By Max Harrold, The Montreal Gazette, May 24, 2012
MONTREAL – It was a peaceful river of humanity for more than three hours, with about 3,000 people walking, chanting and feeling united on the 30th consecutive night of the student protests in Montreal [May 23].
Then, in a heartbeat, Wednesday night’s big march turned ugly.
Just before midnight police surrounded a large group of protesters at Sherbrooke and St. Denis Sts. to make a mass arrest, Montreal police Constable Daniel Fortier said. Police said on Thursday morning the arrests totaled 518, making it the largest number of people arrested in a single night so far in the weeks-long student protest.
It also surpassed the 497 arrests made under the War Measures Act during the October Crisis of 1970.
506 of those arrested were caught in the kettle, including 30 minors. They were each fined $634 for illegal assembly, while the penalty for the minors is $118. The remaining 12 were isolated arrests, including four for criminal acts and eight for city bylaw infractions, police said.
One person was arrested for wearing a mask, police specified, the first arrest under the new anti-mask law. The penalty is $1000 to $2000 for a first offense.
Rocks and a fiery object were thrown at police officers, Fortier explained. He did not know if police were applying provisions of Bill 78, a new Quebec law that forbids unannounced protests.
Fortier said most of those arrested will face municipal bylaw infractions for being at an illegal assembly. A much smaller number will face more serious charges of assault and armed assault. The group was being gradually transported on Société de transport de Montréal buses.
Showing proof of the attack against them, a Montreal police officer pulled three golf ball-sized rocks out of his pocket and showed it to a Radio-Canada TV news crew that was broadcasting live. The Radio Canada reporter held up an object found on the ground that he said was a crude incendiary device.
The cops had until then accompanied the larger of three evening protests without incident since it left Place Emilie Gamelin at Berri and Ste. Catherine Sts. and meandered all over downtown and the Plateau.
The protesters chanted, sang and banged pots and pans. And they cheered at people who waved red fabric from their balconies in support.
“Marchons, chaque soir, jusqu’à la victoire!” (Let’s march, each night, until we are victorious) the protesters shouted. And, to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” they chanted “If you want (Quebec Premier Jean) Charest to take off like his (education) minister, clap your hands.”
Another popular one translates roughly, without the profanity, as: “The special law, we couldn’t care less.”
Nicolas Lahaie, 30 and Eric Bonneau, 26, both doctoral biochemistry students at the Université de Montréal, said they were tired physically but mentally prepared for the long haul.
“We said we would march every night until this is settled and that is what is happening,” Lahaie said. Marchers take turns although there is no major organizational effort to do so. “We just show up when we can,” Lahaie said, adding he had attended 15 marches of the 30 nightly ones.
He and his friends were handed $146 tickets for being at an illegal assembly May 16. “We’re all going to contest it.” Lahaie said he was somewhat hopeful that student leaders will meet once again with Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne. But he said the government should come to the talks ready to bargain, and not refuse to budge on tuition fees.
“We would accept the fees being indexed to the inflation rate,” Lahaie said.
Bonneau said he told his girlfriend he would try not to get arrested. “It means we don’t wear masks. We don’t break anything,” Bonneau said.
Earlier, at Place Emilie Gamelin, Université du Québec à Montréal literature students Virginie Blanchette-Doucet and Benoit Loyer, both 22 and who have boycotted their classes for 14 weeks, talked about the sense of frustration coupled with numbness that has set in.
Loyer said he has attended five nightly marches. His friends and classmates call each other and try to come together when they go to the protests, for moral support and safety reasons.
“We’ve become blasé but we’re still mad,” Blanchette-Doucet said. “We’re all tired of this.”
In Quebec City, 170 people were arrested during a march that was declared illegal before it even began. The protesters did not give police an intinerary of the march eight hours in advance, as stipulated by law 78. Each person arrested will be ticketed for contravening the new law, the capital’s police service said.
BRENDA BRANSWELL OF THE GAZETTE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT
Quebec faces mounting pressure amid student crisis
694 arrested in Montreal and Quebec City protests
CBC News, May 24, 2012
In the midst of an expanding social crisis, Premier Jean Charest is replacing his most senior aide and bringing back a right-hand man with a reputation for steady competence.
Daniel Gagnier is being brought back after three years away from politics and is returning to his old position as chief of staff. He replaces Luc Bastien.
Gagnier is apparently being given a mandate to kick-start negotiations with student groups and seek a resolution to the unrest plaguing the province, before tourists flock to Montreal for festival season.
His previous stint in the premier’s office coincided with an era when Charest was at his most popular – from 2007 to 2009.
At a time when Charest had a steady hold on power, Gagnier left a senior position at Alcan to work with him and he remained with the premier while he led a minority government; he left after Charest won another majority government.
Since Gagnier’s departure, the Charest government has been rocked by ethics scandals and now by the student-led unrest. An election is expected within months.
According to The Canadian Press, Gagnier has already been heavily involved in recent weeks, having offered his help as a volunteer.
The annoucement came hours after sweeping arrests, the most made in a single night since the start of the tutition conflict, were confirmed in Montreal and Quebec City
Police in Montreal moved in on student protesters Wednesday night, kettling them and making a total of 518 arrests.
The majority of those arrested in Montreal will face fines, police said. Some will be charged under the Criminal Code.
In Quebec City, police detained 176 people under the provisions laid out in Quebec’s controversial new protest law, known as Bill 78.
That demonstration was declared illegal because protesters refused to give police their route in advance, one of the provisions of the new law.
Police later ticketed them under the traffic act for blocking the roadway.
The students are marching against the Quebec government’s plan to raise university tuition. For more than three hours Wednesday, a crowd of thousands walked peacefully through the streets, and then the situation changed quickly.
“This is the 30th night of the protest,” one woman told CBC’s Tom Parry. “Can you imagine what’s going to happen when there’s summer festivals? … We’re going to keep marching. It’s not going to stop. Negotiations have to happen.”
The Quebec government has offered to return to the bargaining table, but it won’t give in on the tuition hike or on another student demand that it scrap its controversial new emergency law that clamps down on protests.
Protesters snaked through the streets for more than three hours before police kettled them.
Officers’ ‘physical integrity’ in jeopardy
Const. Daniel Lacoursiere of the Montreal police said officers were in danger and had to act.
“Their physical integrity was in jeopardy,” he told CBC News. “That’s why all these arrests were made at the corner of St-Denis and Sherbrooke.”
Riot squad officers had been marching on the sidewalk beside the front of the protest all evening. An order to disperse was given when protesters arrived at Sherbrooke Street, because police had been pelted by projectiles and other criminal acts had been committed, Lacoursiere said.
The group had also apparently resisted going in a direction ordered by police.
Those arrested could face charges under municipal bylaws or the Criminal Code.
Photographer pushed to ground
The swift police action squeezed the mob together tighter and tighter as the officers advanced and some people begged to be let out, pleading they were bystanders. One photographer was seen to be pushed to the ground and a piece of equipment was heard breaking. Some protesters cursed and yelled at provincial police officers, who ignored the taunts.
Riot officers stood impassively around the corralled demonstrators, feet planted and batons clutched in gloved hands. On a nearby street, a Quebec provincial police officer was seen snapping a rod topped with the flag of the hardcore anti-capitalist Black Bloc and tossing it between two parked cars.
Police on horseback also provided reinforcement as officers sorted out the crowd.
Emmanuel Hessler, an independent filmmaker who had been following the march for a few blocks, said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press from inside the police encirclement that he was surprised by the action, saying, “Suddenly, there were police all around us.”
Released from detention
Some of those arrested in Montreal were taken to the police’s eastern operation centre, where they were processed and released Thursday morning.
Several people who emerged bleary-eyed from the detention centre said they were bewildered by what had happened to them.
They said the march was unfolding peacefully when all of a sudden they were cornered by police at the intersection of Saint-Denis and Sherbrooke streets. They said they were made to wait for several hours and read their rights en masse.
One protester leaving the detention centre said he was issued a $600 ticket.
He described the police action as heavy-handed as officers were ordering the demonstrators to leave, but were blocking the way out.