Quebec students strike over $50 fee hike

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Students in Quebec have finally found a good reason to skip school.

Last week the Association for Solidarity among Student Unions (ASSE) called on Quebec students to retaliate against tuition hikes by striking for three days.

Students are protesting Jean Charest’s campaign promise to provide new money for postsecondary education, but this means tuition fees will rise cumulatively by $50 each semester over a five-year period.

The Quebec ministry of education could not be reached for comment.

Quebec tuition is still less than in Ontario, but many students are frustrated at the increases and demanded the government withdraw its decision.

On Monday, Nov. 12, students at University du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) barricaded themselves in the Hubert-Aquin building. They threw chairs and damaged furniture when police arrived.

Francine Jacques, head of public relations at UQAM, said the university respects the democratic decision of the students to strike, but requests they not vandalize university property.

The protest was followed by a bed-in on Tuesday night at Cégep du Vieux Montréal. The peaceful event, attended by at least 350 people, turned violent when Cégep administration called police.

One hundred students were arrested following the protest and charged with public mischief, assault and battery.

“We think education is a right, not a product or a service,” Laurent Levesque, information delegate at the Student Union at Cégep du Vieux Montréal, said.

Yves de Repentigny, secretary general of the teacher’s union at Cégep du Vieux Montréal, said administration did not handle the protest properly.

“They should let the students do their bed-in. Otherwise, you’re in for a mess. That’s exactly what happened.

“Our position was, let them do it ... Have someone to be there to watch and make sure there’s no mess.”

She added executives at Cégep were very swift at calling the police.

Repentigny said the faculty union supports the students, although their methods may not be ideal, but admitted students have few options when it comes to swaying the government.

“What other means do you have? Maybe you could block a bridge or an important street. I don’t see much else.”

The Quebec government said it will not open negotiation on the issue.

Last week’s strikes gained the media’s attention and put pressure on politicians, but Levesque said more needs to be done if they want to influence the government “known for its stubbornness.”

Levesque insisted they will continue to push the government, even though students’ marks are suffering.

“If our strike lasts a long enough time, there’s two options: either they do back off, or they impose one of their beautiful laws of forcing us back to class.”

More drastic measures may replace the relatively minor strikes.

“We’ll have to consider an unlimited strike for next semester. It’s our last and our greatest method of protest,” Levesque warned.

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