Maple Spring commission begins today

Quebec's commission looking into the Maple Spring student demonstrations of 2012 began this morning.

Former student leader Martine Desjardins appeared as first witness

Police move in to clear out students in a protest against tuition fee hikes Tuesday, February 26, 2013 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's commission looking into last year's student demonstrations began Monday morning and mainly focused on police actions during the nearly 700 protests that collectively came to be known as the Maple Spring.

The commission was formed to better understand what led to the protests and to assess how the events impacted the public.

The minister of public security, Stéphane Bergeron, announced the creation of the Ménard commission in May.

Commission chairman and former public security minister Serge Ménard's mandate will be to determine how the province escalated from peaceful demonstrations against proposed tuition fee hikes into violent and bloody demonstrations.

A number of protesters at one particularly violent demonstration in Victoriaville, Que. were injured after clashing with police.

Ménard will be assisted by the former president of the CSN trade union, Claudette Carbonneau, and retired judge Bernard Grenier.

Mandate criticized

Since the commission's creation, many groups criticized its mandate and threatened to boycott it.

The Quebec Liberal Party has also criticized the commission saying it's just going to be an opportunity to heap blame on them.

The Official Opposition critic for public security, Robert Poëti, called the commission a "waste of money."

He also questioned the neutrality of Claudette Carbonneau, saying that the CSN offered logistical support to the student movement in 2012.

The Montreal Police Brotherhood and one of the main student coalitions, ASSE, have refused to appear before the commission.

The police officers union is refusing to cooperate, saying the commission lacks transparency.

The student group said that in its current form, the commission was not credible and Ménard's mandate is not broad enough.

Speaking to Radio-Canada on Aug. 30, Ménard said the commission had the cooperation of the majority of those involved in the student protest and that it would have all the evidence necessary to fulfill its mandate.

Commission hears from first witnesses

The former president of student group FEUQ, Martine Desjardins, was the commission's first witness. 

"Everything happened because they didn't want to sit at the table in negotiation with us. They didn't want to discuss with us," Desjardins told the commission.

Desjardins played an important role in negotiations with Jean Charest’s Liberal government during the strike, on behalf of 13 associations representing 125,000 students.

Sylvie Joly also testified at the commission, recounting the events that led to her being tear-gassed and injured.

She told the commission she got caught up in a particularly violent demonstration in front of Montreal's Palais des Congrès in April 2012. She said she was leaving the protest when she was stopped by police.

"And then I was tear-gassed by police for no reason," Joly said, adding that she fell and broke a vertebrae in the chaos that ensued that day.

Testimony is expected to be ongoing until late December, when commission head Ménard has to submit his draft recommendations to the public security minister.


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