The red squares have returned, but this time time the target isn't tuition fees.

Montreal students held a downtown protest on Monday to kick off nearly two weeks of planned strikes and demonstrations against what they describe as the province's heavy-handed austerity measures.

Organizers want the province to undo spending cuts and put a moratorium on all fossil fuel development.  

"We don't want this to be just a student movement," Charlotte Gilbert, a member of the UQÀM social science faculty student association, said recently.

"We are calling on this to be a social movement that brings together militants from local unions, students, and collectives and community groups from across Quebec."

They hope the latest wave of demonstrations will be even larger than the ones held during the so-called Maple Spring of 2012. 

On Monday, though, only a few hundred protesters gathered at Phillips Square.

Protester

A student wearing a red square, which became a symbol of the 2012 student movement, took part in a protest in downtown Montreal on Monday. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

The protest was declared illegal by police shortly after 12 p.m. ET because an itinerary wasn't provided, as required under a controversial municipal by-law.

Riot police surrounded some of the protesters.

Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière said there was a lot of tension and commotion so officers had to use tear gas.

"It was used to disperse the group of people that we had at the corner of St-Urbain and René-Lévesque...When [there is] confrontation, we use different tactics to avoid using physical force," Lafrenière said.

"We had a small group of people who were chasing police officers. They were going in the opposite direction of the traffic, and they were blocking the sixth lane on René-Lévesque. This is not the kind of protest that normally is OK for us."

Two people were arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer, while 24 received tickets for refusing to disperse. 

Concordia classes cancelled

So far, at least 25 student associations from Université de Montréal, UQAM, Laval University, Concordia University, CEGEP du Vieux-Montréal and ​Université du Québec à Chicoutimi​ are taking part in the student strike.

Many classes, including some at Concordia, were cancelled on Monday. A full list of those classes is available here

Christine Mota, a spokeswoman for the university, said it would use the free time to hold a day of discussion and debate. 

"It's basically a chance to have students and faculty to come together to discuss, really, what's on their mind," she told Daybreak. 

"It's also a chance to provide faculty with information about what to do with a strike."

Classes will resume and faculty will be expected to teach on Tuesday even if Concordia students decide to continue striking, Mota said.

"Students have a right to protest. We understand that. We respect that, but closing off classes or trying to block access is not acceptable," she said.

Associations representing another 100,000 students are scheduled to hold strike votes in the coming weeks.