Montrealers wake up to mess
MONTREAL—Montrealers woke up to a mess this morning far beyond the smashed windows and shards of glass being swept off the streets of their city.
The intensity of student unrest in the province was illustrated by riotous scenes that unfolded in the city last night.
Police said early today that 85 people were arrested, including three minors, and that three police officers suffered unspecified injuries.
The protesters’ furious reaction came after talks broke off between the provincial government and student groups seeking an end to an 11-week battle over tuition hikes.
After the talks were suspended, the leader of the most militant student group, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, warned: “All this does is pour oil on the fire.”
The trouble then erupted over several hours as students swarmed the streets and frequently battled with police.
The events that subsequently transpired will have Quebecers asking: what now?
An absence of easy answers repeatedly was underscored by yesterday’s developments.
Some pundits suggested that, in the interest of social peace, the Charest government should back down from its planned $325-a-year, five-year tuition hikes.
The government repeatedly has said it will do no such thing. Even if it did backtrack, there’s no guarantee things would settle down.
Some students now are casting this as a deeper struggle—with the phrase, “Quebec Spring,” emanating from the lips of several protesters who issued a medley of demands yesterday: the resignation of Premier Jean Charest, a general election, the complete elimination of tuition, or even broader social change.
The very idea of a negotiated settlement remains moot, for now.
It took weeks just to get the government and students to sit at a negotiating table. As of yesterday afternoon, after less than three days of discussion, they weren’t talking anymore.
Never mind the policy differences. The sides can’t even agree on why their talks broke down.
To hear the government tell it, the blame belonged with the most militant student group—nicknamed the C.L.A.S.S.E.—for either implicitly condoning or failing to control vandalism.
The Charest government booted that group out of the talks yesterday after an unruly Montreal protest the previous night, and after several smoke bombs were launched in the city’s subway system.
The government said those incidents violated the so-called “truce” it had established as a condition for negotiation.
“You can’t play both sides,” Education minister Line Beauchamp said. “I regret that this C.L.A.S.S.E. has chosen its camp.”
She noted that protest sites previously were advertised on the group’s website—and she called that a breach of faith.
The group replied that its website isn’t centrally controlled. Nadeau-Dubois suggested the information had been typed in by associate members who have access to the site.
No matter. They were expelled from the talks. And within minutes of their expulsion, negotiations were over.
The two other main student groups immediately stormed out in solidarity. They took a parting shot at the minister, comparing Beauchamp to a scolding schoolmaster.
The students said she was more interested in lecturing them and in political grandstanding than she was in real negotiation.
Within moments, there were protesters spilling into the streets of Montreal and Quebec City.
By day’s end, thousands more were marching in Montreal, denouncing the Charest government and demanding general elections.