Montreal Student Protests

It’s been over five years since I’ve been able to call Montreal my place of residence, but on some level it will always be home to me.
For the last 100 days, there have been protests in Montreal as students speak out against proposed university tuition hikes. The proposed increases are substantial – 75% over five years, for a total increase of $1625. Students who believe that education should be a right and not a privilege decided to leave classes in April and have not been back since. The Student Society of McGill University has put up a website outlining the proposed changes and why they are opposed to them, and I recommend you read it to understand the background of the situation.
While I understand the resistance to a tuition increase, I am embarrassed by the behavior of the protesters who say they speak for all students in the province. There has been a dangerous violent element to these protests, with a couple of student groups sanctioning violent acts as a means of getting the point across to the government. Rocks are being thrown at storefronts and bank windows are being broken. My friends here in the United States have been warned by the US embassy in Ottawa that travel to Montreal may be dangerous. What does that tell the world about my city? For all the protesters are pounding their chests and demanding justice and freedom, Canada is not a repressed Middle-Eastern country fighting to free itself from the tyranny of a violent and all-controlling government. 
Montrealers love to strike, and Montreal’s students love to protest. I am not opposed to organized strikes or peaceful protests against government decisions – history has proven the tactics to be effective. The Quebec government’s recent passing of Bill 78, requiring that the authorities be notified 8 hours before the start of a protest, pissed a lot of people off, but what choice does the province have? Time and time again, a Montreal protest becomes a riot, where police cars are set on fire and tear gas canisters are thrown into crowds. Why? The legitimacy of the cause these students are fighting for is lost in the sensationalism of their violent acts.
Here’s a short video from CBC News – you can see that things are clearly out of hand.
No side is entirely right or wrong here. The educational institutions need to be more transparent, as does the government, and student loans need to be made available to a larger number of people. Right now, relatively few people qualify for government-backed student loans, because the income bar is set quite low and takes into account how much money the student’s parents make, regardless of whether the parents intend to help their children pay for school.
That said, the protesters also need to be more reasonable. Everything is getting more expensive, everywhere. From the perspective of students in the rest of Canada, Quebec students have no right to complain about how much university costs them. And, looking at the numbers on the Quebec government’s website, I tend to agree. We’ve had it good for a very long time, enjoying the lowest tuition rates in the country. Even with the increase, by 2015 Quebec’s students will be paying under $4000 a year for their education, still far lower than what students in most provinces pay now. Is $4000 a year really so much of a hardship? At the risk of coming across as callous, I got through school by working in retail and in telemarketing, and commuting by bus from my mother’s house in the suburbs instead of renting a downtown apartment. Not everyone has those options – I was lucky to find jobs that paid better than minimum wage, and I had a family willing to put up with me at home while I finished school – but I feel like some of the protesters feel like they shouldn’t have to work for their education. That’s just not realistic.

Two-thirds of Quebec’s students are still attending school, trying to finish the semester of classes they’ve paid for. The angry minority, in my humble opinion, needs to decide exactly what their battle is, who it is with, and how to fight it effectively. Protest and demonstrations are valid tools for communicating displeasure with government policy – throwing rocks and deliberately baiting cops are not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *