó la idea de una ley especial: “Aquello no haría nada para ayudar a la crisis, para ayudar a resolver el conflicto. Con la batería de medidas cautelares, la tensión ha crecido. Una ley especial sólo empeoraría las cosas.”
Los estudiantes salieron de la reunión con la nueva ministra de educación afirmando estar “relativamente satisfechos” y que “esperamos que el Consejo de Ministros esté abierto a nuestros compromisos”, refiriéndose a la reunión de gabinete que se celebraría al día siguiente. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois describió la reunión como “cordial” y afirmó que “también ha desbloqueado algunos canales de comunicación que habían sido tal vez bloqueados por algunos malentendidos con la señora Beauchamp.” Jeanne Reynolds, otra portavoz de CLASSE, afirmó que el ministro Courchesne “había asegurado a los estudiantes que no tenía ninguna intención cancelar el semestre”, y que ello era “muy tranquilizador”, agregó: “Al igual que nosotros, el ministro parece estar de acuerdo en que las órdenes judiciales no son la solución para resolver la presente crisis… Obviamente nos quedamos muy contentos de oír eso.” Los líderes estudiantiles se sorprendieron al oír al día siguiente que el ministro Courchesne comentó la reunión, diciendo: “Por su parte sentí un endurecimiento de su posición… Eso fue muy claro.” Y añadió: “Voy a informar al gabinete pronto. El gobierno verá qué hacer a continuación.”
Resentidos por el hecho de que una minoría de estudiantes han utilizado recursos de amparo para violar la huelga declarada, el miércoles 16 de mayo, cerca de cien estudiantes pasearon por los pasillos para interrumpir las clases en la Universidad de Quebec en Montreal (UQAM). Las emociones se calentaron en los enfrentamientos con algunos de los otros estudiantes y profesores. Esto sucedía mientras Jean Charest, y su gabinete se reunían en la ciudad de Quebec para discutir una “solución” a la crisis pasando “legislación de emergencia“.
El 17 de mayo, la líder del opositor Partido Quebequense, Pauline Marois, pidió al primer ministro Charest a sentarse con los estudiantes en lugar de legislar en contra de ellos, “¿Por qué el primer ministro ataca a los jóvenes quebequenses?“. Mientras el gobierno de Quebec presentaba legislación para acabar con las protestas estudiantiles, estudiantes de todos los lados del debate -rojos (a favor de la huelga), verde (a favor del alza), o blancos (que proponían una moratoria de las alzas de matrícula), se unieron para instar al gobierno a negociar en vez de pasar esa legislación “represiva”. El líder estudiantil Leo Bureau-Blouin, comentó: “Claramente se puede ver hoy aquí. Sin importar el color que tengamos, independiente de los partidos políticos, hoy no es momento de jugar a la política partidista… Los parlamentarios fueron elegidos para garantizar la paz social… estamos abiertos a compromisos, estamos abiertos a discusiones.” La líder estudiantil Martine Desjardins, comentó: “Todos los colores están aquí para decir que sería mejor negociar un acuerdo en vez de imponer una solución unilateral a esta crisis.” Incluso el principal representante principal de los estudiantes que quieren regresar a clases y poner fin a la huelga, Laurent Proulx, pidió al gobierno de no recurrir a la legislación, “Queremos asegurarnos de que ambas partes lleguen a un acuerdo que no requiera que uno de ellos tenga que rendirse.” Los líderes estudiantiles anunciaron que impugnarán la legislación en los tribunales, ya que viola su derecho a protestar legítimamente.
Mientras el gobierno de Quebec iniciaba un debate durante toda la noche del jueves en torno a la legislación propuesta, se llevaron a cabo protestas en las cinco ciudades más grandes de Quebec. Antes del debate del jueves por la noche, los líderes estudiantiles fueron citados a nuevas negociaciones, con Martine Desjardins oponiéndose a la legislación de Jean Charest, “Que venga a sentarse con nosotros, y negociar una solución a esta crisis… Que venga a demostrar que él es un jefe de Estado, no sólo un líder de partido.” Bureau-Blouin declaró: “Estamos más preparados que nunca para comprometernos.” Las protestas en Montreal la noche anterior – cuando la legislación fue anunciada por primera vez – atrajeron a miles a las calles y llevó a que la policía antidisturbios detuviese a 122 personas.
“Abandonando toda esperanza de negociar un acuerdo con los estudiantes en huelga”, Jean Charest anunció que, “Tenemos que reducir la presión donde todavía hay huelga. Tenemos que traer de vuelta la paz social.” Con los líderes estudiantiles diciendo que estaban dispuestos a negociar, Jean Charest, anunció que no dará marcha atrás a los aumentos de matrícula, y “prometió un enfoque más duro para asegurar que las clases se reanuden en agosto, con una intervención policial más fuerte para garantizar el acceso.” Y añadió: “Ningún estudiante se verá obligado a asistir a clases. Pero los otros tienen el derecho de asistir a clases en un entorno seguro.” Charest declaró que “No podemos aceptar que el acceso sea bloqueado… no vamos a ceder ante la violencia y la intimidación. Nuestras leyes deben ser obedecidas.” Al parecer, esto significa aprobar nuevas leyes para violar la Carta Canadiense de Derechos y Libertades. Después de todo, “nuestras leyes deben ser obedecidas.” Los líderes estudiantiles advirtieron de los peligros de pasar una ley de ese tipo, ya que la reacción de seguro sería intensa. Leo Bureau-Blouin comentó: “Si hay violencia, si hay tensión, el señor Charest será el único culpable”. Martine Desjardins, comentó: “Ahora sabemos que el señor Charest nunca tuvo intenciones reales de resolver este conflicto.” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois de CLASSE respondió a la legislación propuesta, “El proyecto de ley que el gobierno propone a la mesa es una ley antisindical, es autoritario, represivo y vulnera el derecho de los estudiantes a la huelga… Este es un gobierno que prefiere golpear a sus jóvenes, ridiculizar a sus jóvenes, en lugar de escucharlos.” Los líderes estudiantiles siguieron pidiendo a los estudiantes organizar manifestaciones pacíficas y apoyar los planes para una manifestación masiva el martes 22 de mayo para conmemorar el 100º día de huelga.
La legislación – el proyecto de ley 78 – incluye fuertes multas para quienes participan en manifestaciones de huelga estudiantil: “multas de entre 1.000 y 5.000 dólares para cualquier persona que evite que alguien entre en una institución educativa”, y estas cifras suben a “entre 7.000 y 35.000 dólares para un líder estudiante y entre 25.000 y 125.000 para los sindicatos o federaciones de estudiantes.” El proyecto de ley tendría como objetivo esencial llevar a la bancarrota y destruir a las asociaciones de estudiantes. Además, incluye nuevas regulaciones estrictas en lo que respecta a la celebración de manifestaciones que incluyen la que ordena a los organizadores de una manifestación dar a la policía (por escrito) al menos ocho horas antes de la manifestación prevista, los detalles del itinerario, la duración, la hora y la ruta de una marcha. La policía entonces tendrá el “derecho” a realizar cambios, “a fin de preservar la paz y mantener el orden y la seguridad pública”. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, comentó: “Esto es abuso de poder… Es totalmente inaceptable en una democracia presentar dicha legislación.” Leo Bureau-Blouin, el líder estudiantil que ha estado más dispuesto a negociar, comentó: “Esta legislación es un golpe a la libertad de expresión.” Martine Desjardins afirmó que el proyecto de ley es una “declaración de guerra contra el movimiento estudiantil.” El proyecto de ley, han explicado los dirigentes estudiantiles, no hará sino aumentar la tensión y hacer que la crisis empeore. Jean Charest, comentó: “Tenemos la convicción de que esta decisión es importante. No sólo para nuestros jóvenes, sino para el futuro del pueblo de Quebec.”
La legislación ha llevado a llamados importantes a la desobediencia civil. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois declaró: “Cuando las leyes se hacen injustas, a veces hay que desobedecer y ahora estamos pensando seriamente en esa posibilidad… La represión policial no nos asusta. Las manifestaciones continuarán esta noche, creo yo, todas las noches si es necesario.” Un miembro de la Asamblea Nacional, Amir Khadir, el líder del partido político Quebec Solidario, declaró que, “La desobediencia civil es una cosa noble… Desde mi punto de vista democrático y el de mi partido, la desobediencia civil, cuando está justificada y es moralmente correcto y loable, es políticamente correcta.” El viernes 18 de mayo el Colegio de Abogados de Quebec declaró que tenía “serias preocupaciones” respecto a la legislación, calificándola de “excesiva”. Estudiantes y grupos sindicales se unieron el viernes para oponerse a la ley, y acusando que Quebec se está transformando en un “estado totalitario”, y diciendo: “Esta ley está guiada por la agresividad, la rabia y la venganza del Partido Liberal.” Pero no todo el mundo estaba molesto por ello. Puesto que la ley exige a los organizadores a informar a la policía sobre reuniones de 10 o más personas, la Cámara de Comercio de Gatineau, Quebec, dio a conocer una declaración “beso en la mejilla” con sus planes de celebrar una “asamblea de más de 10 personas”, y preguntó cuántos policías estarían presentes “para que puedan preparar una cantidad apropiada de aperitivos.”
Nadeau-Dubois declaró: “Creo que mi cólera es bastante representativa de la manera en cómo los estudiantes se sienten, y estoy convencido de que se expresará en las calles… a lo largo de los próximos días y semanas” y agregó: “Es una declaración de guerra, no sólo contra los estudiantes, sino también contra todo aquel que se aferra de algún modo a la democracia, contra cualquier persona que se aferra a lo que Quebec era antes de presentarse esta legislación.” Predijo que los quebequenses se “levantarán contra un documento tan inaceptable.” Los jefes de los tres principales sindicatos de Quebec se mostraron en oposición a la ley, con un líder declarando: “El gobierno de Quebec optó por utilizar el garrote en lugar del diálogo y las negociaciones… Quebec no debe convertirse en un estado policial y eso es lo que significa esta ley.” Louis Masson, presidente de la Asociación de Abogados de Quebec, afirmó que, “Este proyecto de ley, de aprobarse, es una violación a los derechos fundamentales y constitucionales de los ciudadanos.” Un sindicato de profesores universitarios declaró: “Si ya no somos capaces de protestar en nuestra sociedad, ésta se convierte en una sociedad totalitaria… Le estamos pidiendo a nuestros miembros defender su derecho fundamental, el derecho a manifestarse.”
La legislación también prohíbe a los estudiantes manifestarse en el interior o incluso a 50 metros de edificios universitarios. En esencia, esto equivale a hacer ilegal de la libertad de reunión y expresión en los campus universitarios. Bureau-Blouin declaró: “Este proyecto de ley transforma todas las protestas civiles en un delito y transforma un estado que tiene una tradición de apertura en un estado policial… Se trata de un límite no razonable a nuestro derecho a manifestarnos y su objetivo es matar a nuestras asociaciones.” La legislación apunta directamente a las asociaciones de estudiantes. Si una asociación de estudiantes intenta interrumpir o impedir que los estudiantes lleguen a las clases, “perderán su financiación.” Además, “por cada día de clases que se vea afectados por las medidas adoptadas por un grupo de estudiantes, la pena se elevará hasta el cese de la financiación a largo plazo.” Este proyecto de ley podría “dejar a las asociaciones de estudiantes prácticamente en bancarrota” por apoyar la huelga. También restringe severamente la capacidad de otros sindicatos y de profesores y maestros de apoyar a los estudiantes en huelga.
Expertos legales comenzaron a manifestarse en contra de la legislación, diciendo que “va demasiado lejos y viola los derechos fundamentales.” Para añadir insulto a la injuria, el mismo día que la legislación fue votada a favor, la ciudad de Montreal en voz baja aprobó una ordenanza que prohíbe el uso de máscaras en las protestas. El Colegio de Abogados de Quebec, explicó que sus “serias preocupaciones” respecto al proyecto de ley 78 incluyen el hecho de que, “La escala de sus restricciones a las libertades fundamentales no está justificada por los objetivos perseguidos por el gobierno.” El presidente del Colegio de Abogados de Quebec añadió, “El gobierno está haciendo más difícil para las personas organizar manifestaciones espontáneas. Se trata de limitar la libertad de expresión.” Un profesor de derecho de la Universidad de Laval, Louis-Philippe Lampron, experto en derechos humanos, comentó: “Léalo. Estoy aturdido. No puedo creer que un gobierno democrático pueda adoptar una ley así.”
Otro profesor de derecho de la Universidad de Laval, Fannie Lafontaine, expresó su preocupación por las disposiciones de la ley “que tienen por objeto impedir que los manifestantes impidan que otros estudiantes asistan a la escuela”, ya que las secciones 13 y 14 establecen que nadie puede “contribuir directa o indirectamente” a retrasarlas clases o prevenir que otros puedan tener acceso a ellas. El artículo 15 dice que las asociaciones de estudiantes deben tener los “medios apropiados” para asegurarse que sus miembros “directa o indirectamente” no contribuyan a retrasar o negar el acceso a las clases. La sección 25 amenaza con multas que van hasta los 125.000 dólares para las asociaciones de estudiantes que violen estas disposiciones. El profesor de derecho Lafontaine advirtió que “esas secciones tienen definiciones demasiado amplias, mientras que al mismo tiempo están hermanadas con penas severas”, y agregó: “A los alumnos se les dice pide tener los “medios apropiados” y no sabemos lo que esto implica, a “inducir” a los miembros a cumplir, así que existe la obligación de obtener resultados… eso no funciona en el derecho. No se puede tener delitos que están escritos de forma tan vaga que son imposibles de respetar.” También dijo: “En tiempos de crisis, todos los gobiernos tienden a restringir los derechos fundamentales y la historia demuestra que las restricciones excesivas no ayudan a restablecer el orden.” Louis Roy, quien representa a la mayoría de los docentes de la provincia, dijo que sus miembros están “asqueados”, y que, “no va a colaborar en cualquier tipo de acción policial. Ellos no van a convertirse en una especie de escuadrón de policía para el gobierno provincial. Estamos muy cerca de tener un gobierno dispuesto a pisotear los derechos fundamentales.” Otro dirigente sindical declaró: “Esta ley es digna de una república bananera.”
La Asociación Canadiense de Profesores Universitarios se pronunció el 18 de mayo condenando el proyecto de ley 78, “por violación de las libertades fundamentales de asociación, reunión y expresión.” James L. Turk, director ejecutivo de la Asociación Canadiense de Profesores Universitarios, declaró: “Esta ley especial es un terrible acto de represión masiva… El gobierno de Quebec ha optado por ejercer la mano dura de la ley como un arma para reprimir la disidencia.” El proyecto de ley no sólo impone fuertes multas y límites a la libertad de reunión, sino que también estipula que las asociaciones de estudiantes (y otras asociaciones de apoyo, incluidos los sindicatos) se hacen responsables de cualquier acto de violencia de terceros que suceda en las manifestaciones. Turk dijo: “Ahora, más que nunca, el resto de Canadá debe colocarse un cuadro de género rojo que muestra su apoyo a los estudiantes de Quebec y a las libertades civiles… El proyecto de ley 78 debe ser derrotado en nombre de la democracia o el resto de Canadá deberá unirse a los estudiantes en las calles.”
Lucie Lemonde, profesora de derecho de la Universidad de Quebec en Montreal, declaró: “Es la peor ley que he visto nunca, a excepción de la Ley de Medidas de Guerra, “que fue la invocación de ley marcial en Quebec en 1970 durante la crisis de Octubre. Y añadió: “Sabíamos que algo iba a venir, pero yo no creía que lo utilizarían para cambiar las reglas del juego en términos de los derechos de manifestación.” Al mismo tiempo, el Presidente de la Cámara de Comercio del Área Metropolitana de Montreal, Michel Leblanc, “acogió con satisfacción el proyecto de ley como una manera de proteger los negocios del centro, que dicen que están sufriendo a causa de las frecuentes manifestaciones.” Al final, durante el viernes 18 de mayo:
Los grupos de estudiantes, sindicatos, políticos de oposición, una gran cantidad de estudiosos del derecho, la Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Quebec, comentaristas de derecha e izquierda, y el habitualmente discreto Colegio de Abogados de Quebec criticó la ley provincial como un asalto al el derecho a expresarse y reunirse libremente.
“Este proyecto de ley viola muchos de los derechos fundamentales de nuestros ciudadanos. La base de una democracia es el estado de derecho. Debemos respetar la ley. También hay que respetar las libertades fundamentales, como la libertad de protestar pacíficamente, la libertad de expresión y la libertad de asociación”, dijo en una entrevista el presidente del Colegio de Abogados, Louis Masson.
El líder del partido Quebec Solidario, Amir Khadir, declaró: “esta es una ley aporreadora impuesta por un gobierno ilegítimo y corrupto… Hago un llamamiento a todos los ciudadanos a respetar las leyes. Pero tenemos que hacernos la siguiente pregunta: ¿Hay que obedecer a una ley que nos quita los derechos fundamentales garantizados por la Constitución? ¿Podemos justificar la desobediencia?”
Así que aquí es donde hemos llegado hasta ahora: el gobierno de Quebec ha decidido que en lugar de comprometer sus alzas de matrícula – algo que desde el principio ha dicho no estar dispuesto a considerar siquiera – y en lugar de negociar de buena fe con los estudiantes, ya que todas las negociaciones han sido farsas hasta ahora, “castigará severamente” a los estudiantes de Quebec, implementando la “peor ley” desde Ley de Medidas de Guerra de 1970, que fue una declaración de ley marcial. El proyecto de ley 78 equivale a una pseudo-declaración de ley marcial contra los estudiantes de Quebec. La Carta Canadiense de Derechos y Libertades garantiza los derechos a la libertad de expresión, reunión y manifestación. El proyecto de ley 78 es la ley más peligrosa en todo Canadá, y una de las leyes más peligrosas de nuestra historia como país. Debemos oponernos, y ante estas medidas que se esperan de un estado policial del “Tercer Mundo”, pero no de una llamada “democracia”, la desobediencia civil es justo, correcta, y necesaria.
Ya no se trata de la matrícula.
Nuestra libertad está en juego.
Andrew Gavin Marshall es un investigador independiente y escritor residente en Montreal, Canadá, que escribe sobre una serie de cuestiones sociales, políticas, económicas e históricas. También es Project Manager del The People’s Book Project y presenta un programa semanal de podcast, “Empire, Power and People”, en BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Quebec Steps Closer to Martial Law to Repress Students: Bill 78 is a “Declaration of War on the Student Movement”
Quebec Steps Closer to Martial Law to Repress Students
Bill 78 is a “Declaration of War on the Student Movement”
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally Published at: The Media Co-Op
On Friday, May 18, the Québec legislature signed a special “emergency law” to “restore order” in the province following three months of student protests in a strike against the government’s proposed 80% increase in the cost of tuition. A legislative debate lasted all night and resulted in a vote of 68-48 in favour of the legislation. The legislation has three main focal points: (1) it “suspends” the school semester for schools majorly affected by the strike, (2) it establishes extremely high fines for anyone who attempts to picket or block access to schools, and (3) it imposes massive restrictions on where and how people may demonstrate and protest in the streets. The law is set to expire by July 1, 2013.
On Monday, May 14, Quebec’s Education Minister Line Beauchamp resigned, and was replaced with Quebec’s Treasury Board president Michelle Courchesne, a former Education Minister from 2007 to 2010, who had also participated in the failed negotiations the weekend of May 4. Premier Jean Charest commented on the change of ministers and the continuity of the government’s position on the tuition hikes, saying that, “We believe in this policy… This policy is going to go ahead.” On Tuesday, May 15, protests continued in Quebec, with about 100 riot police called in to break a student strike blockage of a community college in Montreal. Students were told that “all necessary force” would be used to ensure that classes would resume, in line with a legal injunction obtained by 53 of the school’s students to return to class. Legal injunctions have regularly been used to undermine the student strike, as the state refuses to recognize the right of students to strike. As a result, a few dozen – or even one or two – students can obtain legal injunctions to force the schools to re-open and go to class. The injunctions are backed by the power of the state, and so the riot police are called in to pepper spray, tear gas, and beat with batons those students who form picket lines blocking access to the schools. On May 15, parents and teachers of striking students were involved in helping organize the picket line which ended with the riot squad using tear gas and arresting several people.
That night, student leaders met with the new Education Minister Michèle Courchesne, in a meeting that lasted just over an hour, at which students urged the government “to abandon any hard line strategy and impose a moratorium.” The students pushed for a “truce” with the government, and said, following the meeting, that the new Minister was “receptive” but had “refused to commit herself to a position.” Students, however, were assured by the new Minister that no special laws would be adopted to force a settlement. The spokesman for the largest student association – CLASSE – Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, stated that, “We cannot say that the impasse has been overcome. The Minister told us the decision will be taken by the cabinet (on Wednesday).” Martine Desjardins, another student leader expressed optimism in thinking a solution may be at hand, “This is a crisis and we need to solve it quickly and everybody is working hard to do that.” Leo Bureau-Blouin, head of the college student federation, stated, “We certainly hope [the] cabinet will be open to compromises.” The student leaders warned against using legislation to end the conflict, with Nadeau-Dubois stating, “It would be a major step backward… You can’t end a strike like this with police force.” Gabriel-Nadeau indicated that CLASSE was discussing the possibility of sacrificing the semester, and Martine Desjardins of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) indicated that they were willing to make concessions in negotiations, but was concerned about the government’s hard line with court injunctions and police interventions, which only stoke anger and incur harsher reactions. Léo Bureau-Blouin of the college association stated that, “I’m sure that if they gave us new proposals it would help move things along,” but condemned the idea of a special law: “This would do nothing to help the crisis, to help settle the conflict. With battery of court injunctions, the tension has grown. A special law would only make matter worse.”
Students emerged from the meeting with the new Education Minister stating that they were “relatively satisfied” and that, “we hope that the council of ministers is going to be open to our compromises,” referring to the cabinet meeting to be held the following day. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois described the meeting as “cordial” and stated, “We also unblocked certain channels of communication that had perhaps been blocked by some misunderstandings with Madame Beauchamp.” Jeanne Reynolds, another spokesperson for CLASSE, stated that Minister Courchesne had “assured the students she has no intention of seeing the semester cancelled,” and that this was, “very reassuring.” She added: “Like us, the minister seems to agree injunctions are not the solution to solve the current crisis… Obviously we were very happy to hear that.” The student leaders were surprised to hear the next day that Minister Courchesne commented on their meeting, stating, “On their side I sensed a hardening of their position… That was very clear.” She added, “I will report to the cabinet soon. The government will judge what decision to make then.”
Resentful of the fact that a minority of students have used legal injunctions to violate the declared strike, roughly one hundred students on Wednesday, May 16, went through the hallways disrupting classes at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM). Emotions were heated in confrontations with some of the other students and teachers. This happened as Jean Charest and his cabinet met in Quebec City to discuss a “solution” to the crisis by passing “emergency legislation.”
On May 17, Quebec’s opposition Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois called on Premier Charest to sit down with students instead of legislate against them, “Why is the premier attacking the youth of Quebec?” As the Quebec government tabled legislation to crack down on the student protests, students from all sides of the debate – wearing a red (pro-strike), green (pro-hike), or white squares (proposing a moratorium on tuition fee hikes) – all banded together to urge the government to negotiate instead of passing “repressive” legislation. Student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin commented, “You can clearly see it here today. Regardless of the colour of squares we carry, regardless of the political parties, today is not a time to play partisan politics… Parliamentarians were elected to ensure social peace…we are open to compromises, we are open to discussions.” Student leader Martine Desjardins commented, “All the coloured squares are here to say that it would be better to negotiate a deal rather than unilaterally impose a resolution to this crisis.” Even the main student representative demanding students return to class and end the strike, Laurent Proulx, asked the government not to resort to the legislation, “We want to make sure that both sides reach a settlement that won’t require either to surrender.” Student leaders announced that they would challenge the legislation in court as it violates their right to legitimately protest.
As the Quebec government began an all-night debate on Thursday night on the proposed legislation, protests took place in all five of Quebec’s largest cities. Before Thursday night’s debate, student leaders were calling for new negotiations, with Martine Desjardins opposing Jean Charest’s legislation, “Let him come sit with us, and negotiate a solution to this crisis… Let him come show us that he is a head of state, not just a party leader.” Bureau-Blouin stated, “We are more ready than ever to compromise.” Protests in Montreal the night before – when the legislation was first announced – drew thousands into the streets and resulted in riot police arresting 122 people.
In “abandoning any hope of negotiating a settlement with striking students,” Jean Charest announced that, “We need to bring down the pressure where strikes are still on. We need to bring back social peace.” With student leaders saying they were willing to compromise, Charest announced that he will not back down from the tuition hikes, and “promised a tougher approach to ensure classes can resume in August, with stronger police intervention to guarantee access.” He added, “No student will be forced to attend class. But for others, they have the right to attend classes in a secure environment.” Charest stated that, “We cannot accept that access be blocked … we will not bow to violence and intimidation – our laws need to be obeyed.” Apparently, this means passing new laws to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After all, “our laws need to be obeyed.” Student leaders warned of the dangers of passing such a law, as the reaction is sure to be intense. Léo Bureau-Blouin commented, “If there is violence, if there is tension, Mr. Charest will be the only one to blame.” Martine Desjardins commented, “We now know that Mr. Charest never had any real intentions of solving this conflict.” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSE responded to the proposed legislation, “The bill that the government is proposing to table is an anti-union law, it is authoritarian, repressive and breaks the students’ right to strike… This is a government that prefers to hit… its youth, ridicule its youth rather than listen to them.” The student leaders continued to call on students to hold peaceful demonstrations and support the plans for a massive demonstration on Tuesday, May 22, to mark the 100th day of the strike.
The legislation – Bill 78 – includes heavy fines for those participating in student strike demonstrations: “fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution,” and these numbers climb to “between $7,000 and $35,000 for a student leader and to between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations.” The bill would essentially aim to bankrupt and destroy the student associations. Further, it includes strict new regulations in regards to holding demonstrations – manifestations – which include mandating that demonstration organizers must give police (in writing) at least eight hours before a scheduled demonstration, the details of the itinerary, duration, time, and route for a march. Police are then granted the “right” to demand changes, “in order to keep the peace and maintain order and public security.” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois commented, “This is an abuse of power… It’s totally unacceptable in a democracy to table such legislation.” Leo Bureau-Blouin, the student leader who has been most willing to compromise, commented, “This legislation strikes a blow to the freedom of expression.” Martine Desjardins stated that the bill is a “declaration of war against the student movement.” The bill, explained student leaders, will only increase tension and make the crisis much worse. Jean Charest commented, “We hold the conviction that this decision is important — not only for our young people, but for the future of the Quebec people.”
The legislation has promoted calls for increased civil disobedience. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois stated, “When laws become unjust, sometimes you have to disobey and we are now thinking seriously about that possibility… Police repression never scared us. The demonstrations will continue tonight, I believe, every night if necessary.” A member of the National Assembly Amir Khadir, leader of the Quebec political party Quebec Solidaire, stated that, “Civil disobedience is a noble thing… In my democratic perspective and that of my party, civil disobedience, when justified and morally right and commendable, it is politically appropriate.” On Friday, May 18, the Quebec Bar Association stated it had “serious concerns” over the legislation, which it described as “excessive.” Student and union groups united on Friday to oppose the bill, describing it as turning Quebec into a “totalitarian state” and stating, “This law is guided by the aggressiveness, anger and revenge of the Liberal Party.” But not everyone was upset about it. As the law requires organizers to inform police about gatherings of 10 or more people, the chamber of commerce of Gatineau, Quebec, released a “tongue-in-cheek” statement of plans to hold an “assembly of more than 10 people” and asked how many police officers would be present “so that they could prepare the appropriate number of hors d’oeuvres.”
Nadeau-Dubois stated, “I believe my anger is quite representative of the way students are feeling, and I am convinced that will be expressed in the streets… over the next few days and the next few weeks.” He then added: “It’s a declaration of war, not only against students but also against anyone who clings in any way to democracy, against anyone who clings to what Quebec was before this legislation was tabled.” He predicted that Quebecers would “rise up against such an unacceptable document.” The heads of three major Quebec unions came out in opposition to the law, with one leader stating, “The Quebec government chose to use a club instead of dialogue and negotiations… Quebec must not become a police state and that’s what this law means.” Louis Masson, president of the Quebec Bar Association, stated that, “This bill, if adopted, is a breach to the fundamental, constitutional rights of the citizens.” A university and college teacher’s union stated, “If we are no longer able to protest in our society, it becomes a totalitarian society… We are telling our members to defend their fundamental right, the right to demonstrate.”
The legislation also bars students from demonstrating inside or even within 50 metres of college and university buildings. This essentially amounts to making freedom of assembly and speech illegal on college and university campuses. Bureau-Blouin stated, “This bill transforms all civil protests into a crime and transforms a state that has a tradition of openness into a police state… It is an unreasonable limit on our right to demonstrate and aims at killing our associations.” The legislation directly targets the student associations. If a student association attempts to disrupt or prevent students from getting to classes, “it will lose its funding.” Further, “for each day classes are disrupted by actions taken by a student group, the penalty will amount to cessation of funding for a term.” This bill could “virtually bankrupt student associations” for supporting the strike. It also severely restricts the ability of other unions and professors and teachers to support striking students.
Legal experts began speaking out against the legislation, saying that it “goes too far and contravenes fundamental rights.” To add insult to injury, on the same day the legislation was voted for, the City of Montreal quietly passed a by-law which bans masks being worn at protests. The Quebec Bar Association explained that its “serious concerns” about Bill 78 included the fact that, “The scale of its restraints on fundamental freedoms isn’t justified by the objectives aimed by the government.” The president of the Quebec Bar added, “The government is making it harder for people to organize spontaneous demonstrations. It is a limit on freedom of speech.” A Laval University law professor, Louis-Philippe Lampron, an expert in human rights, commented, “Read it. Stunned. Can’t believe that a democratic government can adopt such a law.”
Another Laval University law professor, Fannie Lafontaine, raised concerns about the provisions in the law “which aim to prevent protesters from barring other students from attending school,” as Section 13 and 14 state that no one can “directly or indirectly contribute” to delaying classes or preventing others from having access to them. Section 15 said that student associations must undertake “appropriate means” to ensure their members do not “directly or indirectly” contribute to delaying or denying access to classes. Section 25 threatens fines that go as high as $125,000 for student associations that violate these provisions. Law professor Lafontaine warned that “those sections are too broadly defined while at the same time they are twinned with stiff penalties,” adding: “The students are told to take `appropriate means’ and we don’t know what this implies, to `induce’ members to comply, so there’s an obligation to get results… this doesn’t work in law. You can’t have offences that are written so vaguely they’re impossible to respect.” She also stated, “In times of crisis, all governments tend to restrain fundamental rights and history shows that excessive restrictions don’t help restore order.” Louis Roy, who represents most of the province’s teachers said that his members are “disgusted,” and that, “[t]hey will not be collaborating in any kind of police action. They are not going to become some kind of police squad for the provincial government. We are very close to having a government ready to trample on fundamental rights.” Another union leader stated, “This law is worthy of a banana republic.”
The Canadian Association of University Teachers spoke out on May 18 in condemnation of Bill 78, “for violating fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, and expression.” James L. Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, stated, “This special law is a terrible act of mass repression… The Quebec government has opted to exert the heavy hand of the law as a weapon to suppress dissent.” The bill not only imposes heavy fines and limits freedom of assembly, but it also stipulates that students associations (and other supportive associations, including unions) will be held responsible for any third party violence which takes place at demonstrations. Turk stated, “Now, more than ever, the rest of Canada needs to be pinning on a red felt square showing their support for the students of Quebec and for civil liberties… Bill 78 needs to be defeated in the name of democracy or the rest of Canada should be joining the students on the streets.”
Lucie Lemonde, a law professor at Universite du Quebec a Montreal, stated, “It’s the worst law that I’ve ever seen, except for the War Measures Act,” which was the invocation of martial law in Quebec in 1970 during the FLQ crisis. She added, “We knew something was coming, but I didn’t think they would use it to change the rules of the game in terms of the rights to demonstrate.” Meanwhile the President of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Michel Leblanc, “welcomed the bill as a way to protect downtown businesses which say they are suffering because of the frequent demonstrations.” All in all, over the course of Friday May 18:
Student groups, unions, opposition politicians, a host of legal scholars, the Quebec Human Rights Commission, right-wing and left-wing commentators, and the normally restrained Quebec Bar Association blasted the provincial law as an assault on the right to speak and assemble freely.
“This bill infringes many of the fundamental rights of our citizens. The basis of a democracy is the rule of law. We must respect the law. We must also respect fundamental freedoms, like the freedom to protest peacefully, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association,” bar association president bâtonnier Louis Masson, said in an interview.
Quebec Solidaire party leader Amir Khadir stated, “This is a bludgeon law imposed by an illegitimate, corrupt government… I call upon all citizens to respect the laws. But we have to ask ourselves the question: Must we obey a law that takes away fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution? Can we be justified to disobey?”
So this is where we’ve come to now: the government of Quebec has decided that instead of compromising on its tuition hikes – something it has stated from the beginning that it was unwilling to even consider – and instead of negotiating in good faith with the students, as all the negotiations have been farces thus far, it will instead “crack down” on the students of Quebec, implementing the “worst law” since the War Measures Act of 1970, which was a declaration of martial law. Bill 78 amounts to a pseudo-declaration of martial law against the students of Quebec. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and expression. Bill 78 is the most dangerous law in all of Canada, and one of the most dangerous laws in our history as a country. It must be opposed, and in the face of such measures which are expected of a ‘Third World’ police state but not of a so-called ‘democracy,’ civil disobedience is just, righteous, and necessary.
This is no longer about tuition.
Our very freedom is at stake.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.