Protesting student leaders say Liberals, CAQ disregard youth

Quebec student leaders are urging people to question every political party in the upcoming election and say they are confident the Jean Charest's Liberal Party will not be reelected on Sept. 4.

6th monthly student protest calls for political awareness

Students are seen leaving Montreal's Place du Canada during the sixth monthly student protest. (CBC/Thomas Daigle)

Quebec student leaders are urging people to question every political party in the upcoming election and say they are confident the Jean Charest's Liberal Party will not be reelected on Sept. 4.

It's estimated more than 10,000 people gathered at Montreal's Place du Canada — as they have been doing on the 22nd of every month since March — to protest the government's planned tuition increase on Wednesday afternoon and to denounce Law 12, formerly known as Bill 78.

Éliane Laberge, president of the Quebec federation of college students (FECQ), and Martine Desjardins, president of the Quebec federation of university students (FEUQ), led the protest.

Protesters walked through the city's downtown core, as they have been doing since the student strike movement began in February of last year.

The protest ended peacefully at Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal, where thousands regrouped to listen to speeches and music and wave election-related signs.

Students demonstrate outside Collège Bois-de-Boulogne. (Morgan Dunlop/CBC)

During a news conference before the protest, Laberge said: "In 14 days, every Quebecer will have to assess Quebec's Liberal Party. They will have to assess nine years. Nine years where we saw corruption increase. Nine years where we saw public services fees increase in every domain."

Desjardins added that students were also putting pressure on people to vote, saying that the Coalition Avenir Québec, like the Liberal Party, was making unilateral promises and disregarding the student population.

Both student leaders urged Quebec citizens to be critical of political parties running in the provincial election. They also added that they would revise their platforms and strengthen student mobilization if the Liberal Party kept its top seat in Quebec's National Assembly.

Véronique Laplante, spokeswoman for the more militant student association CLASSE, said citizens need more debate with politicians and tougher questions need to asked of them.

She added that the student organization will not recommend which party students should support in the election, but said students should make an educated decision.

"Democratic movements need to have discussions with their [candidates]. The message we can send is that we should ask people what they think and what they plan on doing."

Laplante said despite the ongoing student protests, the political parties are not suffciently responding to students' demands.

Jeanne Reynolds, another spokeswoman for CLASSE, said even if the elected government decides to freeze tuition fees, her organization would continue to protest to seek free tuition.

CEGEP closes to protect 'personal safety'

Earlier Wednesday, facing students protesting outside as part of the province-wide demonstrations on the 22nd of the month, a Montreal CEGEP cancelled classes, reversing an earlier decision not to suspend teaching.

Collège Bois-de-Boulogne, a CEGEP in the Ahuntsic borough, said in a statement on its website that it was taking the step to "avoid any situation that might compromise personal safety."

The day's regular classes will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, instead. Continuing education courses scheduled for before 5 p.m. were also been cancelled, while those starting after 5 o'clock went ahead.

Several dozen students were picketing Wednesday morning outside the north-end school. They unfurled a banner and stood on a set of entraceway steps, but there were no reports of confrontations.

The CEGEP's students had voted last Thursday to end their five-month-long strike, but with a one-day exception for Wednesday to join the day of student-movement protests across the province. Bois-de-Boulogne's administration, however, initally refused to cancel classes and as a result was targeted by picketers.

Quebec's contentious Law 12 makes it an offence to organize or partake in a protest "that could result in" a student being blocked from a classroom, where the demonstration is in or within 50 metres of a school building. It is also an offence to "contribute to slowing down, degrading or delaying" university or college classes.

But Montreal police have said they won't enforce those provisions unless school authorities ask them to.

About 43,000 post-secondary students are still taking part in a general strike in Quebec, down from a peak of 150,000 in the spring, but not at any CEGEPs, which have all voted to go back to class.

The 22nd of each month is a symbolic day for student demonstrators, however, and 10 CEGEP student unions representing nearly 50,000 pupils opted for a one-day strike to take part in Wednesday's rallies.