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Quebec student tuition protest ends in violence

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An impromptu and lively student protest against tuition hikes worked its way through Montreal's busy downtown streets March 7.

The protest started at Square-Victoria where urban studies students from the Université du Québec à Montréal wrapped trees and other objects in the park in red fabric, a symbol of the student movement against tuition increases.

It soon turned violent when students attempted to block the entrance of the Loto-Québec building, which also holds the offices for the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities (CREPUQ). CREPUQ's offices were being protested due to the organization's support for the government's tuition hikes.

"[CREPUQ officials] are the first to waste public money in advertising and investing in real estate firms," said Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois on radio station 98.5 FM March 7.

Riot police quickly stepped in and removed the students.

"We were peacefully blocking the CREPUQ building. The police decided to clear up Sherbrooke St. with a violence hard to describe," said Nadeau-Dubois.

"It was really peaceful, except for when we were at Loto-Québec when the police set off flash-bombs," said Noémie Roy-Gibeault, a student at the protest.

Riot cops used tear gas to disperse the students, four of whom were injured, as well as one police officer.

The Coalition large de l'ASSE, an umbrella student union representing over 80,000 students, issued a statement late on March 7 reporting that a CÉGEP Saint-Jérôme student had been hit by a stun grenade in the eye from point blank range and had to be rushed to the hospital. According to a spokesperson for CLASSE, there is a strong chance he will lose sight in that eye from the injury.

"For the second time in two weeks, the police violently repressed a student protest," said Nadeau-Dubois, referring to last week's protest in Quebec City, when police fired tear gas at students.
"The police have to respect the students' right to demonstrate."

The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) arrested five students in total.

"They just charged into us. They were really brutal," said Jean-Luc Wyman-Grimard, a student from CÉGEP Vieux-Montreal, whose student union has been on strike since Feb. 16.

After leaving the Loto-Québec building, around 600 students marched haphazardly through downtown with the police following behind.

"Going from Square-Victoria to Loto-Québec, I'm pretty sure, was probably planned, but the rest of it was improvised," Wyman-Grimard said. "There was no real target; basically just moving around and students deciding together that they want to act."

After stopping for a few minutes in front of the Education Minister's office, the students came back to Place-des-Arts Metro and dispersed onto separate metro cars.

The SPVM was unavailable for comments as of press time.

Photo by Simon Liem of The Link Newspaper.

This article was reprinted with permission from The Link newspaper.

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