Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Quebec steps up repression
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Analysis: Roger Annis
======== QUEBEC STEPS UP REPRESSION ==========================================
Roger Annis reports on the latest in the Quebec student strike--massive
police repression against protesters at the Montreal Grand Prix--and what's
next for strikers.
June 18, 2012
THE OPENING salvo in a promised summer of protest by Quebec's student
movement was delivered at the annual, Montreal Grand Prix auto race and
surrounding festivities from June 7-10. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of
students and their allies used the high-profile event to press demands for a
freeze in post-secondary tuition fees and an end to police and state
The government of Premier Jean Charest answered with an unprecedented police
mobilization that one Montreal /Gazette/ reporter called "staggering."
Thousands of police were omnipresent in the Montreal's subway system and at
major intersections throughout the four days. They arrested or detained
scores of protesters, particularly those wearing the symbol of the student
movement--red cloth squares pinned to clothing.
The short subway line connecting downtown Montreal to two island parks in the
middle of the St. Lawrence River where the race was run carried two police
officers on every subway car on race day, June 10, and the preceding day.
Entrance to the parks was by police permission only, with officers declaring
that the public space was a "private park" for the duration of the race
weekend. Those who challenged that call, especially if they were being turned
away, risked being roughed up or arrested for their troubles.
The tensest moments of the weekend occurred on the Saturday evening. Several
thousand pro-student demonstrators brought their message and their
noisemakers to the center of the city and mixed in with tens of thousands of
Grand Prix revelers. Tense standoffs with police went on until well after
midnight. According to /Radio Canada/, there were 27 people arrested, of whom
16 face criminal charges. Numerous witnesses told the broadcaster of police
violence they witnessed.
Earlier on Saturday, several hundred women's rights supporters mobilized to
express anger at the decadence they say the Formula One race symbolizes. They
staged a march against the trade in women's bodies that accompanies the event
They tried to take their case to the Sheraton Montreal Hotel, which they say
is the preferred hotel for what they call the "international jerk-offs" that
purchase sex during the weekend. The march was blocked and broken up by
The image of the race took a dive at the outset when former F1 driver and
hometown hero Jacques Villeneuve publicly thumbed his nose at striking
students, calling them spoiled because tuition fees in Quebec happen to be
lower than in other provinces in Canada and some countries in Europe. Perhaps
not coincidentally, the race failed to sell all the spectator seats for the
first time in its 35-year history.
Post-secondary students in Quebec began a massive strike in February against
a proposed 75 percent increase in tuition fees. The strike is on hold since
May 18. That's when the Quebec government adopted the draconian Law 78, which
suspends the school year at strike-bound institutions until mid-August and
seeks to cripple protests and the student associations organizing them.
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*Unprecedented targeting by police*
Police have come under intense fire for their now-routine practice of
profiling for detention or arrest those wearing the red square. News websites
are full of testimonials of people, mostly young, telling stories of
harassment or assault by police while wearing the square. Some 40 people
wearing it were detained on June 10 while entering the park from the subway
at the Grand Prix site.
To test the hypothesis, the French-language daily /Le Devoir/ sent two
reporters on assignment on June 9 wearing red squares and backpacks. Sure
enough, they were frequently stopped and searched. At the park/race site,
they were illegally detained by police for 20 minutes.
When the undercover journalists asked one officer why they were detained, he
replied, "Because you're wearing a revolutionary symbol and I'm fed up with
people like you." They wrote that others they observed or interviewed wearing
backpacks but without the red square were not searched or detained. They
titled their article, "Red square? Papers, please."
The most prominent of the preventive arrests that have taken place was that
of 19-year-old Yalda Machouf-Khadir and four other students on June 7. She
was arrested during a police raid on her family home at 6 a.m. and spent five
nights in prison before being released on bail. She and the others faces
charges of mischief and property damage stemming from several protests in
April. Her lawyers say detention for such charges is unheard of.
She is the daughter of Amir Khadir, the leader and sole elected member in
Quebec's National Assembly of the left-wing Quebec solidaire party. He was
himself arrested and detained  while participating in a peaceful,
pro-student protest two days earlier in Quebec City.
Inspiration, if not direction, for the police targeting of opponents of the
tuition hike and Bill 78 is coming right from the top. Quebec Premier Jean
Charest declared last month that student protests were damaging the economy
of the province and should cease. He told journalist on June 14, "What I have
seen in the last six months as premier of Quebec is something I'm worried
about. There's new tolerance for violence, intimidation, civil disobedience."
His minister of culture, Christine St-Pierre, stated on June 8, "[W]e know
what it means, the red square. It means intimidation, violence and preventing
students from studying (referring to student picket lines that shut down
education institutions during the three-month strike). That's what it means
to us and to the big, big majority of Québecois." (2,800 people in Quebec's
vibrant arts and culture scene have signed an open letter denouncing the
Montreal's English language daily, /The Gazette/, editorialized on June 12 in
favor of police actions:
>[T]he student protests have engendered vandalism, and thus it is not
>unreasonable for the police to assume that anyone wearing a red square could
>be a potential troublemaker.
>It appears the student protests have been infiltrated by violent radical
>elements, piggybacking on the student movement to indulge their penchant for
>anarchic vandalism. While student leaders have dissociated their cause from
>such actions, they have been reluctant to forcefully denounce them.
>Thus...the student movement must bear some responsibility for it.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
*Bill 78 challenged*
The infamous Law 78 requires advance police approval for any act of political
or social expression involving 50 or more people. It imposes severe fines on
participating individuals and organizations for actions declared "illegal" by
police. It prescribes penalties against the organizers of protest events for
the actions by individuals deemed illegal.
The law aims to weaken if not destroy student associations through financial
penalties for violations of its provisions, including denial of membership
dues check-off and denial of access to on-campus facilities.
A court challenge to Law 78 on behalf of 70 organizations opened on June 12.
The challengers include all four of Quebec's post-secondary student
associations, several of Quebec's largest trade union centrals, and community
and environmental organizations. They are seeking an immediate suspension of
the application of the law and a ruling that it is unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the student-led challenge say the law is crafted in part to
hobble student and other protests during an election that the government must
call sometime between now and the end of 2013.
By all appearance, the government recognizes the dubious legality of Law 78.
Police have not laid any charges under it. Instead, they have used municipal
or highway traffic regulations in the hundreds of arrests they have conducted
since the adoption of the law. But they are using it to declare every student
or Law 78-related protest "illegal," possibly setting the stage for
More than 3,000 people have been arrested since the beginning of the student
At a recent convention of FECQ, one of the associations of junior college
students, newly elected leader Éliane Laberge declared, "It's clear that we
do not want to see a Quebec where elected members of the National Assembly
are arrested, where young people are arrested in their homes, and where
students spend days in prison."
"Neither do we want a Quebec where the government dismisses with a wave of
its hand the heartfelt wishes of an entire generation."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
*Students maintaining mobilization footing and unity*
The FECQ met in convention on the weekend of the Grand Prix. It called on the
government to accept a mediated end to the tuition fee conflict, but also
decided on a plan of action throughout the summer that will see it remain on
a mobilization footing along with a larger counterpart, the CLASSE coalition.
FECQ is joining CLASSE's call for another mass march in Montreal, on June 22.
The largest student marches have been taking place for months now on the 22nd
of each month, including the May 22 march that drew an estimated 400,000
people, the largest single protest action in Canadian history.
FECQ will hold rallies across Quebec in smaller centers leading up to June 22
and will host a rally in Quebec City on the same day. This decision continues
the solid unity that student associations have been able to maintain in the
face of government and media efforts to divide them, particularly in
targeting CLASSE as an instigator of violent and criminal acts.
FECQ also says it will turn more attention and resources towards unseating
the Liberal Party in the next provincial election.
With the likely failure of Law 78 and police repression to end the student
mobilizations--in fact, they are provoking a broader mobilization against the
government's capitalist agenda--the last hope to salvage the government
program may be a timely election call. There, the power of money and media as
well as the weakening and compartmentalization of citizen action in which
bourgeois elections excel would work to the benefit of the Liberals and their
They are likely to stress a "law and order" theme against the "chaos"
supposedly engendered by the student protest.
Unfortunately for the government, it faces three major obstacles to that
course. One is the student mobilization itself, which refuses to bow to
repression or calls to reason. Government candidates will be dogged by
protests in any election campaign.
Two is the formal commission of inquiry that the Charest government has been
obliged to convene into corruption in Quebec's construction industry and its
cozy relationship to successive Quebec governments. The commission's public
hearings began in early June and will continue throughout the rest of the
year. They will be a continual reminder of the moral rot and economic
privilege of the government and ruling elite of the province.
The third obstacle is the government's apparently weakening electoral
position. The spontaneous rise in the past few months of the "pots and pans,"
community mobilizations against Bill 78 is one sign of this. Another sign is
the electoral setback the government suffered in mid-term elections in two
electoral districts in the Montreal region on June 11.
Support for the governing party dropped sharply in the districts of
LaFontaine and Argenteuil--from 70 percent to 53 percent in the former and 50
percent to 34 percent in the latter. While it retained its seat in
LaFontaine, it lost Argenteuil to the Parti québécois (PQ), the
pro-sovereignty official opposition party. The Liberals had held Argenteuil
for the past 47 years.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
*Discussion over strategy*
A discussion over the future course of the social struggle in Quebec took
place at a session of a daylong political conference hosted by the Quebec
media NGO Alternatives on June 9. It was attended by several hundred
activists. There, co-leader of CLASSE, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, made a forceful
argument in favor of the group's proposal for a "social strike" against the
government by the entire working-class movement, including its trade union
component. (The session, which took place in French, can be viewed here .)
Nadeau-Dubois explained that the student movement has reached the limit of
the pressure it can exert on the government. Something like 75 percent of the
students in the province have been on strike at one moment or another. There
have been 115 consecutive days of mobilization. Some businesses, notably
tourism, are suffering economic losses from the strike. The cost to the
government of suppressing the student movement has probably now exceeded the
cost of the tuition freeze it refuses to concede.
Still, he said, the government is holding firm. "What, then, is missing from
our mobilizations?" he asked.
>The (student) strike and the movement of the "pots and pans" has been very
>positive, but it's becoming clearer that these are not sufficient. Already,
>the pots and pans protests that were in the thousands last week are down to
>the hundreds this week in the streets of Montreal. So, we must think of new
Some hold out the possibility that an election will eventually resolve the
crisis. Yes, Nadeau-Dubois agreed, the Liberals must eventually be defeated
at the polls. But, "The timidity of the (Parti québécois) over the tuition
hike prevents us from placing all of our hopes on the ballot box, certainly
in the short term."
(The PQ is broadly supported by leadership circles in the trade union
movement. During the 18 years of the last 35 that it governed the province,
it applied variants of the same pro-capitalist policies as the Liberals. In
the current struggle, it has refused to commit to a freeze in post-secondary
tuition fees, the issue that lies at the origin of the conflict between the
student movement and the government.)
"The community movement is important to the present struggle, but it's not
through a community movement that a significant increase in pressure can be
mounted against the government."
"So all attention is turning to the union movement," he said. Efforts must be
redoubled to prepare a social strike against the government. A common front
with the unions is needed, he said, which until now have been reacting
"timidly" to the student strike.
A common front should not be centered on the issues in the student strike
alone. It should be focused on a broad range of social issues--education,
health care, privatization of government enterprises. This would appeal to
the majority of the population and it would also counter the false impression
that the student and the trade union organizations are only interested in
their narrow, respective interests.
Nadeau-Dubois' talk was later followed by Louis Roy, president of one of the
largest union centrals in Quebec, the CSN. His lengthy presentation consisted
largely of arguments that members of the union centrals are not ready to
enter onto the path of a social strike. He did not explain if and how that
Roy made important references to the need for a united fight against not just
the policies of the Quebec government but also the federal government.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
With an eventual election call by the Liberals in the wings, there are
mounting pressures on Québec solidaire, the only party to have stood
squarely with the student movement, to join an electoral alliance with the
Parti québécois, where it would play a subordinate role. QS made only
modest gains in the June 11 by-elections, albeit in districts where its
political base is small.
Leaders of the SPQ Libre group, a trade union-based group in the PQ that was
expelled from the party in 2010, say QS should present at most two candidates
and leave the rest of the field open to candidates of the PQ.
Party leader Amir Khadir answered all this in a June 5 open letter  (in
French), affirming that the party is unconvinced it should abandon its
independent role. Responding to the argument that voter abstention is rising
and will facilitate the Liberals remaining in power, he wrote, "To fight
against abstentionism, it's necessary to clearly align political perspectives
with the social mobilization. This is what Québec solidaire has sought to do
since its foundation.
"The PQ, a governing party won over to neo-liberalism, views the social
movements as problems to manage or points of political debate. Québec
solidaire, on the contrary, wants to see the social movements win because
together with them, the interests of our people advance and Quebec therefore
Khadir and party co-leader Françoise David elaborated these points in a
lengthy commentary published in /Le Devoir/  on June 14. (Furthermore, in
a speech marking the end of the current session of the Quebec National
Assembly on June 15, Amir Khadir said free and accessible post-secondary
education in Quebec is an entirely desirable and realistic societal
To this important debate in Quebec can be added the need for discussion in
the trade union and social movements right across Canada on how to broaden
the struggle in Quebec.
Presently, the federal government is pushing a mega-budget bill through the
federal Parliament containing unprecedented cuts to social services,
environmental protection and democratic rights. It projects big boosts to
military spending and more subsidies to private industry. In other words, the
governments of Canada and Quebec are pursuing near to identical policies.
New Democratic Party members of parliament have been silent  on the stakes
in the struggle in Quebec and opposition to the federal budget has been very
modest across the working class movement. A broad and united mobilization is
needed, inspired by the example of the Quebec students, for an alternative
government and societal direction.
/First published at RogerAnnis.com /.
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