Montreal protesters march in peaceful defiance

The clanging of pots and pans sounded throughout Montreal's downtown core Saturday night and into early Sunday morning, as thousands of protesters marched on in peaceful — but loud — defiance of Bill 78.

Thousands join student movement due to concerns about Bill 78

Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal on Saturday night. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The clanging of pots and pans sounded throughout Montreal's downtown core Saturday night and into early Sunday morning, as thousands of protesters marched on in peaceful — but loud — defiance of Bill 78.

The nightly student protests have expanded to include other groups primarily concerned with the new special law, which sets restrictions for organized public rallies.

There was no such mass violence or chaos reported late Saturday, as there had been a week before. More than 300 people were arrested during those weekend clashes between riot police and demonstrators. About 10 people were injured.

But the most recent march was largely peaceful. Youths could be seen walking the streets, holding up skateboards bearing the red square, an emblem representing the student protest movement against proposed tuition hikes.

Restaurant and bar patrons sitting on outdoor patios whooped and applauded in support of the crowd as the protesters filed past.

Bill 78 must be priority, group says

Quebec's coalition of student associations says Bill 78 must be a priority if a new round of negotiations start up with the government in the ongoing tuition conflict.

"For us, it's clear that the first thing on the table is Bill 78," CLASSE spokeswoman Jeanne Reynolds said outside the group's conference at the University of Sherbrooke on Saturday. "It's very restrictive, very repressive and we'd like to see it suspended."

A Radio-Canada-CROP poll released Saturday suggests that those people polled are blaming both sides, with the majority of those polled doubting Bill 78 will do much good:

  • 61 per cent of Quebecers think Bill 78 won't resolve the crisis.
  • 44 per cent think the government is responsible for the deadlock.
  • 36 per cent point the finger at student groups.

"That's why the idea of mediation is so popular," Alain Giguère, president of CROP, told CBC News. "Quebecers fear that even though we sit these people together, they might not come to an agreement."

Earlier this week, Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said she was open to meeting with students to resolve the tuition crisis impasse, but stayed firm on the Liberal government's position that Bill 78 wasn't open for discussion.

Reynolds said CLASSE is still waiting for word on when exactly the next round of negotiations could begin.

Exactly what the group will present is part of the discussions at the conference, which involves 100 delegates.

Considered the most radical of Quebec's three major student groups, CLASSE encouraged citizens to defy Bill 78 in a news conference Monday, calling it an attack on "fundamental freedoms."

At the same time, CLASSE announced the launch of a website that encourages citizens to publicly display their intention to disobey the law.

Since the law was passed on May 18, organizers of many of the nightly protests across Quebec have refused to give an advance route to police, who then declared the marches illegal as soon as they started moving.

On Wednesday night, 518 people were arrested during protests in Montreal after objects were allegedly launched at officers.

They were charged under a municipal bylaw, but not fined under Bill 78. Police have said they will consider laying fines under the special law against organizers if their investigations show the law was broken.

On Friday, accompanied by the federations representing college and university students, CLASSE announced motions had been filed in Quebec Superior Court challenging Bill 78.

The motions are expected to be heard in Quebec next Wednesday.

Many protesters say that while they might not support the proposed tuition hikes, their major grievance is with Bill 78.

"What mobilized me is mostly the 78 bill, which I feel is totally inappropriate for this situation," said David Barbeau, a physician.

Tuition compromise?

Despite the debate over the provisions of Bill 78, the original source of the conflict — the government's plan to hike tuition by $1625 over five, then seven, years — may be moving closer to resolution.

Saturday morning, the leader of the province's college student federation told CBC that students may be ready for a compromise on the tuition hike issue.

"If the Quebec government is ready for it too, I think we can come to something," Leo Bureau-Blouin said.

Significant provisions of Bill 78

  • Winter and summer terms suspended until no later than Aug. 17.
  • Prohibits anyone from blocking students' access to their schools.
  • Public demonstrations involving more than 50 people have to be flagged to authorities eight hours in advance and include itinerary, duration and time at which they are being held.
  • Police can order the protest move to a different spot if the "venue or route poses serious risk for public security."
  • Offering encouragement for someone to protest at a school, either tacitly or otherwise, is subject to punishment.
  • Penalties for breaking the law are between $1,000 and $5,000 for any individual, between $7,000 and $35,000 for a student leader or organizer and between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations.
  • Anyone who "helps or induces" someone to break the law is guilty of the same offence and liable to the same fine.