Are there limits to reasonable protest? Who should back down in the Quebec student protests?


On Cross Country Checkup: student protests

The Quebec government is taking emergency measures after the protests are becoming increasingly confrontational. Some say the measures go too far.  What do you think?

Are there limits to reasonable protest?

Who should back down in the Quebec student protest?

With host Rex Murphy.

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Quebec students were in the streets again despite a new tough law aimed at limiting their protests. It has been roughly three months since students from several Quebec universities and colleges have been protesting the province's plan to raise tuition gradually over a time span of seven years. Even at the end of that seven-year period, tuition in the province would still be the lowest in the country ....but the students say that's the way it should be because Quebec has always had a special agreement to keep rates very low.

Three main student organizations called for a boycott of classes ...they termed it a strike ...and in some places they put up picket lines to block other students from entering. The level of support among all students for the strike has been estimated at about one-third, many tried to continue with their studies. The organizers mounted street protests with tens of thousands of students and supporters ...and they have been doing it regularly for the last three months. Some of those protests have turned violent with smashing of windows, rock throwing and pitched battles with the police. Just last week, several masked students stormed one university to disprupt the classes of the students who refuse to take part in the boycott.

Both the provincial government and the Montreal municipal government said enough was enough. On Friday Montreal passed a law banning masks during public protests. And yesterday the Charest government enacted a new law limiting the students' right to protest and setting new fines and penalities for non-compliance. The students and their supporters are calling the law an abrogation of their rights. They say the government should negotiate, not clamp down on their protests. Negotiations so far have only produced one agreement which was quickly voted down by the students. The Charest government has refused to budge on the tuition rates. The students say they want the tuition raise cancelled and they say the new laws will only fuel anger that could spill over into more violence.We saw that just last night in Montreal.

So, what happens next. What do you think?

Are there limits to protest? Have the students made their point ...or should they continue until they get what they want? Is it fair game that a small committed group hold up a larger group? Should both government and students negotiate a compromise? What if both refuse to compromise? Which group has greater democratic legitmacy?

Our topic today: "Are there limits to reasonable protest? Who should back down in the Quebec student standoff?"

I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Davide Mastracci
    Second-year student in political science and history at McGill university.

  • Alexandre Meterissian
    Chief Executive Officer Prince Arthur Herald and recently graduted student at McGill

  • Joel Westheimer
    University Research Chair in the Sociology of Education, Professor of Education at the University of Ottawa.

  • Barbara Kay
    Montreal-based columnist for the National Post newspaper. Just published:"Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter's Memoir of Honour, Shame and Love" by Aruna Papp with Barbara Kay.

  • André Pratte

  • Chief Editorial writer, La Presse and author of a biography of Wilfred Laurier in Penguin's Extraordinary Canadians series.


Montreal Gazette

National Post

Globe and Mail

Toronto Star

Maclean's magazine

Vancouver Sun



There are no limits to any kind of protests.

If the Arab spring is any indication, people including the Montreal protesters will keep on protesting, defying any law that prohibits them. Same goes for that unnecessary anti-masked protestor law those right-wingers in Ottawa want to pass.

Governments are suppose to listen to citizens. If governments don't listen, these protests will continue. I think it's time for Charest to just give into the students' demands before the situation gets worse.


Canadians that have good jobs such as people working in health care and education are wondering why anyone would protest in Canada. Other Canadians such as those who have lost jobs in forestry and fisheries, know that by saying nothing they lost everything. Student protest would mean change and it may help all the lower class.

J. Campbell,
Miramichi, Mew Brunswick.

For far too many years now Canadians and their Governments have failed to ask themselves the following question:
"Should one generation consume beyond its means and either expect or hope that the next generations will somehow pick up the tab?"  (Chris Martenson.)

G. Steele,
Vancouver, British Columbia.

I know it's not the same thing, but it has the same ring to it. And that's not the kind of Canada I want to live in. It may be naivety, but I like to think of Canada as being a calmer and more peaceful country than that.

It's hard to know who is overreacting, the government and police or the students. I live on the other side of the country and can only see the events through a media filter. There's a juicy spin either way- radical and violent fire-setting students or abusive authoritarian knee-jerk lawmakers.

But sitting here in Victoria, where the city is in a Victoria Day Weekend mood and atmosphere that's the exactly opposite of that in Montreal at the moment, I think that students have a point, the government has a point, and to quote Robert Fisk when asked about another even more tangled conflict 'some ask me if the Palestinians are the bad guys, some ask me if the Israelis are the bad guys, if the Americans are the bad guys, if the Muslims are, if the Christians are, and all I can say is 'believe me, they're ALL bastards.' "

Everyone's overreacting, everyone's a bit right and a bit wrong. And I'm glad I'm not Charest right now.  Or one of those students who just want to get to their classes and finish their year or degree.

Julia Claire,
Victoria, British Columbia.


For the record I will say that in 1980, my last full-term post secondary investment in myself was more than Quebec students will pay in 2015. 
I do believe however that there is more to this than a complaint about tuition increases and this has been shown in everything from from the occupy movement, last year's Vancouver riot and the G-20 demonstrations to the funerals of Maurice Richard and Pierre Trudeau.

There is an awful lot of pent-up emotion deeply embedded in the hearts of Canadians and we do not often deal with it until it seems possible to do it publicly. Those thousands saluting at the train stations between Ottawa and Montreal and those other thousands gathering at the eternal flame and the peace tower, standing line line for hours to pay respects to a man they may even had scorned years before were finally grieving for all of the sad events in their life. 

And anger and frustration at really never actually getting ahead in this world boils and festers internally until it finally has a spewing point like a G-20 or occupy rally or a student protest over some very meagre tuition increases. We need to grieve and we need find benign ways to vent our rage before we go torching mailboxes, smoke-bombing subways and spoiling tourist seasons.

By the way, that three grand I spent in 1980 was the best investment I ever made and I quickly paid back the bank in the field in which I had studied - music..
Thomas Brawn,
Ottawa, Ontario


The Government of Quebec should have known that this would happen! Whenever they have tried to raise tuition fees in the past (and this has occurred in France as well) students take to the streets and don't back down. Look at the backlash that took place with the internet privacy bill the federal government tried to pass. They backed that bill 110% until they saw exactly how outraged the people were. The Quebec Government should take that example and back down, at least temporarily, look over this bill and entertain possible alternatives.

I would like to stress the fact that the student protesters are not fighting for themselves. Even the first year students will only feel a slight inconvenience as the tuition begins to rise over seven years. They are fighting for our children. Those are the people who will be affected by this and the students are fighting for them.

Emily-Jean Gallant,
St. John's,newfoundland


In Mexico, a poor country, higher education is of quite good quality and is free. Ten years ago the government tried to impose small fees. There was a national student strike and the government backed down.

High tuition is not an economic necessity, as is easy to show, but a debt trap and good technique of indoctrination and control. And resisting this makes good sense.

Mary reid,
Fort Ware, British Columbia.


Clearly the students have a right to protest as they wish. However they must accept the consequences. If they commit crimes, they need to be arrested and prosecuted and of course they will forfeit their tuition for this term.

If the people of Quebec are willing to pay the taxes to support the demands, on their own with no financial support from transfer payments from the ROC, then they can go with that.

However, as long as much of the social programs are paid for by non-Quebec tax payers, they have no case or right to anything.

Gary Williams,
Edmonton, Alberta.


What is missing is a readiness by government to talk, to explain and to convince.  Not only to talk "unless." Therefore the stand-off has become non-verbal. One third of students is a large group. Students are being treated like 2-year-olds in tantrum mode.

But these are our young who will carry on our ideas. They are intelligent and are worth talking to.

Ursula Litzcke
Vancouver, British Columbia.


The protests in Quebec are a symptom of the utter frustration felt by many ordinary Canadians. The Federal Government, contrary to the wishes of most Canadians, are pushing through legislation which radically affects the environment and social programmes. Everything is being done to assist the foreign takeover of all our resources, just to enrich the few. I would much rather identify with the student protesters than certain duly (or unduly) elected members of Parliament who are dismantling Canada as we know it.

Margaret Ouwehand
Kitimat, British Columbia.


I fear greatly for this once proud land. That so many supposedly bright young minds could be led like bleating sheep to decry the very engine that has made their absurd dreamily low tuition come to an end and that their supposed governmental leaders over the past 10 years have made this calamity possibly by pandering to them.

What can you do except to giggle at the irrationality of it all. Even a dog knows not to bite the hand that feeds it.

Crandell Overton,
Comox,British Columbia.


Before people jump on Charest's or Harper's bandwagon they might consider the words of Benjamin Franklin who said it best: "They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Frank A. Pelaschuk
Alexandria, Ontario.


I've just completed my second year at Trent University, majoring in political studies. I don't condone the violence or intimidation toward other students that has been committed by some protesters, but I strongly disagree with the Charest government's move to remove the students' ability to strike by suspending their academic year. This sends a message that student voices are not valuable within our democratic society. Not only is it disempowering, it's belittling.

As a student in Ontario with friends who are struggling with student debt, to the point where they may have to take a gap year just to pay text book, tuition, and living costs for 3rd year, I believe the students have good reason to protest. The ideology supporting accessible education represents a viable and important argument.

Jennifer Lawrence,
Ottawa, Ontario.


I have a small business preparing personal tax forms and consider that I know the tax system fairly well. I am astonished that to the best of my knowledge, nobody - students, government or media have made the point that tuition fees are subject to tax credits on the tax forms - especially schedule 11 on the Federal form.

In Quebec, a student might claim up to $3680 in addition to the fees paid. The final amount is then multiplied by 15%. In Quebec, as much as $927 might be obtained this way. If the student cannot use it, no problem, unused amounts can be transferred to a supporting person or saved for future years. The Quebec form has a slightly different approach but similar amounts are involved. One can reasonably assume that with fee increases. tax credits will also increase so why all the fuss?

Graham Spence,
Montreal, Quebec

s a BC resident, but student at McGill, I've been witness to the student protests this year.

I have to say that the actions of the students are pretty appalling, especially given the rate of tuition that they currently pay. I can understand their reluctance to pay more, however in a time when economic concerns are paramount, education costs money. I believe that the students of Quebec feel entitled to the education that much of the rest of the country subsidizes, and that they don't see this is disappointing.

The part that angers me is that these students have interrupted class for people who are willing to work for their education and have little regard for the safety or well being of the rest of the city.  These students are quick to make their voices heard, but are even quicker to squelch dissenting opinions, such as the students they have labelled as scabs. 

Moreover, I doubt most of them have considered where the money for the city response is coming from. The province will need to step in soon to help the city of Montreal pay for the costs associated with policing this matter. Extra police presence, overtime and helicopter surveillance have all been required to manage this ridiculous issue. The people of Montreal are caught between the students and the province, neither of which has incentive to move.

If I could speak directly to the students, I would suggest that they stop complaining. Other students around the country have it worse than you, and you are simply increasing the cost that is deferred to other people. Even if the student movement is successful in freezing tuition, that money must come from somewhere.  You will be taxed. Your parents will be taxed, and the more damage you do to the city the worse it will be.  -What you're doing is not fair to the people who actually pay taxes to subsidize your education, an education you're sacrificing to strike. 

You cannot complain about the government's actions to silence your voice, when you endanger the safety of the very students you have claimed to stand for and the city that has to bear the weight of your folly.

Prove your protest is constructive, prove it is peaceful, then maybe people would be willing to listen. Currently, you sound and act like whining children, and I'm ashamed to be a part of the same institution as some of you.

Jared Sheridan,
Montreal, Quebec.


There are those who make much of people hiding their face to be anomynous when they exercise their democratic right to protest but when we vote we do so without anyone being able to know how we voted or if we voted.

The Greek problem is that the public is being asked to pay for the abuses of other people. I see violent times ahead.

Tom Hickie,
Fredericton, New Brunswick


I would like to toss a wriggling rat into the riotous litter box. The damage and policing costs incurred as a result of the students' hooliganism should be taken out of the budgets of the universities. Newton might have appreciated seeing his law of cause and effect being used as a tool to prevent future (civil) disharmony in our universe.
On another note, the Quebec student riots were a reminder of the following:
(1) those linked by social media can easily be mobilize;
(2) violence is difficult to stop once it starts; and
(3) duplicitous politicians are ineffective leaders.

Organized demonstrations can garner media attention and thereby gain public support if the activists have a reasonable cause, self disciple and articulate leadership. When vandalism is condoned by silence and inaction, the original issues get hijacked by those hell-bent on senseless violence The Quebec Liberals, who have lost their credibility because of perceived self-interest, ineptitude and dishonesty, lacked the moral authority to defuse the long drawn out crisis.

Lloyd Atkins,
Vernon, British Columbia.


I believe in these times, government has lost connection with the people they are supposed to represent. It seems like we are more viewed as adversaries Peter McKay can commandeer helicopters at any expense, government  business travel to the U.K. needs to be "plusher" than 5 star, cost of airplanes can be explained in the fine print and now free speech must be quelled by violence in the streets.

This idea that since student expenses are lower in Quebec than anywhere removes the justification for protest, is ludicrous. In other words here in BC, we'regetting ripped off, so its only fair everyone gets equally ripped off?

Our family experience with Post secondary ed was startling. You wanna apply, well, that will be $100's. Oh you want to put your name in for housing, additional money. None is refundable. Oh by the way, UBC is in "high class" West Point Grey and the housing has to be "fair market value". Exactly which market is that? The student housing I don't believe is open to non-students. That leaves students that are notoriously poor. Local upper class don't want to live in student housing and  we peasant class certainly can't afford to live in W.P. Grey. so who is the fancy pants that is willing to pay the high cost if we don't?

Well, higher education indeed. We've just been "educated" to the higher cost of going to school there.

Let the students protest and let the government sit down and calmly work out the details and throw some of that policing money at the tuition.
Orv Harder.
Langley, British Columbia.

Students are not permitted to wear masks, yet the police have at times refused to wear any i.d.'s on their helmets and even cover their badges so as to make identifying them later all the more difficult. Wearing a mask should not be seen as a de-facto indication that one is intent on committing a crime, but is perhaps an attempt to not assist the police in their building a dossier on each and everyone of us. The verve the police show in these matters is, frankly, quite chilling. Remember that the police are supposedly there to maintain order, not to dole out punishment on to those they might have idealogical differences with.

Aidan McCarthy,
Ottawa, Ontario.


Where do the student negotiators get the idea that they represent the Entire Quebec student body? Only about 12 schools out of 40 schools in the province are boycotted. The great majority of students do not support boycotting of classes. This protest is not Democracy in action. This is more-like  a hijacking of a plane by a handful of passengers, while most of the passengers want to continue the flight.

Instead of marching and breaking things and getting hurt, they should stay inside the schools 24/7. If genuine, it will gain support.

George Znoj,
Montreal, Quebec.


I ask that our leaders offer "a cooling down" period, freeze the tuition rates, sort out the underlying issues through some of kind of independent enquiry as Quebec has done to address other issues of potential social conflict on multi-cultural policy. After all, compromise is the cornerstone of our society. I believe more in principles of responsibility more than just rights, but we do have history of civil unrest and insurrection. I just hope calmer heads will prevail and an honest process of public engagement to prioritize our social/economic goals not just in Quebec but across the country.

Reg Whiten,
Moberly lake, British Columbia.


Remember that there are thousands of students studying at Quebec universities who come from outside of the province. These students already pay much higher tuition fees and are in effect subsidizing the university education of students who reside in the province. They are caught in the middle of this debate and it would be interesting to hear more about their predicament too.

K. McKenna,
Toronto, Ontario.

I think that until the legislatures all across the country are really representative of their populations through some sort of proportional representation, trust between those populations and their legislators and executives will continue to be, at times, on quite shaky grounds. FPTP was a good system 200 years ago, but with communications and transportation as advanced as it is today, for a majority government to be legitimate and trusted, the popular vote for that government  should also be a majority. 

Changes were made off and on during the 19th century in the UK to bring us to more-or-less where we are today, but other changes are needed now to keep democracy really up-to-date.

Ian Cheeseman
Victoria, British Columbia.


You should be aware that free education elsewhere does not come "free". There are always  conditions attached. It could be a year of compulsory unpaid military or social service or a selection process that greatly limits the number of students accepted as in France. It irks me to hear people extol the existence of free education elsewhere without providing the whole picture.

Christiane Dufour
Saint-Lambert, Quebec.


What will happen to higher education when all who aspire to such have $100,000 loans upon graduation? None, except the very wealthy will have education for the love of learning. That is certain.

Why is that wealthy people automatically think that austerity is the best answer to global financial problems? We live in a country ruled by a party with less than a40% share of the vote. Yet there are sweeping changes and cuts being made to every department including the CBC. How do we make ourselves heard to people that choose not to listen to any protest. The official opposition seems to have no sense and thequiet voices there are not heard. So what is reasonable protest?

Education is viewed as an investment in many of the G-20 nations and here and in the United States seems to be seen as an investment opportunity by loan companies and all the other companies involved in the education business or at best a taxpayer expense. How does a poor student reform something that has taken centuries to evolve to its present form?

Larry Jeffers,
Graysville, Manitoba.


 I love hearing people talk about their rights, but it appears that we have forgotten what they are in this country. The right to protest is a fundamental right and requirement for democracy. It is unlimited and doesn't come with a time table. The "right" to use a park or to "live your life" is completely imaginary. That is why freedom of assembly is detailed in the charter of rights and the right to use a park or live your life and not be bothered isn't. 

People need to take a step back and a deep breath. Your rights haven't been infringed because you had a hard time parking.
Matthew Edlund,
Edmonton, Alberta.


When you consider the enormous number of people who have been in the streets, hundreds of thousands in fact, there have been very few incidents of real violence. This needs to be underlined.

Terrance keller,
Quebec City.

I cannot condone any aggression or violence on the part of protesters. Violent protesters are an incredibly small minority. Unfortunately, we always see a focus on these more newsworthy moments of protest in the media, particularly outside of Quebec. Some groups and associations that participate in these protests have even developed tactics to help police locate and move quickly to apprehend any protester that engages in violent acts. It is obvious to me that the majority of protesters want to be peaceful and to be heard.

The so called negotiations that took place between the government and the student associations were very short-lived. The government made one offer, the students rejected it and came back with suggestions, then talks were shut down by the ministers. Negotiations require a lot of back and forth, a lot of dialogue. So, the situation is disappointing and the government demonstrated they were not open to dialogue with a significant number of its citizens.

The recently introduced emergency law, Law 78, is clearly an infringement on every Quebec resident/citizen's right to protest, not just that of students and those supporting the current movement. The municipal by-law regarding masks is also unjust. There may be many reasons why someone would not want to be easily identifiable- it is not only because they want to break things and not get caught.  

I am a worker, not a student.

Anne Martin,
Montreal, Quebec.


A little tip for parents regarding their children's university education. Instead of telling your child you will pay for their university education tell them you will pay for every course they pass. Everybody wins.

Peter Bruvels,
Smiths Falls, Ontario. 


When will someone have the intestinal fortitude to admit that this is anarchical opportunism? Masks belong to thugs. The other arguments and  opinions are mere yap.

Jim Walsh,
Sherwood park, Alberta.

Perhaps it has become inevitable that what at first began as an issue about money, should become a more widespread and deep-seated issue about the constitutionality of the Quebec government's passing of emergency laws to quell the protests. That the issues are not quite hermetic anymore is not surprising: in the parlance of the philosopher Alain Badiou's writings, the student movement has become an "event" upon which "multiplicities" rally and come around to, the "event" itself demanding consequences.

The mistake is not in pitting rights versus other rights (which would only result in antinomies in thought and thinking), but in the calculation of pitting State power against other powers that normally do not manifest themselves to question and oppose the legitimacy of that State power. Talk about "democracy" is mere smokescreen and we know this is true because power ignores its very quality. The challenge now is to embrace this Protean creature on the beachhead if only to try to demand what it is about and to show its face, which the government of Jean Charest and a backbencher in Stephen Harper's caucus are literally looking to legislate. The challenge on the other side is of course to maintain the qualities of being Protean. And so it will go on yet.

Stephen Wong,
Toronto, Ontario.

It is my understanding that, upon the successful conclusion of the "protest" we now call the American Revolution, some 2/3 of the population left, having neither participated in that revolution, nor having supported it.

And so it is the nature of protests and revolution, that in most cases, the majority of the populations seldom lend themselves to the actions of the protesters.

Richard Weatherill,
Victoria, British Columbia.


In March of 2010, Quebec became the first province to table legislation banning the wearing of face coverings when obtaining government services, although the numbers were small and the problems largely theoretical. The move was reported as a "vote-grabbing" move due to its popularity.

So it appears highly hypocritical for callers from Quebec to complain now about a law preventing violent protesters from covering their faces. 

Andrew Ratushniak
Regina, Saskatchewan.


The Charest government handled this issue very badly he could have avoided all the loss of business by simply putting off his decision for a year after the first week of protests. Charest has been at it too long and should step down. why can't there be a province where the cost of higher education is less, giving the poor a chance at higher education?

Jay Summers,
Vancouver, British Columbia.


I just would like to mention that Quebec students are paying lower fees than other students. I do not think that it has been mentioned that Quebec has provincial taxes of 150% of the federal taxes. It seems to me that Charest has not proposed to lower the taxes in exchange for higher tuition fees.

Yvette Schenkel,
Destiny Bay, British Columbia.

As a former student in BC struggling with results of my student loans, I am thankful that the students in Quebec are able to finally to bring attention to a very real problem to Canada's young people.

To me, the stunning part isnt that Quebec students are causing havoc because of tuition fee hikes, but that this hasn't happened elsewhere before. Yet to be frank, I think it has taken the collapse of the world economy to highlight just how bleak the future is looking for Canadian youth. The fact is that the middle class is under assault, unemployment is high, and student debt is rising in a increasingly uncertain future. On top of this our conservative-minded governments are hell-bent on cutting our social safety nets as they expect us to pay for debts incurred by past generations. 

In spite of this reality, the message young Canada gets is to 'suck it up', as our needs are ignored.

Is it any wonder that things are getting of hand?

Aron Strumecki
Powell River, British Columbia.


Put the blame where it belongs - on the government. As for the students, no masks - this is Canada, grow up, stand behind your beliefs. Also, settle down on the violence and intimidation.  As well, let your classmates go to class. Finally, keep protesting. Teach the rest of Canada to stand up and tell the government and the other parties that we run the country, not them.

Deborah Bogaerts
Kingston, Ontario


I am appalled by the attitude of my contemporaries, I am almost 68 years old and an anglophone. We received a good education, largely at the expense of the state. I have had 3 good, secure jobs in my life time, (and several minor ones) and have retired with a very decent pension.

This is something that my children and the current crop of students will probably never enjoy with the current economic climate. We collectively have disfranchised our youth, we who invented the student protest, are upset that these students are protesting the lack of democracy.

The problem here is not the protest, it is the failure of the government to negotiate, to listen to the real problems of real people. It is true that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, we must have the will and the power to fight back. Apathy is not an option. Provincial Bill 78 and the Federal Bill C38 have all the hallmarks of corruption, (or at the very least trying, and as far as I can see, hoodwink the electorate).

Administrative waste and embezzlement in our governments and institutions is rampant and for this reason alone the Students have a point and not negotiating with them was and is the crime.

Alwin Cawston
Boucherville, Quebec.


When you and all our political leaders were attending university, the fees were far lower and some say incomes today are no higher re purchasing power than in the '70's. 

As well it is only a few years ago that good paying summer jobs were available for students and Ontario at least, used to hire a few thousand students every summer in each Ministry at a good wage. None of this exists anymore for today's students.

If a poor country like Mexico can provide free university to their students Canada is capable of doing far more for today's students. Most European countries and Latin American countries provide free University to their students. Canada should do the same providded a student has the right academic standing. Something is very wrong

Steephanie McDowall
Nanaimo, British Columbia.




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