MONTREAL — Protesters stormed into a university, many of them with their faces covered by masks, and worked through the hallways Wednesday on the hunt for classes to disrupt.
The protesters were enforcing their declared strikes, and resented the fact that some students have used legal injunctions to return to school.
Carrying a list of scheduled classes, about 100 hard-core protesters marched through pavilions at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal.
Making noise with drums and whistles, they made their way through the main UQAM building, splitting up on a number of occasions as they searched for ongoing classes. A masked protestester would yell out marching orders for the next target, such as: “Pavilion M!”
They entered a contract-law class after walking up nine flights of stairs.
In that classroom, the group began flicking on and off the lights, and repeatedly yelling, “Scab!” at the stunned group of students seated inside.
A few men even grabbed two female students by the arm, telling them to get out. One spray-painted a red message on the wall of the classroom: “On strike, dammit!”
The teacher and students shouted at the protesters and told them to leave.
But during the 10-minute standoff, most of the students eventually gave up and left the classroom, as did the teacher. Some of those who remained got into heated discussions with the protesters, as they yelled obscenities at each other.
The protesters then worked their way toward another class. They had marched east on De Maisonneuve Boulevard for a few minutes before they found their target: 1001 De Maisonneuve East. They chanted, “Who owns UQAM? We own UQAM!”
None of the protesters were carrying weapons. They did, however, get into students’ faces, shouting at them, shoving their books and climbing on desks.
Some annoyed students reported the incident to police.
Others snapped photos of the intruders with their cellphone cameras.
At one point, while a student was talking to a police officer outside the school, several demonstrators who were watching them shouted: “Scabs!” But she continued chatting with police.
“They’re trying to make us afraid to go back to class,” UQAM law student Celina Toia said after talking to the officers, who were sitting in a van.
“Teachers are more than willing to give their classes, so they’re trying to make it extremely inconvenient. They’re threatening us and they’re creating a hostile environment for us.”
The student unrest has lasted 14 weeks. Only one-third of Quebec students are actually on declared strikes, but the conflict has created considerable social disorder.
Wednesday’s events were notable — in that they were actually taking place inside classrooms, in face-to-face confrontations.
The social conflict so far has consisted of different sides fighting in court, and in the court of public opinion. It has also seen scuffles between police and protesters, but the events inside the classrooms Wednesday came as a shock.
The crisis appears headed for a crescendo.
The provincial cabinet was meeting Wednesday 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.
Premier Jean Charest and his ministers were assembled in Quebec City. On her way into the meeting, new Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said she had noticed a hardening of demands from student leaders.
That remark came as a surprise to the student groups, who had emerged from a meeting with Courchesne the previous night saying they had had a constructive dialogue.
-With a file from Andy Blatchford