Quebec tuition-hike protesters collide with disputed new law

Protests

In the throes of massive rallies against planned college tuition hikes in Montreal, police arrested at least 100 protesters Tuesday night under a disputed new law that regulates protests and requires approved routes.

Canadian media reported that clashes and arrests marked the 100th day of demonstrations against government plans to raise the cost of a college education in Quebec, where average tuition is markedly lower than elsewhere in Canada at less than $2,200 per year. Under the plan, tuition fees would go up by 75% in seven years.

Outraged students have boycotted classes and taken to the streets. Many protesters have also tied the tuition battle to a larger revolt against economic inequality that has caught fire in the Occupy movement. Some have tried to stop other students from going to classes or have turned to violence.

Worried by the ongoing unrest, Quebec lawmakers passed an emergency law last week requiring protesters to follow approved routes and inform police of their plans eight hours in advance. It also imposes punishments for blocking other students from getting to class. Those that flout the law face fines ranging from $1,000 for individuals to as much as $125,000 for organized groups.

Though a recent poll found roughly 2 out of 3 Quebec residents support the law as well as the tuition increases, the Quebec Bar Assn. argues that the law violates the fundamental rights of Quebec citizens. A constitutional expert told the National Post it was "flagrantly unconstitutional" because it gave the education minister the power to single-handedly change the law, among other objections.

The new rules have hardly cooled the raging protests. Graduate physics student Samuel René de Cotret told the Montreal Gazette it was “a totalitarian law that serves nothing but to inflame the tension,” saying he was protesting both the tuition hikes and the emergency law.

Although most protesters kept to an approved route Tuesday as tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets, some splintered away to defy the new law, according to the CBC. Two police officers were injured and four other people were taken to the hospital, the Canadian Press reported.

After the arrests, Quebec's government said it was still open to talking to student activists. But "it's unclear what the sides might possibly discuss," the Canadian Press wrote. The "government remains committed to tuition hikes, and the student groups remain staunchly opposed to them."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Police arrest protesters during a demonstration against college tuition hikes in Montreal on Tuesday. Credit: Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press

 
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