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A red river of Canadians, mostly students, flowed through the streets of Montreal this afternoon marking the 100th day of protest against austerity cuts to education and a draconian attempt by the Quebec government to squelch growing dissent. Early estimates put the number of people in the hundreds of thousands and images show kilometers of red-clad people filling Montreal's wide boulevards.
An emergency law passed on Friday by the Quebec government — Bill 78 — intended to restrict growing student protests in the eastern Canadian province has done little to dissuade massive numbers who came out today to protest Bill 78, austerity cuts to education and increases in tuition.
"The fundamental rights under threat today need to be defended."
Bill 78, which required protesters to submit their itinerary to authorities in advance, was widely derided by student activists. Though some student groups decided to comply, many others refused.
"The special law won't kill the student movement," Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesman for the student group CLASSE, said at a news conference on Monday. "The fundamental rights under threat today need to be defended." The group defied the order by not submitting an official itinerary for today's protest.
In a symbolic act of resistance, the student group encouraged anyone against the law to post their photo on a new website, the name of which translates as "Someone arrest me," reports the Global Montreal. CLASSE reported the site was briefly overloaded Monday and had already received more than 2,000 submissions.
The passage of the law seems to have reinvigorated the student movement, as one marcher tweeted: "Tuition fee increases have barely been mentioned today. It is special law that has the attention on students."
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Montreal Gazette: Live Updated Coverage: Protests on Day 100 of the Quebec student conflict
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Canadian Press: Red river of student protest runs through Montreal on Day 100
Small events are being held in support of the Quebec one in other Canadian cities, as well as Paris and New York.
Tens of thousands of people are gathering and preparing to march in Montreal, carrying signs, chanting slogans, and wearing the iconic red square of the province’s student movement.
In the crowd are supporters from outside Quebec.
While less than one-third of Quebec’s post-secondary students are actually on strike, they have attracted some support from people angry at the provincial government over its emergency law that sets rules on protests.
The law requires organizers to give police eight hours’ notice of when and where a protest will happen — and it imposes fines for offenders.
There’s some debate in the crowd over whether to stick to the pre-approved route supplied to police, or whether to wander off in defiance of the controversial law.
After taking a beating over four days from people accusing it of trampling democratic rights, the Quebec government began a counter-offensive in support of its law Tuesday.
At a news conference, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil read from a list of cities with equally tough, or tougher, rules for organizing protests.
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Montreal Gazette: Timeline of Quebec Student Protest
A timeline of the Quebec student strike against tuition hikes, which marks its 100th day Tuesday with a day- time rally starting at 2 p.m. at Quartier des Spectacles.
May 2003: University administrators call for Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government to lift the freeze on tuition fees. “God won’t pay. Someone will have to take the bill,” said Jean-Marie Toulouse, principal of École des Hautes études commerciales Montréal. Charest says his government will maintain the freeze for duration of his first mandate. At $1,862, Quebec’s average yearly undergraduate tuition is less than half the Canadian average of $4,025.
February 2004: The Quebec National Assembly launches hearings into the quality, accessibility and funding of universities. Students vow to man the barricades against increases in tuition and other fees. Universities cite studies showing Quebec institutions are underfunded by $375 million a year.
November 2004: University and CEGEP students from across province take to streets to protest a government plan to convert $103 million from bursaries to loans.
April 2005: After months of protests and winter-long strikes by more than 100,000 students, Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier reinstates the $103 million in bursary money.
November 2007: About 2,000 of 58,000 university and CEGEP students on strike against a $100 per year hike in tuition fees take to the streets of Montreal. The event is part of a three-day strike marked by hundreds of arrests on charges of vandalism and public mischief.
February 2010: Former Parti Québécois premier Lucien Bouchard joins former Liberal and PQ finance ministers, business leaders and retired rectors urging Charest government to end the tuition freeze. They suggest universities be allowed to raise fees to $3,000 to $8,000.
December 2010: University principals and rectors urge a $1,500 hike in tuition fees over five years in the name of “intergenerational equity.” They cite a study saying it would take $1,500 just to cover inflation and bring fees in line with the $545 Quebec students paid in 1969.
March 2011: Quebec announces plan to raise university tuition by $325 a year over five years, beginning in September 2012. Over that period, rates will climb by 80 per cent, from $2,168 to $3,793. Protesters – including three senior executives of the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante – occupy Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s office.
July 2011: CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois accuses Montreal police of “a wave of repression” against student protests. “You can chase us, arrest us and hit us but you will never succeed in intimidating us,” he says.
November 2011: 30,000 people march to protest tuition hikes. The peaceful event ends with the occupation of McGill University’s administration building.
Feb. 21, 2012: 36,000 students, who make up roughly nine per cent of Quebec’s 400,000 university and CEGEP students, go on strike. Their emblem is a red square, a play on the notion that impoverished students are “squarely in the red.”
March 7: The number of students on strike continues to climb. Police use tear gas and flash bombs after more than 1,000 protesters block the entrance to the Loto-Québec building.
March 22: An estimated 200,000 people take to the streets. Despite the presence of small pockets of masked protesters, the event is peaceful.
April 12: Day marked by 12 hours of rotating protests through the downtown core. Education Minister Line Beauchamp applauds efforts by Valleyfield CEGEP to try to open its doors and urges other universities and colleges to do what is needed to resume classes. About 185,000 students are on strike, with 90,000 threatening to boycott classes until the tuition hike is repealed.
April 19: As efforts to reopen campuses are met by protests and clashes with police, Beauchamp calls student leaders to the negotiating table. She banishes CLASSE unless it denounces acts of violence, but other student groups demand CLASSE be included.
May 1: Students present a counter offer which calls for indexing administrative costs at universities, a move they say would release $189 million toward teaching and research costs.
May 3: Charest and Beauchamp present a proposal that would spread the increase over seven years instead of five. Student groups claim the government has ignored their chief demand that tuition remain frozen at $2,168. During a demonstration outside a Quebec Liberal Party meeting in Victoriaville, police use tear gas after a student protest deteriorates with a group of masked protesters hurling rocks and bottles and setting off fireworks.
May 8: Student groups reject a tentative agreement hammered out between Beauchamp and student groups.
May 14: Beauchamp resigns from cabinet and the National Assembly, saying she could no longer be part of the solution. Beauchamp had raised the possibility of a moratorium, delaying the $1,778 fee hike, but student leaders waited all weekend before returning her calls. Within an hour, Charest appoints Treasury Board President Michelle Courchesne to take her place.
May 17: The Charest government adopts Bill 78, special legislation which suspends the academic year at 14 CEGEPs and university faculties where students are still on strike. The legislation, which expires on July 1, 2013, includes strict rules on demonstrations by groups of 50 or more protesters and heavy fines for those who defy the law. This leads to charges that it infringes on charter rights to expression and free assembly.
May 18: Molotov cocktails are hurled at police, who respond by using tear gas. There are 69 arrests.
May 19: Saturday night march quickly deteriorates when protesters light bonfires on St. Denis St. Police use pepper spray and 116 people are arrested. The red-square movement gets a celebrity stamp of approval from the likes of Montreal band Arcade Fire (whose members wear them while performing on Saturday Night Live) and filmmakers Xavier Dolan and Michael Moore.
May 20: More than 300 people are arrested in night violence marked when protesters hurl asphalt at police. Montreal police throw percussion bombs and charge into the crowd repeatedly in a battle that lasts several hours. More than 300 people are arrested, 10 officers and 10 protesters are injured, at least one seriously.
May 21: CLASSE launches a counter-attack to Bill 78, vowing to defy the law and “refuse to cede to intimidation.”
May 22: Unions urge members to join students for a huge rally against Bill 78 scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at the Quartier des Spectacles.