This chilling account of the current goings-on in Quebec was circulated, inter alia, via the IJV-M list. For those old enough to remember – it’s reminiscent of the War Measures Act of 1970 (see film, Les Ordres).
Posted with permission of the author.
Date: Mon, May 28, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Subject: From Quebec, with love!
Family, friends, allies on the west coast and elsewhere;
I’m writing you almost a week after close to half a million people gathered in Montreal to mark the 100th day of the student strike, and to express their anger and rage at the passing of the Loi 78 in Quebec. Many of you have asked me for information about what is going on; it is also a time of need for students and their allies. My apologies for the length– there’s a lot to say, and this barely begins to cover it.
There so much to tell about what’s been going on that I’m not sure where to start. First off, though the rest of Canada only seems to really be noticing now, students have been on strike for months. There have been hundreds of demonstrations– easily one every day for the entire period of the strike, and often more. Since March, there have also been dozens and dozens of economic disruptions (blocking of bridges, of the world trade center, of major banks, occupations of government offices, shutting down of the metro system, and so on). For three months running, there have been massive marches– the first at about 200,000 people, the second at 300,000, and this latest estimated to be around 450,000-500,000 people. This past week, neighbourhoods starting showing their solidarity with students and against Loi 78 by holding their own ‘pots and pans’, or ‘casserole’, demonstrations– for an hour every night, entire neighbourhoods march, or sit on their stoops, banging pots and pans. In my neighbourhood (a fairly small one), there have been marches of around 3,000 people every night since Tuesday ().
This resistance to the tuition hike and to 78 have been met with intense repression and police violence. I have dozens of stories of my own, and of my friends, but for the sake of brevity I’ll defer to the words of a friend who works with the Legal Committee of the largest student association in the province, CLASSE. He writes:
“As of May 18th, 2012 our committee has documented and is supporting 472 criminal accusations as well as 1047 ticket and penal offenses. One week in April saw over 600 arrests in three days. And those numbers only reflect those charged with an offense, without mentioning the thousands pepper sprayed and tear gassed, clubbed and beaten, detained and released. It does not mention Francis Grenier, who lost use of most of an eye when a sound grenade was illegally thrown by a police officer into his face in downtown Montreal. It does not mention Maxence Valade who lost a full eye and Alexandre Allard who clung to life in a coma on a hospital bed for days, both having received a police rubber bullet to the head in Victoriaville. And the thousands of others brutalized, terrorized, harassed and assaulted on our streets. Four students are currently being charged under provisions of the anti-terrorist laws enacted following September 11th.”
Since Max wrote this a week ago, another 900 arrests have been made, and several more people have entered into critical condition as a result of their treatment by the police. Much of this is the result of new laws (both provincially and in the city of Montreal) in place. The city bylaws make a number of actions associated with protest (wearing masks, for one) illegal, and the offences come with fines of about $630. The second, Loi 78, is being described as ‘draconian’ and ‘fascist’, is widely considered to be in violation of the Charter (particularly freedom of expression and assembly), is currently the target of the largest constitutional challenge in Quebec history, and has made for easy comparisons to the periods of grande noirceure in Quebec. Again, from Max:
“Among other draconian elements brought forward by this law, any gathering of 50 or more people must submit their plans to the police eight hours ahead of time and must agree to any changes to the gathering’s trajectory, starttime, etc. Any failure to comply with this stifling of freedom of assembly and association will be met with a fine of up to $5,000 for every participant, $35,000 for someone representing a ‘leadership’ position, or $125,000 if a union – labour or student – is deemed to be in charge. The participation of any university staff (either support staff or professors) in any student demonstration (even one that follows the police’s trajectory and instructions) is equally punishable by these fines. Promoting the violation of any of these prohibitions is considered, legally, equivalent to having violated them and is equally punishable by these crippling fines…. In addition to these criminal and penal cases, of particular concern for those of us involved in the labour movement is that anti-strike forces have filed injunctions systematically from campus to campus to prevent the enactment of strike mandates, duly and democratically voted in general assemblies. Those who have defended their strike mandates and enforced the strike are now facing Contempt of Court charges and their accompanying potential $50,000 fines and potential prison time. One of our spokespeople, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, will appear in Superior Court under such a charge for having dared say, on May 13th of this year, that “I find it legitimate” that students form picket lines to defend their strike.”
At the same time as thousands of students, including many of the people around me, are facing severe injuries, court charges, and massive tickets, the last few months have also been inspiring and wonderful and exciting and full of hope and bravery. I think part of why this has been able to occur in Quebec is because there is a long history of social solidarity that has been less affected by neoliberal policies and austerity measures than elsewhere in North America. At least in my neighbourhood, this sense of social solidarity and support is what people are talking about rebuilding and strengthening. In a community assembly yesterday afternoon, people spoke about creating systems for legal and psychosocial support for people being arrested, having regular community picnics and BBQs to support each other and as a space to talk about resisting the neoliberalization of the province, and discussed plans for working towards a general strike. The “pots and pans” demonstrations have also made more visible what has been true for a while: this struggle is about more than tuition hikes; it’s about more than free education; and it’s about more than students. In the last few weeks, we have seen a solidarity strike from public service employees, a huge upswell of resistance against 78 from hundreds of unions and community organizations, and the highly visible presence of non-students and workers as part of the movement. It looks more and more like people are actively working to move this beyond a student strike with fairly specific demands and towards a broader social struggle. On a more quotidian level, the ongoings in the province are the only thing anyone talks about, and the only thing anyone does; at this point, almost everyone I know spends almost all of their spare time supporting and participating in this movement.
There is so much more to say and know about what is going on, and a huge barrier to that happening outside of Quebec is the dismal english media coverage. English media, both inside and outside of the province, has been terrible (including the CBC, Al Jazeera, etc– absolutely terrible!). In the past few weeks, we have started to see some articles coming out in English with a much better analysis, so I’ve included some of them here. One of the first good ones was this article by a Montreal freelance journalist which gives a very basic overview of what is going on. More recently, the Montreal Media Co-op (generally a great source of information) posted this article (“10 Points Everyone Should Know about the Strike”), which is much more detailed and pretty great, though I think there’s still a lot more to add. This article out of New York offers a more chronological perspective, and adds details about the new law (Loi 78), which aims to criminalize the student protests specifically. Here is a more brief analysis of Loi 78. Lastly, for those of you who are ‘numbers’ people, this outlines the changes in Quebec tuition over the last forty years, in relation to other university fees and fluctuations in minimum wage. This article