Quebec students offered 6-month tuition freeze

Protesting student groups and the Quebec government have reached a tentative deal that calls for a temporary freeze on raising tuition fees while the two sides determine ways to roll back some of the increases still being planned.

Tentative deal could end months of unrest

Leo-Bureau-Blouin, leader of the Quebec's college student federation FECQ, and other student leaders began meeting with government negotiators on Friday afternoon. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec's education minister said she has reached an "agreement in principle" to potentially end the province's student strike launched three months ago to fight planned increases in tuition fees.

In a statement released Saturday afternoon, Line Beauchamp said the student groups still have to present the deal to their members. They are expected to vote on the deal in the next few days.

She said the agreement was reached with all four groups representing the province's CEGEP and university students.

"What makes me most satisfied, under the circumstances, is that students who want to return to class can do it."

Student leaders began around-the-clock, closed-door negotations in Quebec City with Beauchamp and the head of the Treasury Board, Michelle Courchesne, on Friday afternoon.

Tuition freeze for now

Student leaders submitted the government's offer to students for consideration Saturday night.

The Quebec government had offered weeks earlier to roll out tuition hikes over seven years instead of five. Under the latest deal, the students will get at least a temporary tuition freeze.

Any tuition hikes would have to wait until the completion of a review by a proposed universities committee to help deal with financial management concerns. That report is due to be completed in December.

But it's the hope of the students that potential cost savings identified by the committee would help offset the tuition increases.

Under the deal, the government gets to go ahead with its planned hike of tuition fees. hike — about $250 a year for seven  years — but students could get some, if not all, of that money back if the committee finds budget savings it can pass along.

Student leaders say tuition increases could be offset by cuts to exam fees and salary bonuses given to administrators that cost universities millions of dollars.

CBC's Catherine Cullen said a trickle of student protesters were still milling about the Liberal Annual General Meeting at around 5 p.m. ET, with riot police on guard.

The announcement follows the news that one 20-year-old student lost an eye and also suffered life-threatening head wounds during a demonstration in Victoriaville, Que., Friday night. He will need surgery. Another man is in hospital with non life-threatening head injuries.

Several hundred students attended the demonstration, which quickly turned violent, resulting in 106 arrests and sending three police officers and six demonstrators to hospital. It's not yet clear how many of the arrests will result in charges.

Tear gas, rubber bullets

Student leaders left the meeting briefly Friday night to speak out against the violence in Victoriaville, about 150 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The demonstrators had gathered outside the provincial Liberal Party's general council meeting to protest proposed tuition hikes.

Protesters hurled billiard balls, rocks and bricks at officers.

Police responded with tear gas, rubber pellets and sound grenades. One demonstrator was reportedly shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

Some of those attending the party's meeting in Victoriaville complained of scratchy eyes after some of the tear gas seeped into the convention hall, and the building's ventilation system had to be shut down.

Riot police released tear gas on student demonstrators after they broke through a security perimeter. (CBC)

At a news conference Saturday morning, provincial police spokesperson Jean Finet called the violence unacceptable. He said police are continuing to investigate and they believe four people may have incited the majority of the violence.

Several demonstrations are planned in Montreal for Saturday to denounce the proposed changes to tuition, continuing a series of protests held over the past 11 weeks.