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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.
On June 11, the Global Elite Gather in Montreal: Will the Maple Spring Say Hello?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
From June 11-14, Montreal will be hosting the International Economic Forum of the Americas at the 2012 Conference of Montreal, which will bring roughly 150 speakers from the global elite to speak to an audience of other elites and sympathetic media spokespersons. This year’s conference will include as the keynote speaker, Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve System (the U.S. central bank), who was once considered for nearly 20 years to be “the most powerful banker in the world,” and as such, was largely responsible for causing the global financial crisis, along with the heads of the central banks of Portugal, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico and Canada. There will be delegates from 24 countries around the world gathering at the Hilton Bonaventure Montreal Hotel to discuss the theme of “A Global Economy in Transition: New Strategies, New Partnerships” in front of roughly 3,000 participants. Along with formal discussions, “the Conference of Montreal will also enable the world’s various economic and political players present on this occasion to strengthen their relationships and develop new business opportunities.”
Here is the website in English: The Conference of Montreal
Here is the website in French: Conférence de Montréal
Here is a Facebook Event for a protest/manifestation at the Forum.
This conference will include key policy-makers and power-holders in Canada, North America, and around the world. It provides a forum through which the global elite may meet, talk, debate, shape consensus, and discuss policy-objectives of their respective nations and institutions. The ideology of those present is relentlessly pro-globalization, pro-Capitalist, and pro-power. The speakers are often advocates of neoliberalism, globalization, fiscal austerity, privatization, corporatization, imperialism and social control. This conference takes place in the midst of Quebec students standing up against educational austerity and protesting against policies which benefit the rich at the expense of the many. Will the ‘Maple Spring’ say hello to the global elite as they gather in Montréal?
The event, which is hosted by Power Corporation, owned by the billionaire Desmarais family, and a host of other corporate sponsors, receives 25% of its funding from public sources, including the Government of Canada and the Province of Québec, which alone contributes nearly $200,000 to a Conference hosted by billionaires. But remember, while public subsidies are available for billionaires to discuss how to make billions more, there is no money for education, social services, health care, or your future.
What is the Conference of Montreal / International Economic Forum of the Americas?
The stated “Mission” of the IEFA/Conference de Montréal is “to heighten knowledge and awareness of the major issues concerning economic globalization, with a particular emphasis on the relations between the Americas and other continents.” The Conference “strives to foster exchanges of information, to promote free discussion on major current economic issues and facilitate meetings between world leaders to encourage international discourse by bringing together Heads of State, the private sector, international organizations and civil society.” Among the stated “Objectives” are:
* To give its participants access to privileged information while fostering free and extensive discussions on various aspects of economy, with contributors and experts from among the best qualified;
* To promote relations between governments, international organizations, business people, members of the civil society, workers associations and universities;
* To allow its participants from various areas in the world to have business meetings during which they can develop their company or organization internationally
The International Economic Forum of the Americas/Conference of Montreal began in 1994 “at a time when the globalization of the economies was beginning to emerge at an increased rate” with the founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the end of the Cold War, development of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements, and thus, there was “the idea that Montreal could be the host city for an international yearly economic conference concerned with this phenomenon of the globalization of economies.” The first Conference took place in 1995.
The 18th annual conference of the International Economic Forum of the Americas will include “some of the most important international decision makers have already confirmed their attendance.” The focus of this year’s Forum will include: “the financial crisis and its impact on the world economy”; “International trade, and in particular the new Americas-European Union economic space, including the Canada-European Union trade agreement: this important trade agreement, which should be finalized in 2012” and will include “a number of executives from Canadian and European companies [who] will take the opportunity to meet at the 2012 Conference of Montreal to form new business ties for this new and important economic space”; and of course, “developing and extracting natural resources.” The full program can be reviewed here: Program 2012.
This year’s speakers list includes representatives and leaders from: the C.D. Howe Institute, the World Economic Forum, Bombardier Inc., Citibank, the European Commission, McKinsey & Company, Rio Tinto Alcan, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Rector of the University of Montreal, the President of the Canadian Bankers Association, the Governor of the Bank of Canada (a former Goldman Sachs executive), J.P. Morgan Chase, BNP Paribas, Governor of the Bank of Portugal, former Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, Power Corporation of Canada, Canadian Ambassador to the United States, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Royal Bank of Canada, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Conference Board of Canada, the World Bank, Scotiabank, PepsiCo, McGill University, Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Deutsche Bank, the Chairman of the Bank for International Settlements (the central bank to the world’s central banks and the most powerful financial institution in the world), the Brookings Institution, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the World Policy Institute and the World Bank, among many others.
At the 2007 Conference of Montreal, Premier Jean Charest stated that, “Quebec is deeply committed to the process of globalization,” and that, “Quebec has built an economy open to the world which has allowed us to reach a very high standard of living because globalization has worked for us.” By “us” he means his friends and informal advisers at Power Corporation and the Forum. In his speech to the Conference, Charest stated that, “We believe very much in equality of opportunity.” Apparently, this is not the case for students.
The Founding Chairman of the International Economic Forum of the Americas is Gil Rémillard, Counsel for the law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, and between 1985 and 1994 he held several different positions in the Quebec government, including Minister of International Relations, Minister of Public Security, Minister of Justice, Attorney General, and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Forum is Paul Desmarais Jr., Co-CEO of Power Corporation of Canada alongside his brother André Desmarais, both sons of one of Canada’s richest billionaires, Paul Desmarais Sr, collectively making up Canada’s most powerful family. Paul Desmarais Jr. sits on a number of corporate boards, including: Power Corporation of Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Investors Group Inc., The Great-West Life Assurance Company, Great-West Lifeco Inc., London Insurance Group Inc. and London Life Insurance Company; in the United States: Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company; in Europe: Pargesa Holding S.A. (Switzerland) and Groupe Bruxelles Lambert S.A. (Belgium). He is a member of the Board of Directors of Gesca Ltd, Les Journaux Trans-Canada Inc. and La Presse Ltd in Canada; Suez and TotalFinaElf in France, among others.
Another member of the Board of Governors of the Forum is the wife of Paul Desmarais Jr., Hélène Desmarais, Chair of the Board of Directors of HEC Montréal (Canada’s leading business school), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Montreal Enterprises and Innovation Centre (CEIM), Vice-President of the Board of Directors and member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal (which praised the passing of Bill 78), and is a member of the Board of directors of The Montreal Economic Institute, a right-wing think tank which has been promoting more neoliberalism in Québec and blaming the student strike for the “financial cost” it has made to Québec; and she is a board member of the C.D. Howe Institute, one of Canada’s most influential think tanks.
Another member of the board of governors of the Forum is Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University, who is also a member of the Trilateral Commission and is on the board of directors of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Other members include the presidents of the Chamber of Commerce of Canada and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan, a major mining company; the CEO of GDF Suez, a French electricity and gas company; the CEO of Hydro-Quebec; and the executives of the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, UNESCO, the OECD, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Energy Agency (IEA), as well as Louis Lévesque, Canada’s Deputy Minister of International Trade.
The Forum’s official ‘Partners’ include first and foremost, the Desmarais-owned Power Corporation of Canada, followed by the Royal Bank of Canada, Rio Tinto Alcan, Cisco, Total, GDF Suez, McKinsey & Company, SNC Lavalin, Hydro-Quebec, BNP Paribas, Bell, Citibank, Desjardins Group, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec, with media partners including the Financial Post and La Presse (owned by the Desmarais family).
The ‘Power’ Behind the Conference of Montreal
The Desmarais family is unquestionably Canada’s most powerful family. The Desmarais family, wrote Christa d’Souza for the London Telegraph, are “Canada’s equivalent of the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts.” Founded in 1925, Power Corporation of Canada is an investment company involved in communications, business, and especially finance. In the 1960s, the company began to invest in energy, finance, industry, and real estate. In 1968, financier Paul Desmarais took over the leadership of Power Corporation, and rapidly expanded the assets held by the company, including by the 1970s: Canada Steamship Lines (transportation); Consolidated Bathurst (pulp and paper); Investors Group, Great-West Life, Montreal Trust (financial services); and Gesca (communications). Power Corporation expanded across Canada, Europe, and into China. Paul Desmarais stepped aside as Chairman and CEO in 1996, though remaining as the controlling shareholder, and had his two sons, Paul Jr. and André, become Chairman and President and Co-CEOs. Power Corporation owns Gesca, a communications company which in turn owns La Presse as well as six other daily newspapers in Quebec.
Paul Desmarais Sr. is one of Canada’s richest individuals, which is, of course, no surprise, and as Konrad Yakabuski wrote for the Globe and Mail, “Desmarais has been personally consulted by prime ministers on every major federal economic and constitutional initiative since the 1970s. Most of the time, they’ve taken his advice.” Power Corporation has taken large stakes in major European companies such as Bertelsmann, Total and Suez. In the mid-1960s, a protégé of Desmarais was a young Montreal lawyer named Brian Mulroney, who would later become Canada’s Prime Minister. Paul Sr. groomed his sons, and especially André, who is now perhaps the most well-known Canadian businessman in China. André also married the daughter of another Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. Desmarais Sr. also got involved in French banking through Paribas, and later, Pargesa, which handled investments in a wide range of European corporations, and shot Desmarais into the accepted ranks of French nobility and the old-monied European elite. Paul Desmarais Jr. is close friends with the recent French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and socializes with Spanish royalty, the Rothschilds, and other European oligarchs. The Desmarais family have strong connections to Canada’s four major political parties: the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and the NDP. This has included close ties to Lucien Bouchard, former leader of the Parti Québecois and Premier of Quebec; Jean Chrétien, former Canadian Prime Minister; Brian Mulroney, former Canadian Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation; Bob Rae, an NDP leader; and Paul Martin, another Liberal Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation. In the 1990s, the international advisory board of Power Corporation included former Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau. Brian Mulroney was sure to create friendly ties between the Desmarais family and soon-to-be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who put two Desmarais-connected politicians in his cabinet, Peter Mackay and Maxime Bernier.
Quebec author Robin Philpot wrote a scathing critique of the power of the Desmarais family several years ago, suggesting that, “Over the last several years, [Paul Desmarais Sr.] has spun his web to such an extent that it now enables him to call the shots,” especially in promoting his right-wing economic vision, with “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada.” Of course, it’s not only Canadian politicians with whom Desmarais is close, but French and American politicians as well, including Sarkozy, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Desmarais owns seven of the ten French-language newspapers in Quebec, and has been close to nearly every Quebec premier, apart from Parti Québécois leaders Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry. Philpot alleged that Desmarais “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest,” who is the current premier imposing tuition increases. When Desmarais received the French Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) from Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean Charest was in attendance, of which Philpot stated, “He took him along like a poodle.” Philpot added, “It’s a very unhealthy situation for a government to be indebted to a businessman that has his own interest at heart. They get their hands tied.”
In rural Quebec, the Desmarais family has an estate the size of Manhattan, with a private golf course and pheasant shooting range, as well as a music pavilion where opera is performed. This is the home of Paul Desmarais Sr. Guests, such as former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, come play golf on this vast estate, and are flown in on helicopters belonging either to Power Corporation or Desmarais personally. The Desmarais family has even had the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil perform on their massive 15,000-acre estate. King Juan Carlos of Spain has even been a guest from time to time. André Desmarais is himself a member of the Trilateral Commission, founded by David Rockefeller, and is also on the International Advisory Board of David Rockefeller’s former bank, JP Morgan Chase, alongside other notables such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both brothers have regularly attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, of which David Rockefeller is a top official (founded in 1954 as an elite think tank linking Western Europe and North America). A son of Paul Desmarais Jr., Paul Desmarais III, is a banker with Goldman Sachs. At times, the influence of the family is shyly acknowledged. As French President Sarkozy stated upon awarding Paul Desmarais Sr. with the French Legion of Honour, “If I am the president of France today, it is thanks in part to the advice, the friendship and the loyalty of Paul Desmarais.”
Here is a video documenting a party thrown for the wife of Paul Desmarais, Sr., including notable guests Quebec Premier Jean Charest and former U.S. President George H.W. Bush
Protesting Power: Students Protest Outside Shareholder Meeting of Power Corporation
On May 15, 2012, as Power Corporation (with total revenue of $7.2 billion) held its shareholder meeting announcing its first quarter earnings of $264 million, and its main subsidiary company, Power Financial, announced quarterly profits of $455 million, demonstrators met outside to ensure that Power was met with protest. The National Post reported that, “one of Canada’s wealthiest and most politically connected families has come under attack as the force and rhetoric of Quebec’s student protests move from the streets into corporate shareholder meetings.”
Riot police guarded the hotel’s main entrance as protesters chanted (in French): “We must fight the thieves in ties,” and “Your wealth is our poverty.” A student group had called for the demonstration, but Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand commented, “There are radical groups that systematically want to destabilize the Montreal economy… They are anti-capitalists, Marxists.” As Paul Desmarais Jr. was announcing the company’s profits and stating, “we have a solid risk management strategy,” police on horseback outside were pushing the protestors back: “risk management.” A reporter asked Desmarais about “the protests that have shaken Quebec’s political class and caused millions worth of dollars in lost productivity,” to which he replied, “How could you not be concerned right now in terms of what’s going on?” He added:
Like all citizens, we are concerned. But we want this issue to be resolved hopefully in a respectful fashion. Let’s start with respect. With a democratic way. Within the rule of law. And that we come to an agreement that makes sense and where everybody invests in the future of our students. But everybody’s got to participate in that.
The two brothers, Paul Jr. and André, told reporters that, “they were being unfairly criticized as the company’s annual meeting became the latest target in the ongoing protests in Quebec.” Paul commented: “We’re a very caring company and I think a very caring family and we care about the society around us and we’ve always demonstrated that.” Police outside used pepper spray on protesters, one of whom commented, “I think Power Corp. is a very good example of the one per cent and it shows how private companies can be more powerful than some countries.” Desmarais would not directly answer when questioned about whether or not he supported Charest’s tuition hike, instead saying, “Frankly I’m not elected. Why should I meddle in things of people who are elected to resolve these problems. Our job is to manage our company.” The two brothers explained that, “they were reluctant to publicly comment on public issues except when they’re asked to by governments on financial issues.” That is to say, they will not publicly comment on the private advice they give to our politicians.
So the name is Power, and it fits. The Desmarais family spend their leisure time with King Juan Carlos of Spain (who recently had to apologize for going on an elephant hunting trip in Africa while 50% of youth in Spain are unemployed), they have had Cirque du Soleil perform on their family estate (larger than the island of Manhattan) with guests that include presidents and prime ministers, and have close business and even family ties to every Canadian Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau, and almost every Quebec premier, especially the current “poodle” Jean Charest. They are billionaires who sit on the boards of the major Canadian and international think tanks which set policy for our nations. The International Economic Forum of the Americas / Conference of Montreal is simply another venue through which elites gather to form consensus and debate, discuss, and promote policies which benefit the few at the expense of the many. Their rhetoric is replete with talk of “democracy” and “fairness,” but their actions speak louder than their words, their bank accounts weigh more heavily than their hearts, and their ideas more easily become policy. The elite do not go and protest in the streets, demanding justice and equality, because they call up their friends, our politicians, who they have cocktails with in social gatherings, play golf with, travel with, intermarry with, and who grant their favoured politicians financially bountiful positions on corporate boards when they leave political life. They do not have to agitate in the streets to have their voices heard because they are the patrons of our politicians and policy-makers, they are the real constituents of our constitutional “democracies,” they are the captains of corporations, barons of business, and Kings of Capital.
So this year, let the real masters of our political, economic, and social world hear the voices of the real people. Let students and others peacefully assemble and protest outside the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel from June 11-14, and have the elites inside hear the people say that we know who they are, those who rule our nations and undermine our democratic ideals.
They are the bankers and corporate executives, the heads of our universities and owners of our media, our politicians and their advisers, the patrons and “intellectuals” of the think tanks that lobby governments and set policies, the heads of foundations and civil society monopolists. Most especially it is the bankers who sit atop a vast network of social, political, and economic institutions. The bankers are the modern monarchs of our globalized state-Capitalist society. In Canada, our country is dominated by the ‘big five’ banks: Royal Bank of Canada (RBC Group), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), the Bank of Montreal (BMO), and the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank).
Peter Kruyt is Chairman of the Board of Governors of Concordia University in Montreal, and is also Vice-President of Power Corporation. The Chancellor of Concordia University is L. Jacques Ménard, the President of BMO Financial Group, as well as being on the boards of a number of other corporations and schools. The rest of the board of governors of Concordia is dominated by bankers and business executives. The Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University is Heather Munroe-Blum, who sits on the board of directors of the Royal Bank of Canada as well as the board of governors of the International Economic Forum of the Americas, as well as sitting on a number of other boards. The Chairman of McGill University is Stuart Cobbett, who also sits on the board of Citibank Canada. Another member of the board of governors of McGill University is Kathy Fazel, who is also an executive with the Royal Bank of Canada. Another member of McGill’s board is Daniel Gagnier, former Chief of Staff to Quebec Premier Jean Charest. Another board member is Samuel Minzberg, who sits on the board of HSBC Bank Canada. Clearly, bankers and business executives run our schools.
In 2008 and 2009, Canada’s banks received a “secret bailout” from the Bank of Canada (run by a former executive at Goldman Sachs) and the Federal Reserve of the United States (owned by JP Morgan Chase and all the other big U.S. banks). Canada’s banks are always said to be the “best in the world,” and a model to follow, since they magically weathered the financial crisis untouched. As it turns out, that was BS. Canada’s banks were bailed out to the tune of $114 BILLION. That amounts to $3,400 for every single Canadian man, woman, and child, or 7% of Canada’s 2009 GDP. So Quebec students want to maintain tuition costs at less than $2,500, and we are called “entitled brats.” But Canada’s big banks, which are making record-high profits, and getting record-low tax cuts, sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in cash reserves, while their increased profits come from the increased debt of the Canadian population, and yet, they get the equivalent of $3,400 from each and every Canadian, which we then have to pay for through increased taxes and increased costs (such as tuition). But it’s the students who are “entitled.”
TD Bank told the Government of Quebec in 2007 to increase university tuition. In 2008, TD Bank got $26 billion in support from the Bank of Canada (meaning Canadians citizens have to pay for that through taxes… just to pay the interest on that debt!), and $8 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve (which U.S. taxpayers have to pay for). In March of 2012, TD Bank and Royal Bank (Canada’s two biggest banks) announced record profits. That same month, it was announced that the average Canadian household debt was $103,000, making income security for Canadians an “elusive dream.” More than half of the jobs created since 2008 have gone to people aged 55 and over. Increases in hourly wages did not keep pace with inflation last year, and thus, income inequality is growing. Nearly two million Canadians have student loans totaling $20 billion, with the average student debt in Canada at $27,000 upon graduation. We are told that 70% of new jobs will require a university education. A four-year degree for a student in Canada costs an average of $55,000, expected to rise to $102,000 by 2030. This was reported by TD Bank, which then stated, “we argue that students have to recognize an investment in higher education is really a long-term one.” Things are much harder for students and youth today than for previous generations. Increasing tuition in Quebec could inflate an already over-inflated student debt bubble which could do for youth what the mortgage crisis did for housing, and would end of costing the government more in the end; thus, “there is no need for additional funding for Quebec universities.” Meanwhile, all the banks have inflated a massive housing bubble in Canada which itself could pop in the near-term future, recreating here what took place in the US in 2008.
So, who is really “entitled” here? Is it the students and youth, who are simply demanding a chance to have a future, to not be disciplined and chained down with debt before we even leave our home, get a degree, or have our first job? Or is it the banks, that control the economy, inflate bubbles that create crises, get bailed out by our governments (which we have to pay for), that tell our governments to increase tuition, that get tax cuts from our governments and sit on hundreds of billions of dollars in cash reserves, and who make record profits? These banks support and sponsor the International Economic Forum of the Americas, as does the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada. So our governments have money to support a conference held by billionaires, bankers, and financiers… so that they can all get together once a year and talk about how “ineffectual” government support is, so that they can praise the “free market” while their “invisible hand” reaches into our pockets, as our politicians sit comfortably in theirs. They spew and steam about “handouts” to poor people, and then take $114 billion from the Canadian people, who are already deep in debt. These reverse-Robin Hoods take money from the poor and give it to themselves… and then charge us interest.
This system is simply too insane to consent to. Canada’s elites, like most elites, represent a class of parasites, living off and at the expense of the people, while their local and global connections to and profits from organized crime enshrine them as a type of ‘Mafiocracy’ ruling class.
Perhaps the Maficocracy should hear the voices of the Maple Spring.
From June 11-14, 2012, the International Economic Forum of the Americas gathers in Montreal, Quebec.
Let your voice be heard peacefully:
Hilton Bonaventure Hotel
900, de la Gauchetière W.
Peace and Solidarity!
For more information on the ‘Maple Spring’, see:
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.
The Maple Spring and the Mafiocracy: Struggling Students versus “Entitled Elites”
It says a great deal about our society when hundreds of thousands of students – already largely indebted, a significant portion of whom live well below the poverty line, who already work what few jobs exist for a generation forgotten before we leave home – take to the streets in protest and are portrayed as “entitled”, “spoiled brats” as they attempt to “negotiate” their very chance of having a future in this society… with a government that supports and works with organized crime, which is beholden to an economic elite, and which supports only those who can already support themselves.
There is something deeply wrong with a society in which students who struggle for a very chance in life are insulted, degraded, beaten, arrested, humiliated and denigrated. First, we were told for years that we were “lazy” and “apathetic”: Generation MTV, Generation iPod, a techno-savvy but reality-detached deluge of pseudo-humanoids. We were seen as concerned only with ‘self’, worshipping of wealth, and with celebrities like Paris Hilton and whatever Car-crashian disaster is on reality TV this week, who could blame people for thinking this? Our media raised us. Television raised us. Advertising raised us. Public relations agencies raised us. They have told us what to wear, how to behave, what to drink, what to eat, what to listen to, dance to, sing to, who to speak to, who to admire, who to hate, what to spend time thinking about, what to be concerned about, what and how to think and be. We were set up to be Generation Obscurity.
But then, something changed: our circumstances.
For those of us who grew up middle class, we started to have a harder time getting by. We worked while we were in high school, but that was okay, the extra money was nice. But then we graduated and it was time to begin our lives. So we either worked full time, or went to school, and probably work part-time. School is expensive, and whether you live in Quebec, the rest of Canada, the United States, or a great host of many other places, school is more expensive for us than it was for our parents. Our minimum wage might seem higher, but the cost of living has soared since our parents were getting their first few jobs, so in real terms, we earn much less. So we lived and often continue to live at home while we go to school or even while we work. With rent so high, and cities so expensive, who can afford their own space in this crazy kind of place? School was still too expensive, even as we worked and as our parents helped however they could. After all, they were and are struggling too. So we got student loans. And now we’re deep in debt.
Suddenly, our world was thrown into a deep economic crisis. Most of us don’t know how this came to be, or who is responsible, all we know is that we only did what we were told to do: consume. And what did that do for us? We’re in debt. All we know is that even though we didn’t cause this global crisis, we are being held responsible for it. All we know is that we are told we are in a “recovery,” but we don’t feel like it. How many people truly feel more financially secure now than they did in 2007? Do you? I don’t!
But now we are told that we are in a “recovery” because those who caused the economic crisis are doing much better. In fact, many of them are doing better than ever! During the crisis, our government’s said we had to “bail out” the banks that had colluded with the governments to create the crisis in the first place. We were scared, so we sat back and watched as our governments gave banks blank checks. First, I should add, our governments worked with the banks in passing (or dismantling) laws and regulations, implemented policies, undertook joint programs, spent enormous sums of money between them, as our political leaders left office to sit in bank boardrooms, and as bankers left the private vaults to the public treasury. This relationship between big business, big banks, and big government (most emblematic in the central banking system, in which private banks with public powers control the very value of our currencies), is what created the economic crisis. And when that crisis erupted, those same governments gave those same banks more money than ever before, to ensure that they were rewarded for creating such a massive global crisis. At the same time, the governments then gave themselves even more power over the economy and their own social and political environments, all the while ensuring that the banks and corporations were involved in every decision, and would benefit from every outcome. So those who caused the crisis rewarded themselves with more money and more power than they had when they created the crisis in the first place.
At the same time, we, the people, have to pay for everything. We have to pay with increased taxes (remember, that bailout money has to come out of YOUR pockets), with rising prices for food and fuel, with inflated property prices (if they weren’t already collapsing, in which case, we face potential foreclosure), with increased debt – not even to consume, but simply to subsist – with decreased jobs, with unemployment, with increased homelessness, increased reliance upon food stamps, increased welfare and state assistance (which comes with intense scrutiny of your personal finances and life), and now, with austerity: further tax increases, less social services and support, mass layoffs and pay-cuts, decreased support for health care and education, increased tuition, and increased struggles. But remember, we have to suffer under austerity so that our governments can pay for all the rewards they gave to the banks for… making us suffer.
This is called “Capitalism.”
Now, take Canada as an example. Canada is perhaps the best example to use in this situation because, let’s face it: we have one of the better “reputations” among Western nations of the world (though largely undeserving), we are seen as peaceful (though we are now always at war), and compared to the rest of the industrialized West, we fared through the economic crisis much better than most. Our banks, in fact – with five Big Banks that dominate the economy – are consistently rated as among the world’s “strongest banks.” In April of 2012, Moody’s Investors Service rated Canada’s banks as the “safest in the world.” And we better believe Moody’s, because they failed to predict the economic crisis itself, and as their CEO even admitted when questioned about the agency being funded by Wall Street firms, “potential conflicts exist regardless of who pays.” For four years in a row, the World Economic Forum has rated Canada’s banking system as the most sound in the world. Even the Canadian Bankers Association praises Canada’s banks. Imagine that!
Unfortunately for their self-congratulations, it was recently revealed that Canada’s banks actually received a “secret bailout” in 2008, for a total of $114 billion, or $3,400 for every Canadian man, woman, and child. The bailouts took place between 2008 and 2010, funded by the Bank of Canada, the United States Federal Reserve, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. The government continues to deny it gave the banks a bailout, instead, our Finance Minister insists, it was just “liquidity support,” which means… the government did not “bail out” the banks with public money, it just gave the banks public money… in “support.” Call it what you will, they gave them $114 billion. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada (our central bank), and a former executive with Goldman Sachs (what’s not to love?), even admitted that the Bank of Canada gave tens of billions of dollars to our private banks. The U.S. Federal Reserve provided $33 billion to Canada’s big banks, while the official numbers of what the Bank of Canada provided remain a “secret,” as the government has refused to respond to Access to Information requests on the subject. Available information, however, points to $41 billion given to our banks by the Bank of Canada by December of 2008. Even some foreign banks had access to money from the Bank of Canada. Thus, Canada’s big five banks – Royal Bank of Canada, T.D. Bank, Scotiabank, the Bank of Montreal and CIBC – received collectively over $114 billion in “bailouts.” Oh, excuse me, I mean, “liquidity support.” And now, these same banks have inflated a major housing bubble in Canada which is eerily similar to that which existed in the United States in 2007, with housing prices dangerously high, and the average household debt at $103,000. But don’t worry, these big five banks made “record profits” in 2011. So naturally, with record profits for banks, and record debt for Canadians, the banks have decided to increase their fees on you! And then their profits continued to increase! Naturally, the executives have been giving themselves bigger bonuses than ever.
This is called an “economic recovery.”
And remember, it’s the students in Québec who are “entitled.” People call the students “spoiled” and “entitled” because they pay less than $2,500 for tuition every year, and are trying to prevent a situation in which they will be paying roughly $4,000 per year. But the big banks, making record profits, got the equivalent of $3,400 from every single man, woman, and child in Canada. But that’s not called “entitlement,” that’s called Capitalism.
So, the banks are doing better than ever, and this means we are in a “recovery.” According to our governments and media, it doesn’t matter what situation you are in, only what situation RBC, CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank and TD are in. Starting in the year 2000, Canada’s corporations and banks started having their taxes cut significantly by the government, whether Liberal or Conservative. In 2000, corporate taxes were at 28%, and by 2006 it was at 21%. In the beginning of 2012, corporate taxes in Canada were at 15%. This was all, of course, done to create “jobs.” That is, after all, what we were told by our politicians who insisted it was the right thing to do. At the moment, Canada has a rather significant unemployment rate, and a much higher youth unemployment rate. In 2006, the unemployment rate for Canadians was 4.6%, and today it is at 7.3%. In 2006, the unemployment rate for Canadian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 was at 8.4%, but by 2012, that has increased to 13.8%. In the same period of time, corporate taxes were cut from 22% to 15%, with the stated purpose of creating “jobs.” Now, the unemployment numbers are themselves misleading, because they only actually refer to those who are on some form of government assistance, such as welfare or employment insurance. The rest of the unemployed are not counted. While the corporate tax cuts did not lead to more jobs, but rather, less… they did lead to more money for the corporations and banks. By 2011, Canadian corporations and banks had hoarded $477 billion in cash reserves as money that was saved from taxation. For every percentage decrease in corporate taxes, the government loses $2 billion in potential revenue. In response, the government turns to austerity measures, which means that you have to suffer and pay for everything, especially your own poverty. Poverty is, after all, very expensive.
In 2012, these record profit-making corporations are getting an extra $2.85 billion in additional income tax savings. Even as Stephen Harper cut the taxes further, he acknowledged that the corporations weren’t actually investing their saved money in “jobs” but that it was just “money sitting on the sidelines.” Since 2007, the cash reserves of Canada’s corporations have grown by 27.3%, reaching $583 billion in Canadian currency, and $276 billion in foreign currencies. So what can we conclude from this? Well, when politicians and corporations and banks say that they are pursuing a particular policy to create “jobs,” what they really mean is to create “profits.” So when a politician says, “We need to cut corporate taxes so that they can invest in jobs,” what is really being said is that, “We need to cut corporate taxes so that they can make profits.” This makes more sense, because this is what actually happens. So it’s not so much that politicians lie, but rather that they just speak a different language. So take note, and I guarantee this is a very accurate method, in political-speak: “jobs” = “profits.” So now when you listen to your [s]elected officials blather on, you’ll actually be able to understand what they are saying.
Oh, and in case you forgot, remember: it’s Québec students who are “entitled” and “spoiled brats.” Just making sure you remember that.
In Canada, we have a situation in which total national student debt is at $20 billion, and with tuition increases, this too will increase dramatically. But don’t worry, increased tuition costs and increased student debt is good for the banks, because they provide a lot of the loans and own the debt, and collect the interest and keep you in their pockets for the rest of your life. And remember, if the banks are doing well, the economy is doing well. You don’t matter… at all. Okay, so total student debt in Canada is at $20 billion, with the average student graduating with $27,000 in debt, few job prospects, high unemployment rates, and in a major social and economic crisis, but the Canadian government is buying 65 F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. military contractor, Lockheed Martin, worth a total of $25 billion. So, we can bail out our banks to the tune of $114 billion, and we can spend $25 billion buying military machines to go bomb and kill poor people around the world, but students shackled with $20 billion in debt must be shackled with more. And if they try to do anything about the increases in tuition, and thus, the increases in their debt, Canadian politicians and the media refer to them as “entitled,” “spoiled brats.”
Here are a few numbers to show the current divide between the rich and everyone else in Canada, what we are told is a hallmark of a flourishing democracy and recovering economy:
– the 100 best paid CEOs made an average of $6.6 million, which is 155 times the average wage for Canadians at $42,988
– the tax rate for the richest Canadians dropped from 43% in 1981 to 29% in 2010
– in Quebec, the richest 10% made 24% more in 2006 than in 1976, while the poorest made 10% less
– with average student debt in Québec at $13,000 and $27,000 in the rest of Canada, the cost of “free education” in Québec would be less than 1% of the government’s budget
– for every $1,000 fee hike in tuition, the proportion of poor students drops by 19%, thus making education inaccessible for poor people
– with youth unemployment in Canada between 14-20%, and total student debt amounting to $20 billion, the percentage of students defaulting on government loans is at 14%
– the percentage of Canadians between 20 and 24 living with their parents is 73%
– the percentage of Canadians 25 to 29 living with their parents is 33%
This is called “democracy.”
With Jean Charest as Québec’s premier, attempting to nearly double student tuition from an average of over $2,000 to nearly $4,000, it might be interesting to look at what Charest paid for his education. Charest studied in Sherbrooke in the late 1970s, where he would have paid $500 for tuition, less than $2,000 in today’s dollars. In 1978, the minimum wage (for those students who needed to work to pay their tuition) in Québec was $3.50/hour. In today’s dollars, that would equal $12/hour, while the actual minimum wage in Québec today is $10/hour. Therefore, wrote McGill University professor Michael Hilke, “it was easier for students to pay for college back then.” But Charest calls us “entitled.”
In point 7 of my article, “Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement,” I provided sources and information regarding the deeply interconnected relationship between the government of Québec, especially with Charest’s Liberal Party in power, the corrupt construction industry, and the Mafia. Politicians, especially the Liberal Charest government currently in power, provide over-estimated public funds to the construction industry to do what costs significantly less in other provinces, and to build bridges and roads that fall apart, and it just so happens that the construction industry is owned by the Mafia. While public contracts are not the main source of revenue for the Mafia (who can compete with illicit drugs? … well, except for the oil and arms industries), getting massively over-estimated public funds allows the Mafia-connected construction businesses to throw fundraisers for the politicians and keep them in power. Thus, the interaction between the Mafia and the government is a mutually beneficial relationship, where money flows back and forth, designed to keep each party in power. But it’s unfair to blame Charest and the Liberal Party for collusion with the Mafia; they are simply carrying on a long political tradition of governments working with organized crime. So, the government supports organized crime and opposes organized students. Ultimately, both organized crime and organized polities serve the same interests. Can you guess whose? I’ll save you the effort, it’s really quite simple, and it’s not exclusive to Canada, this is a global phenomenon: follow the money.
Canada is a market leader in many aspects of the global trade in illegal drugs. In a 2009 report form the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Canada was revealed to be the leading supplier of ecstasy to North America, and one of the world’s major producers and shippers of methamphetamine for various markets around the world, which is so significant that it was revealed that 83% of all the meth seized in Australia came from Canada, whereas in Japan it was 62%. In 2006, only 5% of the meth produced in Canada was exported. In 2007, it was at 20%. That’s pretty impressive! In 2007, 50% of the ecstasy produced in Canada was exported, primarily to the United States, Australia, and Japan. In 2007, Canada was identified by Japan as the largest single source for seized ecstasy tablets, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. But it’s not Canada’s fault, we are simply partaking in an already well-established global drug trade, the most profitable trade in the world following oil and arms.
This of course is a result of our governments having undertaken prohibition against illicit drugs, just as the United States had done with alcohol, which history shows, didn’t work very well. Alcohol prohibition gave an incredible boost to the Mafia and organized crime in the United States and elsewhere, and of course, included in its silky spider web were corrupt cops, politicians, and financiers. When something is “illegal” it becomes far more expensive, and thus, far more profitable. So our governments have decided to continue their policies of prohibition for illicit drugs: to keep profits up, to support organized crime, to participate in organized crime, to keep the money flowing, keep the prisons full, and to declare a mythical “war on drugs” which accomplishes nothing but further militarization designed to wipe out the competition. So Latin American countries must suffer under our increased military and repressive presence. A few months prior to the NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had eradicated the opium trade in one year, wiping out the world’s largest opium crop. Following the invasion in October of 2001, and the installation of a puppet president Hamid Karzai in December of 2001, the new Afghan government began colluding with drug lords and opium production began to accelerate. In fact, the drug trade in Afghanistan reaches record highs nearly every year since the invasion. Between 2011 and 2012, opium production in Afghanistan increased by another 61%. In 2009, the New York Times reported that one of Afghanistan’s most powerful drug lords was the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and that he also happened to be working for the CIA at the same time. The CIA has a sordid history with the drug trade, from Indochina in the 1960s, to Afghanistan and the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. More recently, in 2007 there was an under-reported incident in which a CIA plane which had been used for rendition flights (i.e., kidnapping and torture) had crashed in Mexico with 3.3. tones of cocaine on board, carrying Colombian cocaine for the major Mexican drug cartel, the Sinaloa cartel.
Since 2006, the government of Mexico has been waging a massive “drug war” against several of the large drug cartels in the country. This war has been financially and materially supported by the U.S., which has been providing arms, equipment, and intelligence assistance to the Mexican army. The war has been incredibly violent, and widely under-reported in our media north of Mexico. From 2006 to 2011, there were between 45-60,000 deaths related to the drug war. In 2009, the Mexican drug lord – Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera – who heads the largest drug cartel, the Sinaloa cartel, made Forbes’ billionaires list. Journalists in Mexico who cover the war repeatedly get tortured and murdered. Within a six-month period in 2010, more than 11,000 migrants were abducted by drug cartels, either to extort money or to be used as forced labour. An investigative report by NPR in 2010 revealed a deeper and darker side of the story: the war is “rigged.” As the United States gives billions of dollars to Mexico in military and judicial aid, the Mexican government works to support the Sinaloa cartel by destroying the competition. Testimony of top Sinaloa cartel traffickers in court revealed further links between the cartel and the Mexican army. Whether through bribes or other means, including the major participants themselves passing from high-ranking police and military positions directly into the cartels, the relationship between the Mexican government and the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel, runs deep. The drug trade through Mexico, which is heavily implicated in bringing cocaine from Colombia to the United States, produces profits of tens of billions every year. Even a top Mexican army general and a former deputy minister of defense have now been implicated in ties to drug cartels, something which is not new in Mexico.
A small scandal emerged for the United States government in 2011 when it was revealed that a U.S. operation “allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers.” Codenamed Operation Fast and Furious, it was run by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which admitted “that 1,765 guns were sold to suspected smugglers during a 15-month period of the investigation.” A gun dealer in Arizona reported that he was concerned that his guns were being sold to drug cartels, fuelling the violence that has now killed over 55,000 people, and when he expressed these fears, he “was encouraged by federal agents to continue the sales.” Internal emails released from the ATF revealed that the bureau’s top officials were regularly briefed on the gun-running operation. It was later revealed that many Mexican drug cartel figures who were being targeted by the ATF also happened to be “informants” for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who kept the ATF “in the dark” about their relationship with the cartels. At least six Mexican drug cartel figures were also on the payroll of the FBI. Some ATF agents have blown the whistle on the operation, stating that it went back as far as 2008, and that they were “ordered to let U.S. guns go to Mexico.” Memos from 2010 revealed that several top U.S. officials in the Department of Justice, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr, regularly received updates about the operation. Three National Security officials in the White House also received updates. One of Mexico’s top drug traffickers, the right-hand man of the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, claimed in court testimony that he “was working all along as a confidential informant for U.S. agents,” specifically for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). U.S. weapons smuggling to Mexico is no small operation, as roughly 70% of the weapons seized in Mexico came from the United States.
In Congressional testimony, an ATF agent reported that the ATF was working on Operation Fast and Furious in cooperation with the DEA and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). To add to that, an insider at the CIA revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency (aka: the Cocaine Import Agency), “had a strong hand in creating, orchestrating and exploiting Operation Fast and Furious.” Over fears that the Zetas cartel could totally usurp control of the Mexican government, the CIA reportedly intervened in support of the Sinaloa cartel, with its close ties to the Mexican military. In a report with the Washington Times, it was revealed that the CIA would allow the Sinaloa cartel to smuggle cocaine into the United States on a 747 cargo plane, and in turn, the CIA approached the ATF to create Operation Fast and Furious, ensuring that the trade “wasn’t one-way,” so that arms were funneled into Mexico from the U.S. as drugs were funneled into the U.S. from Mexico, all with CIA support. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, undercover DEA agents were laundering millions of dollars in drug money for the Mexican cartels in the United States.
Within Mexico, the drug money spreads all across the economy, into skyscrapers, casinos, beach resorts, restaurants, the construction industry, and of course, political campaigns. But the 55,000 deaths in Mexico in the past six years have been good for the United States, particularly for gun sales and big banks. In fact, internal investigations revealed that Wachovia Bank, now a part of Wells Fargo, one of the largest banks in the United States, laundered billions of dollars in drug money for Mexican cartels, even as they were receiving bailout money from the United States government. It was not only Wachovia, but also Bank of America that has been implicated in laundering Mexican drug money, worth up to $378.4 billion. Other banks have been implicated as well, in both the United States and Europe. The UN revealed in 2009 that drug money actually saved the major banks, as roughly $352 billion in drug money was absorbed into the financial system during the worst of the economic crisis in 2008.
So what do we make of all this?
We are told that this is called “democracy” and a “strong economy.” We are told that this is the “best system in the world,” which benefits everyone… just not you.
I prefer to use another word to describe it: Mafiocracy.
Now, I did not come up with this word, but it applies, and I can think of no better word to describe the relationship between big business, big banks, government and organized crime. So we are faced with a Mafiocracy, whether in Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, the United States, or even in Québec. With collusion so deep and embedded between organized crime, state agencies, politicians, and financiers, it’s almost problematic to refer to organized crime as somehow separate, since it isn’t. So let’s call it what it is: a Mafiocracy. A local Mafiocracy, such as the one which exists in Québec between the local Mafia, the local government, and the local economic elite, is inter-related with the global Mafiocracy, atop of which sit the Kings of Capital and the High Priests of Globalization. We are in the age of Globalization, and the Mafiocracy has been significantly globalized and energized. As the Mafiocracy gets stronger, democracy gets weaker, until it is altogether gone and dead, without even a memory remaining.
The first time I heard the term “Mafiocracy” was in an incredible documentary about Argentina, entitled, “Social Genocide,” covering the country’s recent history of military dictatorships supported by the U.S., followed by the age of neoliberalism with liberal democratic governments more corrupt than the dictatorships that preceded them, with an elite so extravagant it would be almost comically-absurd if it wasn’t so disturbing. The film documents the relationship between democratically-elected leaders, narco-trafficking, organized crime, international terrorism, Western banking institutions, the IMF and World Bank, corruption feeding off of the national debt, the privatization of public wealth, and all the while demanding the population pay for the Mafiocracy through austerity and “structural adjustment,” what is translated in real terms into “Social Genocide.” When the people stood up in December of 2001, Argentina’s president declared a state of siege, which was responded to by the population who took their pots and pans out into the streets across the country and to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, and they banged their pots and pans in the midst of police confrontations that killed 26 people, eventually forcing the president to flee from the city by helicopter. The Mafiocracy demanded the people suffer for its own excesses, for its wealth and power, and imposed a rigid, organized, structured and systematic program of “Social Genocide”: what economists, politicians and pundits refer to as “fiscal austerity” and “structural adjustment.” The people took their pots and pans into the streets and said ‘No More!”
For more than 100 days, hundreds and thousands of students in Québec have been on strike against a plan to increase tuition by roughly 75%. The Mafiocracy government, after two months of refusing to speak to the students and instead used state violence and repression against them, finally agreed to sit down and talk in April. They then cancelled the negotiations and threw out a new “proposal” which would actually increase the tuition hike. Obviously, this insulting gesture was rejected. Then there were other negotiations in early May, while the riot police were outside nearly killing a few students by shooting them in the face and head with rubber bullets, the government pressured the student leaders to sign a sham of an agreement, with extra pressure coming from the major union leaders, who only exist today because of their willingness to engage and collude with the Mafiocracy – particularly the government and big business – and so they told the students it was the best deal they would get. The deal did not include a decrease in the tuition increases. This entire process has taken place in the midst of a national media campaign against the student movement, which increased and evolved into a social movement, an anti-austerity movement, and at times, even a small rebellion against the Mafiocracy. The media framed the striking students as “spoiled brats” who were “whining and crying” about a loss of “entitlements.” The latest negotiations broke down last week. Why? Because after four days of negotiations, the only “compromise” the government engaged in, was to agree to reduce the overall tuition increases by $1. Yes, you read correctly: ONE DOLLAR.
This is what it means to negotiate with a Mafiocracy.
But the students continue to march, continue to inspire, and the movement – the Maple Spring – continues to expand beyond the students, far beyond the issue of tuition, and far beyond Québec. People walk through the streets, every day and every night, in defiance of a law passed by the Mafiocracy government which criminalized spontaneous protests. People step outside and bang their pots and pans, walk through the streets, through rain storms and sun shine, hot or cold. People are aware that they could again be pepper sprayed, tear gassed, smoke bombed, beaten with batons, trampled with horses, driven into with cars, shot with rubber bullets, or arrested en masse. But still, they go. And across Canada, and in fact, far beyond, people are taking their pots and pans and stepping out into their streets in solidarity.
Remember that description we once heard for the system of government we were supposed to be living under: “of, by, and for the people”? Is that the Mafiocracy? We were a generation reviled for our trivial technological obsessions, entertainment enslavement, and absolute apathy. So we defy those stereotypes and step out into the streets, day after day. We are no longer apathetic, and now we are called “spoiled” and “entitled.” But that’s okay; people – especially those in power, who speak through the media – always fear what they do not understand. Now the social gatherings of youth are not necessarily at bars and clubs, but in protests and casseroles (marching with pots and pans). Regardless of the outcome, we have come to realize that we are a powerful force when united, that we have to physically, intellectually, and emotionally put ourselves on the line to struggle for what is right. We realized that when our options are to either suffer or struggle, the choice is easy. We have a long way ahead of us, we struggle, we persevere, we protest, we push, we persist, we have not yet prevailed, but we are linking up with people – especially youth – across Canada and around the world. We are using the technology which in one sense had enslaved us to obscurity and apathy, and are now using it to mobilize and organize more than ever before.
We have taken the first steps which are required in a global struggle of people against a global Mafiocracy. We follow in the footsteps of those who have walked before us, whether they are in Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, Spain, Iceland, or Chile. They cannot fight our fight for us, but we can all fight together. Our struggle is global, though we may experience it in the local. With every step forward, we realize the global implications of what we are starting to do, and the world is starting to watch. The people are waking up, walking out, and trying to reshape society so that it does not simply benefit the few at the expense of the many.
This is called Democracy.
For more information on the ‘Maple Spring’, see:
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.
Québec Students Spark the ‘Maple Spring’
The following is a collection of my interviews and articles on the Québec student movement and the emergence of the ‘Maple Spring’
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.
Please donate to help support my independent research and writing, which is entirely dependent upon donations from readers and supporters. Thank you!
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.
From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring: Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring
Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally Published at: The Media Co-op
On the night of May 16, thousands of Montréal students and supporters took to the streets for the 23rd consecutive night of protests, this time spurred on by the Government of Québec’s announcement that it would legislate an end to the 14-week student strike which has gripped Quebec for the past three months. The government’s proposed bill would “impose strict conditions on students wanting to demonstrate against the planned tuition fee hikes,” which could “include stiff fines against anyone attempting to block entrances to the colleges and universities.” Québec Premier Jean Charest announced that the current school session will be postponed by the government, “We are suspending the session. We are not cancelling it … This will allow us to finish the session in August and September.” Students warned that they would challenge the law in court “if the legislation limits their right to demonstrate and to block classes if the majority of members of a school or student association votes to do so.”
Gabriel nadeau-Dubois, the 21-year old spokesperson for the largest student association, CLASSE, representing over half of the 160,000 striking students, stated that, “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 on its youth, ridicule its youth rather than listen to them.” As thousands poured into the streets of Montréal to oppose the government’s plan, they were again met with riot police, and as violence broke out after what was a peaceful protest was declared “illegal” by the police, 122 protesters were arrested. Only a few of the 122 arrested protesters are being charged with assaulting officers, while the rest are being charged with taking part in an “illegal protest.” Riot police charged the crowd and broke the protest up into smaller units, which police then cornered and followed, using pepper spray and flash bang grenades, as well as beating students with batons.
Earlier on the same day of May 16, nearly 9,000 km away from Montréal, roughly 100,000 students and supporters took to the streets in Santiago, Chile, in the second major demonstration of the new year, bringing a resurgence to the student movement that began one year ago, in May of 2011, the students were mobilized by the Student Confederation of Chile (CONFECH), a confederation of all the student unions from public universities (as well as some private ones), and the oldest individual union, the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECH). These usions collectively rallied the students against the most expensive educational system among the OECD nations, a largely privatized system of education brought in by Chile’s former military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in 1973 with CIA support. Gabriel Boric, the 26-year old student leader of the FECH and spokesperson for CONFECH declared, “We are more than 100,000 people. We are giving again a clear sign to the government that the student movement, after a year, stands up on its feet and will not rest. We are still in the fight.” Boric added, “We will keep on being rebels, because the student movement is not going to settle for a few excesses having been corrected. We want to fix all of them.” The Chilean government has submitted three different proposals to the students in the past year, all of which did not satisfy the student movement as they were mere concessions which did not address the main issue of an unfair social, political, and economic system, demanding a free, quality public education system for all Chileans. Boric stated, “This government has been unable to respond to the students’ basic requests.”
The protests of May 16, 2012 turned violent with clashes between students and riot police, leading to the arrest of 70 students in Santiago. This was the second major student demonstration of this year, following roughly 40 demonstrations across the country in 2011. The riot police responded to the student protest with tear gas and water cannons. On March 15, Santiago was host to the first major student demonstration of the year in which several thousand students took to the streets, and clashes erupted with riot police, leading to 50 arrests. Incidentally, on March 15 in Montréal, students and others took part in a protest against police brutality which ended in violence and the arrest of over 200 protesters.
The Chilean government has consistently attempted to both repress – through state violence – and undermine – through minor legislative concessions – the student movement which has identified the necessity of change in the social, political, and economic system itself. Despite a year of protests, the former student leader of FECH, 24-year old Camilla Vallejo, who led the student movement until she was replaced by Boric in student elections in November of 2011, commented on the student movement: “In concrete terms, you could say we have accomplished little or nothing… But in broad strokes, the student movement has made a break in Chilean society. There’s a before and after 2011, and we’re talking about issues that were taboo in Chile for the first time.”
On May 14, Québec’s Education Minister Line Beauchamp resigned, stating, “I am resigning because I no longer believe I’m part of the solution.” This followed revelations that Line Beauchamp attended a Liberal Party fundraiser at which she accepted donations from a known Montréal mafioso. Québec has been embroiled for years in a controversy over the corrupt construction industry, which is heavily controlled by the Mafia and gets massively over-valued public contracts from city and provincial governments. Beauchamp has not been the only such casuality in Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet. Back in September of 2011, Jean Charest’s Deputy Premier, Nathalie Normandeau, who was also Québec’s Natural Resources Minister, resigned amid controversy. She too, has been implicated in corruption scandals related to the Mafia.
Roughly a month after the student protests began in Chile, the Education Minister Joaquin Lavin resigned in July of 2011. He was replaced with Felipe Bulnes, who in turn resigned in December of 2011, in the midst of the persistent student movement. Bulnes had attempted to calm student protests by granting increased access to credit and “improved supervision of universities.” Bulnes was then replaced with Harald Beyer. Just as Bulnes resigned, following revelations that he had strong ties to a private university in Santiago (and thus, a personal interest in defending the privatized education system), the Agriculture Minister Jose Antonio Galilea also resigned. In late March of 2012, Chile’s Energy Minister Rodrigo Alvarez resigned following two months of protests in the southern region of Aysen over increased fuel prices.
As Quebec’s Natural Resources Minister (until her resignation in September 2011), Nathalie Normandeau was responsible for introducing ‘Plan Nord’ (Northern Plan), an $80 billion economic development program to exploit the resources of northern Québec through public and private investments. The Plan includes invesments in mining, forestry, transportation, and gas, and is drawing interest from multinational corporations around the world. Plan Nord was announced by Normandeau and Premier Jean Charest in May of 2011, at which Charest stated, “On the political level, this is one of the best moments of my life.” He added, “This is one of the reasons I got involved in politics.” Tha Plan envisions 11 new mining projects in the next few years, with billions being spent by the government on developing infrastructure and roads for transportation. The mining industry applauded Charest, but incited concern from environmental groups and First Nations representatives. In April of 2012, a group of First Nations Innu women walked from the North to Montreal to protest against Plan Nord, arriving in the city for the meeting to promote Plan Nord on April 20-21. On April 20, First Nations women gathered to protest the meeting, and were joined by student protesters outside the Palais des congrès in downtown Montreal. The protesters were met with riot police, sound grenades, tear gas, and batons, and roughly 90 protesters were arrested.
Back in May of 2011, just as the Québec government was announcing its plans for Plan Nord, the Chilean government announced the approval of the HidroAysen project, to be Chile’s largest power generator, drawing protests from hundreds of people. The project “involves five dams and a 1,900 kilometer (1,180 mile) transmission line to feed the central grid that supplies Santiago and surrounding cities as well as copper mines owned by Codelco and Anglo American Plc.” The project provoked increased anger from residents of the region, as well as conservationists and other activists. Opponents of the project filed legal injunctions and an appeals court suspended the HidroAysen project in June of 2011. It was at this time that the student movement in Chile began to emerge rapidly. In October, a local appeals court rejected the seven lawsuits aginst the project and gave the green light to resume work. In December, a legal appeal against the project was taken to Chile’s Supreme Court. In April of 2012, the Supreme Court rejected the seven appeals against the project. This sparked major protests over the court’s decision, met with riot police repression. The increased demand for energy comes from the rapidly growing Chilean mining industry, of which Canadian mining companies are the largest foreign investment source.
Protests erupted in the southern Chilean region of Aysen in February of 2012, where the cost of living is significantly higher than in the north (due to the remoteness of the Patagonian region) and thus, the costs of fuel, food, health care and education were greater than elsewhere. Protesters fought almost nightly battles with riot police, even setting up barricades and throwing rocks at police, who used water cannons and tear gas on the protesters. One protester even lost an eye during the confrontations, reportedly by being shot by the police. Supporters took to the streets in Santiago in solidairty with those struggling in Aysen, also clashing with police. In March, the protesters lifted roadblocks to hold negotiations with the government and the more than thirty social organizations participating in the protests. It was after the negotiations that Energy Minister Alvarez resigned, stating that he was excluded from the talks. In late March, the government announced plans to create better conditions in the Aysen region.
In April of 2012, Chile was experiencing protests against a thermoelectric plant and mining, largely participated in by Chileans of indigenous descent, and students took back to the streets in Santiago in the tens of thousands. Across Quebec, students escalated protests throughout the month of April, and united indigenous, environmental and student activists in protest against Plan Nord. On April 25, tens of thousands of Chilean students took to the streets in Santiago, protesting the government’s education “reform” proposal, which was grossly inadequate. On the very same day, April 25, roughly 5,000 student protesters in Montreal demonstrated against the government’s cancellation of negotiations with the student leaders. Earlier in that same month, Chilean President Pinera and Canadian Prime Minister Harper met in Chile to expand the free trade agreement between the two countries. The student movements were not up for discussion.
In Chile, the student movement and its wider social development with environmental, labour, and other activist groups has been referred to as the “Chilean Winter.” In Quebec, the student movement, with its wider social development with labour, environmental, and other activist organizations, has been referred to as the ‘Maple Spring.” Both movements, while maintaining their own specifics, are ultimately mobilized around a struggle against neoliberalism, against austerity, and against a social, political, and economic system which has ruled the world for the few and at the expense of the many.
For both of these movements to move forward, it is important to not only promote informal acts and statements of solidarity between the two movements, but to begin establishing direct and indirect ties between the movements: establishing connections between the student associations, coordinating days of major protest actions, protesting mining companies that exploit both the North of Quebec and the South of Chile, creating student-run news outlets which share information between each other, undertake student-activist exchanges between the two countries; but first and foremost, it is important to educate the students in Quebec about what is taking place in Chile, and the students in Chile about what is taking place in Quebec. That is the basis for all other forms of cooperation.
So from the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring
Solidarity, solidarité, solidaridad!