University of Montreal suspends classes targeted by striking students

The University of Montreal has suspended classes targeted by student protesters in the two days since a winter make-up term began at Quebec universities hit by student strikes earlier this year.

Administrators warn it may be too late to make up session

Students yell and gesture at Montreal's police riot squad at a protest at the entrance to a University of Montreal building Monday. (The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson)

The University of Montreal has suspended classes in the departments that have been targeted by student protesters since Monday, when a winter make-up term began at all Quebec universities hit by student strikes earlier this year.

The university issued a notice Tuesday evening that it would suspend classes for the remainder of the week in the departments of anthropology, film studies, art history, East Asian studies, video-gaming studies and comparative literature.

There are 47 suspended classes in total, all in the departments in which student associations voted to continue their boycott.

"They were the classes that we saw in the last two days [in which] the students were giving us trouble," said Mathieu Filion, a spokesman for the university administration. "Ninety per cent of our students are in class right now, and it was those students who were disturbing the other classes.

"We tried our best to give classes to those students, but obviously they didn't want to be there," Filion added.

Filion could not say how many students in the suspended courses have been turning up for class since Monday and how many were outside the classrooms protesting, although he said about a thousand students are affected by the university's decision.

10 protesters charged Tuesday

Ten people face charges after a second day of disrupted classes and clashes with riot police Tuesday at the Jean Brillant building, where many of the university's arts classes are held.

Seven people will be charged for allegedly assaulting police or university security guards, two with obstruction of justice and one with disturbing the peace.

The federation representing about 37,000 students at the University of Montreal, FAÉCUM, blasted the administration for calling in police to deal with the protesters and welcomed the decision to suspend classes.

"The measures they took were totally disproportionate. There were nearly 50 cop cars for maybe 50 protesting students," federation spokesperson Alexandre Ducharme said. "We're happy they're taking a step back and reevaluating their strategy." 

Some student associations have said they will vote again next week to decide whether to carry on their boycott, and Ducharme said the outcome of the provincial election on Sept. 4 would probably be a deciding factor.

"It's going to calm things down or really heat things up," Ducharme predicted.

Whatever the outcome, the university administration said it is not certain it will be able to offer striking students the classes they need to complete their winter term in the time they have left.

"The schedule right now is really tight. We're not able to move things around anymore," Filion said. "We are already condensing the schedule so we can give those classes in five weeks."

"Those [striking] students need to finish the winter session before Sept. 28, because on Oct. 1, we'll receive 12,000 new students, and we can not have two sessions at the same time."

The Quebec government officially suspended the winter term at many universities on May 18 due to the student crisis. Hundreds of courses had effectively shut down at that point, some since as early as February, because of the student boycott. The term was to resume this week.

The head of Quebec's federation of university rectors, Daniel Zizian, warned Monday that students who failed to show up for their classes risked obtaining an incomplete or a failure on their transcript.