Strong police presence as Quebec students return to class

With busloads of police parked nearby, students return to class at a Montreal preparatory college, the first school to resume its suspended winter session since the Quebec student strike began last February.

1st college to resume winter term will hold courses and exams on Saturdays

Busloads of Montreal police were parked near CEGEP André-Laurendeau as the college's students became the first in Quebec to return to class following the months-long strike. (Steve Rukavina/CBC)

With busloads of police parked nearby, students returned to class Monday morning at a Montreal preparatory college, the first school to resume its suspended winter session since the Quebec student strike began last February.

Students at CEGEP André-Laurendeau voted last week to end their strike, with 80 per cent in favour. About 250 of the student association's 4,000 members cast ballots.

At 6:30 a.m., an hour and a half before classes kicked off, several Montreal transit buses transporting police officers were parked a couple blocks away in Angrignon Park.

Even though the CEGEP's students opted by a wide margin to return to class, police said they feared the possibility that pupils from other colleges might show up to protest.

"Last spring, students from other CEGEPs were protesting at ones that still had classes," Montreal police spokesperson Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière said. He said officers were deployed to André-Laurendeau just in case.

In the end, there were no problems at the school.

Cathie Laroque, a nursing student, said she is glad to head back to class.

"Since the start, I wasn't a supporter of the strike," she said. "I was really excited to come back so I'm happy today."

Others, like Nicolas Mercier, returned to class frustrated but decided to respect the students' vote to end the strike.

"All that for nothing," he said.

The college's resumed winter session will run until the end of September, and its fall session will begin Oct. 15, nearly two months later than usual.

A pair of police officers stand guard outside CEGEP André-Laurendeau. (Steve Rukavina/CBC)

To make up for lost time, the school is holding classes and exams on Saturdays and even one Sunday in September.

CEGEPs Édouard-Montpetit and Marie-Victorin also voted to go back to resume classes.

Some of the CEGEPs were at the heart of the student crisis last spring when students hoping to return to class were prevented from doing so by other students blocking the doors.

Those scenes prompted Quebec Premier Jean Charest to enact Bill 78, also known as Law 12, the special legislature put in place to help put an end to the education crisis.

Raft of strike votes

Student unions at CEGEP preparatory colleges and universities across the province are voting on whether to end the strike they began last winter.

Last week, some student associations at the University of Quebec at Montreal, the University of Montreal and the University of Sherbrooke voted to continue the strike, and on Sunday their peers at CEGEP St. Laurent in Montreal opted to join them.

Three other Montreal-area colleges that voted last week — André-Laurendeau as well as Saint-Jérôme and Collège de Valleyfield — wanted to go back to class.

Four more CEGEPs totalling 22,500 students are voting Monday, and further votes at colleges and universities are expected through the end of the week.

At its peak, the Quebec student strike involved about one-third of those enrolled in post-secondary studies in the province — about 150,000 people.

The strikers have a list of grievances with the province relating to the corporatization of universities and the perceived encroachment of a neoliberal agenda in the education sphere, but the immediate spark for their class boycott was the Liberal government's plan to hike tuition by up to 82 per cent over seven years.