Quebec long weekend saw revolt over relaxation

The May long weekend may have marked the unofficial start of summer for much of Canada, but protesters in Montreal seemed more concerned with revolt than relaxation.

14 weeks of protests spill into chaotic holiday weekend

The May long weekend may have marked the unofficial start of summer for much of Canada, but protesters in Montreal seemed more concerned with revolt than relaxation.

Dissidents took to the streets of Montreal for the latest round of protests stemming from proposed tuition fee hikes and new Quebec legislation aimed at preventing disruptive protests.

Here is a recap of how thousands spent the May long weekend in the province that celebrates the Journée nationale des patriotes (National Patriots' Day) instead of Victoria Day.

Friday: 'Declaration of war'

Tensions escalated right before the long weekend as Quebec's legislature voted in favour of an emergency law, Bill 78, which is intended to quell the 14-week tuition hike crisis.

'This is actually a declaration of war against the student movement.'—Martine Desjardins, president of university student group FEUQ

After debating the special legislation overnight Thursday, members of the national assembly voted 68-48 in favour of strict regulations governing demonstrations and heavy fines for insubordinate students and their federations.

Critics blasted the bill, which quickly drew comparisons to the 1970 War Measures Act, as an affront to civil rights, an overreaction or ill-considered improvisation.

Bill 78 based on 3 pillars

The controversial Quebec legislation, which is set to expire in July 2013, pauses the current school year at institutions affected by strikes; imposes steep fines for anyone who tries blocking access to a school; and limits where, how, and for how long people can protest in Quebec.

Instead of cooling tensions, the move set the stage for a weekend of increased defiance from a dedicated group of dissidents.

Thousands stormed the streets of Montreal and Quebec City late Friday night to protest the bill's passage.

"This is actually a declaration of war against the student movement and not only against the student movement, but it restricted the liberty of speech, the liberty of association," said Martine Desjardins, president of university student group FEUQ.

It was among several protest-related developments in Quebec on Friday as Montreal adopted a new municipal anti-mask bylaw.

Saturday: 'Why ... hide behind a mask'

A Montreal bylaw that bans the wearing of masks at public protests — a measure Quebec City did not implement — went into effect Saturday, a day after Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay stated "when a cause is just, why is it necessary to hide behind a mask?"

The bylaw also forces demonstrators to provide police with an itinerary for protests and makes it illegal to hold a rally of more than 50 people without consulting police at least eight hours ahead of time about routes and timing.

Thousands of incensed protesters, many wearing masks or hoods, marched through downtown Montreal on Saturday night in a protest that police declared illegal about a half-hour after it began at 8:30 p.m. ET.

A memorial for democracy, declared dead, is seen in front of Montreal City Hall. Protesters erected the site as part of the Journée nationale des patriotes. (Alison Northcott/CBC)
Montreal police ordered protesters to disperse around 11 p.m. and called in the provincial police riot squad as well as officers on horseback.

Protesters built fires from traffic cones and construction materials, and a few allegedly threw beer bottles at officers.

Meanwhile, police fired tear gas at demonstrators in at least three areas of the city, and faced swift criticism for pepper spraying bar patrons at a St-Denis Street patio after someone threw a chair at an officer.

Estimates varied widely on the number of people in the streets, ranging from 3,000 at the beginning of the first march to 20,000 at the demonstrations' climax, when packs of protesters split up to locations around the downtown.

The night ended with 69 arrests, police said.

Sunday: 'You shouldn't get us mad'

As they had for dozens of nights in a row, marchers gathered near the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQÀM) and then headed to the heart of downtown on Sunday.

Police declared the demonstration illegal under the province's new student-crisis law as soon as it began at around 9 p.m.

International support

What began months ago as a student strike against the Liberal government's plan to hike tuition fees by 70 per cent over the next five years has ballooned into a broader social movement supported by several of Quebec's major labour, environmental and political groups.

The movement picked up some celebrity backing in the last few days, with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and Montreal band Arcade Fire lending their support.

Police allege some protesters threw objects at officers on bicycles, wore masks, and otherwise ignored both the decrees of the municipal bylaw and the orders of constables at the scene.

"You shouldn't get us mad," yelled the protesters in French as roughly 5,000 people gathered in the Latin Quarter just before midnight.

Provincial police and officers on horseback were called again, and in various parts of Montreal's core, constables fired tear gas and muzzle blasts at the crowd.

In an attempt to dissuade vandalism, a faction describing itself as the "white bloc" stood guard in front of popular targets, like banks, and encouraged a peaceful march.

The overnight protests that began Sunday culminated in the arrests of roughly 300 people. Ten police officers and an equal number of civilians suffered minor injuries.

One person, who is expected to survive, was rushed to hospital with a serious head injury.

Monday: 'I Defy Law 78'

Thousands of people flooded Montreal's streets Monday night, many marching toward Premier Jean Charest's home wearing "I Deft Law 78" stickers.

This time, police tolerated the mostly peaceful demonstration and refrained from declaring it illegal, partly in an effort to diffuse a repeat of Sunday's violence. 

Protest videos circulating online

Two video clips filmed over the weekend are being shared online, where people are raising questions about police behaviour during Montreal's protests.

One video shows a police car moving with a person lying on the hood. The second video shows a police officer repeatedly using pepper spray on someone in the street.

Authorities caution that the clips may be out of context.

Although there were some instances of vandalism, the protest was more subdued than it had been in recent days.

Police blocked off the road near Charest's home as well as the sites of previous confrontations — such as St-Denis Street at De Maisonneuve Boulevard and the entrance ramp leading to the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.

Although Monday's protest ended relatively peacefully, the end of the long weekend is only the beginning of the next phase of student protests.

For its part, Quebec student group CLASSE declared Monday that it is ready to defy the provincial protest law, regardless of legal consequences.

A march planned for Tuesday will mark milestones in the 14 weeks of student action. Student organizers estimate that 150,000 college and university students are still on strike.