Student protest commission assailed from all sides

Senior political analyst Bernard St-Laurent says the PQ's commission into last year's student protests is under attack from all quarters.

Inquiry into Maple Spring violence will hold hearings in private.

Police confront student demonstrators on February 23, 2012 in Montreal. (CBC)

The Parti Québécois government's special commission looking into last year's student protests is coming under attack from all sides.

Opposition politicians are questioning the PQ's motives.

Student leaders say the mandate is too broad, and the police will evade close scrutiny of their role in the student protests.

Police officers fear a witchhunt.

Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron says being attacked by people from opposite sides of the issue is a sign the government made the right decision by creating the commission and appointing Serge Ménard, Claudette Carbonneau and Bernard Grenier to sit on it.  

But the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec say the makeup of the commission is biased.

Ménard is a former PQ public security and justice minister. He also served as a Bloc MP in Ottawa and is clearly identified as a sovereigntist.

Claudette Carbonneau is a former head of the CSN trade union. The CSN, along with other big unions, helped finance the student protests last year. 

Retired Superior Court judge Bernard Grenier is the only member of the commission who hasn't been criticized.

Bergeron says the commission's mandate is to: 

  • Analyze the circumstances of demonstrations and disruptions in Quebec in the spring of 2012.
  • Identify factors which contributed to the deterioration of the social climate.
  • Evaluate the impact those events had on the public. 

The minister expects a report by December with recommendations on how to avoid similar events from occurring in the future.

Bergeron is right when he says being criticized by people on opposite sides of an issue can make you look good to those in the middle. 

But not when much of the criticism focuses on the same issues: a mandate which is too broad, hearings held behind closed doors and commissioners with no power to subpoena witnesses.

And if that isn't enough to question the usefulness of the exercise, consider that moments after announcing the commission, Bergeron blamed the Liberals for the crisis. 

Later, Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne said the Maple Spring "was orchestrated by, supported by, and blown out of proportion by the former Liberal government."