Grand Prix organizers overreacted: student groups

Student groups say organizers of the Canadian Grand Prix overreacted in cancelling the free opening day of the event.

Festival organizers concerned about student protests

The annual Grand Prix generates an estimated $100 million for the city and brings thousands of tourists to the city's core and the racetrack. (CBC)

Student groups say organizers of the Canadian Grand Prix overreacted in cancelling the free opening day of the event.

Formula One fans were to have had access to Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve at the open house event on Thursday.

But organizers said on Sunday that the danger of disruptive protests along with cyber-threats from the international internet activist group Anonymous raised security concerns.

Student leaders have suggested the race could be used as a platform for the demonstrations over the province's plans to increase tuition fees. Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Michelle Courchesne also said last week that CLASSE, the more militant student association, had specifically threatened to disrupt this week's Grand Prix.

But Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a spokesperson for CLASSE, said those statements should not be taken literally, and protests shouldn't stop people from going to the race.

"It's a decision I have a lot of difficulty to understand," said Nadeau-Dubois about the possible cancellation.

Nadeau-Dubois said CLASSE plans to have a presence at the Grand Prix but only for a peaceful information campaign.

"It would have enriched a lot the event to see that the students would be there to distribute information, red squares, to talk to the tourists who see protest scenes in their television since three months," said Nadeau-Dubois.

Student leader Martine Desjardins accused the Quebec government of blowing the issue out of proportion to discredit the student movement.

Mayor disappointed

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay said he's disappointed the opening day of the Grand Prix had to be cancelled.

Tremblay said it would have been an opportunity for thousands of fans to get a look at the cars, and he will do what he can to make sure the rest of the event continues as planned.

"My responsibility is to make sure that the Grand Prix is held, like all the other festivals," Tremblay said.

"We'll do everything that is humanly and financially possible to secure the premises and accompany, yes, accompany the protesters so that they can protest, but in a very peaceful way."

Just for Laughs founder reaches out to students

The head of the Just for Laughs festival met with student leaders Monday to discuss the situation.

"I just want to analyze the economic impact, if it's good for their own image, if it's the right thing to do," festival founder Gilbert Rozon said before the meeting.

"At the end of the day, I'd like the leaders to come out and say, 'we won't use the festivals as a leverage to put pressure on the government.' "

Rozon called for a truce between students and the government during the festival season. He did not make any public statements following the meeting Monday evening.

Protests over tuition fees and Bill 78 have caused major traffic headaches in Montreal and hurt downtown businesses.

Anonymous has claimed it is acting against the Quebec government over Bill 78. More than 130 people who purchased Grand Prix tickets received emails telling them not to attend the race.

Their personal information, including names, phone numbers and the price of their F1 tickets were published online.

With files from the Canadian Press