Friday 25 May 2012


The difference in the colour of the background is simply an anomaly.
On February 21st, 2912, 36,000 students who make up roughly nine percent of Quebec’s 400.000 university and college students went on strike because they were protesting proposed tuition hikes.

Tens of thousands of protesters (mostly students) unhappy with planned tuition hikes in Quebec took to the streets again on the afternoon of May 23rd 2012 in Montreal to mark 100 days of demonstrations. They are still upset that College and University tuition hikes are going to be increased.

Their protests are unwarranted. The increases in tuition are reasonable because they are  are among the lowest in Canada. Quebec’s last round of tuition hikes were $50 a semester for the next five years. Although those increases were greeted with protests, they prompted nothing like the current anger over plans for annual increased hike of $1,778 for several years to come which will be indexed to inflation which raises the tuition fees for a university degree to $12,000 over a seven-year period from the $6,500 they are currently paying. But even with the hikes, Quebec would still have some of Canada's lowest tuition rates considering the fact that elsewhere in Canada, the students are paying as much as $22,000 over a seven-year period. I will compare the annual tuition fees of Colleges and Universities with those in Quebec and those in Ontario.


Visual Arts: $2,813—Pharmacy: $2,284—Dentistry: $3,175—Nursing: $5,467—
Medicine: $2,711—Education: $2,287—Law: $2,437—Business: $2,414—Engineering: $2,443. These tuitions average out to $2,519 a year.


Visual Arts: $5,563—Pharmacy: $23,114—Dentistry: $26,406—Nursing: $5,467—
Medicine: $19,462—Education: $5,745—Law: $13,113—Business: $7,821—Engineering: $8,846. These tuitions average out to $6,640 a year.

This means that the students in Quebec are still paying roughly three times less in tuitions that the students in Ontario. This makes these student whiners’ complaints in Quebec come across as an obscene exercise in bellyaching. They should be ashamed of themselves. This is why support for student strikers wanes in Quebec.

Presently, the average undergrad tuition ($2,519) in that province is on par with Canada’s national average back in 1976. If the proposed $1,778 tuition hike takes effect, Quebec fees will become 70 per cent higher than what Canadians paid a generation ago. Statistics Canada shows that university revenue from student fees grew from 10 to 21 per cent, while revenue from governments fell from 72 to 55 per cent.

Tuition, especially in Quebec, is not the major problem facing young adults. A bigger problem that they are facing is that young people’s wages aren’t keeping pace with the cost of living while trying to pay for their schooling. The average minimum wage in Canada in 1976 was slightly higher than the current minimums which was around $10.50 in today’s dollars. While minimum wages stalled, housing prices went up 76 per cent across the country and over 90 per cent in Quebec. This means students pay far higher rents today while attending their classes. However, the financial problems for young Canadians living in some parts of Canada are far worse than they are in Quebec.

Admittedly, Quebec as a province is in dire financial straits. The largest cities in that province are suffering from unsustainable pension obligations. Further, if negotiations with the city unions in that province don't provide some taxpayer relief, then the problem will increase even more. In some cases, the spending of taxpayer's money is adding to the problem. For example, it cost a city $45 a day per child in daycare but the parents are only required to pay $7 of that amount. Quebec is the highest-taxed jurisdiction in Canada with the highest per-capita provincial debt. That province doesn't have a lot of taxpayers and because of tax deductions, only about half of Quebec's citizens pay any net income tax and almost all of the income tax raised only comes from a third of the population. 

However, the protesters are ignoring the fact that financial assistance for students whose family's annual income is less than $100,000 a year would receive financial assistance with respect to their tuition after their requests are reviewed by a specially appointed council which would be heavily represented by students. Now either those students who are protesting are in that category and are too stupid to understand that particular proposal or their families are rich enough that they can afford the tuition and those students are simply greedy and want the government to subsidize their tuition for them. 

As I see it, the protesting students are ungrateful little twerps. The government is having a difficult time trying to be financial viable as it is. The student's silly  outrage over their provinces' tuition hikes still leaves them with the lowest post-secondary education fees in North America. What makes them think that they should get special treatment over the other students in North America? If the protest these students are presenting to the World is a sign of what the future of Quebec has to offer the rest of Canada, then maybe the separation of that province from the rest of Canada might very well be a blessing in disguise. 

Do these stupid students realize that having a degree from a university is no longer (and hasn't been for many years) a guarantee of employment after graduation. The students that have a better chance of getting a job after graduation are those who graduate from the community colleges. I remember years ago reading about an anthropologist complaining that he couldn't find work. Didn't his mommy tell him that finding a job as an anthropologist is very difficult to acquire at best? 

Only one-third of Quebec students are actually on declared strikes, but the conflict has created considerable social disorder. It is one thing to protest—it is quite something else to stomp on the rights of others during the protests. For example, the Metro system was paralyzed for much of one of the mornings in Montreal after vandals threw smoke bombs inside three main stations. Further, tens of thousands of commuters were affected by hackers.

Students who go to College and Universities to learn are suffering also. For example, Véronique Blouin, a student at Collège de Valleyfield, says her paid ‘extern’ position this summer at the Lakeshore General Hospital has been cancelled because of the ongoing students' strike. Second-year student, Adélie Lussier who studies at Cégep André-Laurendeau, where students have been on strike since February 29th said, “I found myself without a job because of this,” Her part-time job during the school year is located inside the LaSalle College. She worked at the school’s co-op, which sells textbooks and supplies. Mireille Tremblay-Caron, a 17-year-old student at Ecole (school) ‘Face’ plans to study theatre next fall at Cégep Saint-Laurent and has already visited the college for an orientation session. He says that he doesn’t know when he will start his schooling at the college because even the teachers don’t know either. These are just three of the many students in Quebec who are facing problems relating to the protests. 

Roughly 100 demonstrators, almost all of them wearing bandannas or masks, assembled in front of College Lionel-Groulx one morning to block access to the school for a third straight day. The protesters at another college (Ste-Therese) defied a court injunction and prevented classes from taking place. Gatineau police were investigating a bomb threat at College de l’Outaouais, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of students on the morning of May 17th just as classes started. Gatineau police said that the threat was called in to the police at 7:55 a.m. from a pay phone at Couche-Tard at 291 Freeman Street. The police said a witness saw a man make a call from the pay phone around that time. Félix Leclerc, Gabrielle-Roy, and Louis-Reboul campuses were evacuated as a precaution. After conducting searches and finding no bomb, the police signaled it was safe for students to return to class at 9:16 a.m. Protesters stormed into a university on May 16th, many of them with their faces covered by masks, moving through the hallways in a hunt for classes they could disrupt. Their intrusions were orchestrated by protesters seeking to enforce their declared strikes.  

They resented some students’ use of legal injunctions to return to school. Earlier on the 11th of May, a community college north of Montreal shut down for a 73rd consecutive day despite an injunction won by 53 students who want to finish their semesters.

While those confrontations were taking place in Montreal, the provincial cabinet was meeting in Quebec City to discuss the possibility of adopting emergency legislation — a law reportedly laden with financial penalties for people who have played a role in encouraging the ongoing disruption or any other similar disruptions in the future.

On May 18, the Québec legislature signed a special “emergency law” to “restore order” in the province following three months of student protests in a strike against the government’s proposed 80% increase in the cost of tuition. A legislative debate lasted all night and resulted in a vote of 68-48 in favour of the legislation.

The legislation has three main focal points: (1) it “suspends” the school semester for schools majorly affected by the strike, (2) it establishes extremely high fines for anyone who attempts to picket or block access to schools, (between $7,000 and $35,000 for a student leader of an illegal protest and between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student Federations who participate in an illegal protest) (3) it imposes massive restrictions on where and how people may demonstrate and protest in the streets. 

According to Bill 78, it also requires organizers of a demonstration with more than 50 participants to provide written details and the route of the event eight hours in advance. This way the police have a better means of controlling the protesters to make sure that their protest doesn’t get out of hand and cause disruptions that will cause grief to the rest of the citizens. The law is set to expire by July 1, 2013.

Two student associations had previously given the Montreal police their intended protest route and itinerary as per the most controversial requirement under Bill 78. The enormous crowd however, cleaved into three separate marches and as a direct result, the protesters paralyzed the central core of the city for the better part of the afternoon of the 15th of May. Even those who thought they were following the right path ended up on the wrong one. Police, however, decided to let the protesters go where they wanted because as they said, most of the protesters marched peacefully.
The largest and most militant federation, the CLASSE, vowed to disobey the law by not informing police of its protest plans. Its members kept that promise by going another way. The police couldn’t stop them. There were too many people for them to try to manage.  
One group of marchers included masked members of the anarchist Black Bloc which was quickly declared as illegal protesters. Bank windows were smashed, anarchist graffiti was also sprayed along several routes that the anarchists were on. As far as I am concerned, these anarchists who are caught should be sentenced to a minimum of one year in jail irrespective of what their background is or what needs they need to have fulfilled, such a finishing their school year. They deserve the punishment. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t express my concern about who gets penalized if something goes wrong in a sanctioned protest march. Bill 78 holds the organizers and their organizations personally liable to enormous fines if damages are done to private or public property during the marches. That is highly unfair when the leaders of such marches want their protest marches to be peaceful and thugs who have joined the march have committed the acts of vandalism. The only time the leaders of the protest marches and their organizations should be punished is if the leaders are found organizing and/or sanctioning the vandalism and vandalism by the protesters  are the direct result. This Bill could end protest marches in Quebec because such marches must have leaders and what leader of an organization would be willing to risk being personally punished when the risk of thugs joining the march to commit acts of vandalism during the protest march is so high?

I want to spend the rest of this post on the issue of the part of Bill 78 that deals with the protesters having to seek permission to conduct a march first before exercising their rights to march.

Normally, in a democratic society, we as citizens accept that the law must be obeyed and respected. We cannot simply say, ‘I don’t like this law’ and then go about breaking it and not expect that there will be consequences that will follow.  

In my respectful opinion, I think the law that the Quebec legislature enacted about permission having to be granted before a specific route for a march can be undertaken is a reasonable law.

If permission wasn’t given, then any group of marchers could clog up the major arteries of a community and prevent vehicles from using the roads and also cause a loss of income to stores on such roads.

As an example, suppose you are the owner of a small food store on a street that is clogged by protesters day after day for an entire week and for this reason, your regular customers don’t patronize your store, it could cost you a great deal of money. Further, as a result of the loss of business, you have to lay off most of your staff during the time the protesters are monopolizing the street. Who is going to pay you for your losses and your employees for their loss of wages?

There are other countries that have laws in their cities that clearly state that official permission must be given before a march can be undertaken, so what is legally wrong for the province of Quebec to enact a similar law?

Does it conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights? Section 2 (c) of the Charter guarantees that everyone has the freedom to peaceful assembly. Freedom of assembly has been defined as being an aspect of the public expression of opinion spoken or written on a placard and by demonstration even if it is a silent demonstration. Assembly relates to the gathering of a group of people in generally one location such as an area in a city or a specific street or park. Freedom of assembly is therefore a form of protected speech even if a word is not spoken. Even sticking your middle finger in the air is a form of expression. I appreciate the fact that the Charter guarantees freedom of expression, not merely the freedom of speech. 

However, the freedom of assembly is not an absolute guarantee that permits anyone to assemble in any place they choose. For example, protesters can’t legally assemble on private property or enter a church or any other holy place while a service is underway. They can’t assemble in a hospital or even in the classrooms of schools, colleges and universities and make a nuisance of themselves protesting whatever they want to protest.

But does the Charter guarantee everyone the right to conduct a protest march on any street they choose to march on? I don’t think so. The authorities acting in the best interests of the general public have the right to put a limit on the right of assembly if their decision to do so is justified. For example, suppose a large group of people wanted to stage their protest in the center of the only bridge that connects their community with the outside, would the decision of the city authorities to forbid such a plan not be justified? 

The government of Quebec and the majority of the province’s legislators have felt that any group of people that comprises of 50 or more persons must first obtain permission to assemble anywhere in a public place. Obviously the reasoning behind that enactment of that law is for the protection of the citizens and their property. We have seen or read all about mobs of people causing damage to property on the streets in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and we want that to end. I realize that most of the vandals were not legitimate protesters or peaceful citizens but nevertheless, the vandals mingled in amongst the legitimate protesters and crowds who had no means of preventing the carnage that was going on around them.

We can’t rely on the general public being able to have control of our streets and even the police have difficulty in controlling streets when mobs get out of control. But at least in Quebec (as elsewhere) the police will be able to direct when and where the protesters can march and mingle in a location that will not bring hardship to the residents and businesses in the area. I am not suggesting that the police designate some seldom used street on the outskirts of a community. But if they are going to designate a street inside the boundaries of a community, they should be able to give sufficient warning to the citizens and businesses on those streets that on such and such a day, there will be a protest march taking place. This way, everyone is forewarned and precautions can then be undertaken. 

I have to admit that I am shocked that at the time of this writing, that the police have arrested no less that 2500 protesters in Quebec. Are we to believe that that many protesters were actually breaking the law? Will the arrests turn out to be similar to that Toronto Police fiasco when they arrested over 1100 people during the G20 Summit in June 2010 and released the vast majority of them with no charges being laid against them? 

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