Thousands of people marched through the streets of Montreal with renewed urgency on Thursday night following the breakdown of negotiations between the Quebec government and student leaders over the province's 3½-month-old student crisis.
Three separate main groups of demonstrators snaked through the city's streets before joining up downtown. Once unified, the march had an estimated 10,000 people at its peak.
As has been the norm since the city and province passed emergency legislation on May 18 to cope with widespread protests over the student situation, Montreal police declared the marches illegal for having failed to file an itinerary eight hours ahead of time. But such announcements have become largely pro forma, and the rallies went ahead along René Lévesque Boulevard, Ste. Catherine Street, Sherbrooke Street, St. Denis Street, de Maisonneuve Boulevard and other arterial roads.
The 38th consecutive nightly protest was largely peaceful, although two people were arrested. At a march in Quebec City, police said they moved in to arrest several people for throwing projectiles at officers.
Frederic Pépin, who supported the controversial tuition-fee hikes at the centre of the crisis, said he joined the Montreal "casserole" protest because he thinks the government made a terrible decision by not working harder to strike a deal with the student groups.
"Personally, I'm very angry because I believe the government closed the door on discussions," said Pépin, an industrial engineer. "It's the government's place to do something about it and that's why I'm here tonight."
Pépin said Charest should call an election to let the voters decide on the tuition increases.
In addition to Montreal and Quebec City, there were protests Thursday night in other Quebec communities, including a modest demonstration in Rimouski and one in Gatineau.
The protests over the past 3½ months began as a revolt against the province's plans to hike university tuition by 75 per cent over the next five to seven years, but have ballooned into a wider social movement encompassing labour, environmental and social justice groups.
The passage of Bill 78, Quebec's emergency legislation to try to tamp down the demonstrations, has spurred the movement even more, bringing in tens of thousands of people to rallies. In recent weeks, many of those people have clanged pots and pans, or "casseroles," drawing on a South American protest tradition called cacerolazo.