Montreal

Student rally pushes forward in soggy Montreal

Thousands of people clad in raincoats and carrying umbrellas gathered in Montreal's Jeanne-Mance park Saturday afternoon for what was billed as a family-friendly protest in support of Quebec's students and in oppositon of Bill 78.
Police declared the march illegal soon after protesters left the park because the demonstration route wasn't filed in advance. (Willy Lowry/CBC)

Thousands of people clad in raincoats and carrying umbrellas gathered in Montreal's Jeanne-Mance park Saturday afternoon for what was billed as a family-friendly protest in support of Quebec's students and in oppositon of Bill 78.

The march is the first to be organized by the hardline student association CLASSE since talks broke down Thursday.

Under cloudy skies, several thousand people set out north on Papineau Avenue as the march got underway.

The demonstration was immediately declared illegal by Montreal police because the route wasn't given in advance, as required by municipal bylaw.

Police said they would allow the march to proceed as long as it remained peaceful.

Unrest over Bill 78

Premier Jean Charest's Liberal government passed Bill 78 last month in hopes of calming student protests, which have at times turned violent.

Student leaders can face stiff fines under the new law for supporting illegal demonstrations, and Charest said Friday that it is up to student leaders to establish the parameters of their protests.

The government initially tried to exclude the rally's student organizers from negotiations over its aggressive approach. Now it has pounced on CLASSE for invoking the possibility of using the impending Grand Prix race as a platform for the student cause.

CLASSE spokesman, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, said the group would use the event as a forum to raise its grievances with the province but would not prevent people from going to the race.

Grand Prix concerns

At Thursday night's demonstration in Montreal, members of an anti-capitalist group handed out pamphlets calling on demonstrators to make their presence known during Grand Prix weekend.

Charest has accused student groups of "hurting Quebecers" if they disrupt the international car race, which brings millions of dollars to the province each year.

He said students, who have spent months striking against a proposed tuition hike, should leave Grand Prix fans alone given the financial importance of the race.

Business leaders have weighed in, expressing fears that fewer tourists will come to Montreal this year after seeing footage of nightly marches and hundreds of arrests that have been made during the demonstrations.

CLASSE representatives said Saturday they are not planning to disrupt the Grand Prix, but said they will have a visible presence at the event.

with files from CBC News