MONTREAL — A river of red-clad protesters is rippling through downtown Montreal on this, the 100th day of Quebec’s student strikes, with smaller events being held in other cities.
Parallel events are being held in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and New York. In Paris, a few hundred supporters, including many Quebecers, congregated near the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.
In New York City, two demonstrations were scheduled Tuesday: one at Rockefeller Plaza where Quebec government offices are located, and another at Washington Park in the evening.
Organized by the Occupy Wall Street movement and by the group Strike Everywhere, the first New York event was designed to raise awareness about the Quebec protests while the second was about opposing anti-protest laws all over the world.
The events came several days after the Quebec government introduced a law setting rules for protests and promising stiff financial penalties for transgressors — a move that appears to have fanned the flames of the Quebec student movement.
“An increase in the powers of police and the state anywhere is an attack on us everywhere,” said the release for the New York event.
Within Canada, organizers of the Calgary gathering described Quebec’s law as draconian, and encouraged people to meet in support of Quebec students.
There are other hints the student unrest could spread outside the province. The Canadian Federation of Students wants to call an Ontario-wide strike vote this fall in a show of solidarity with Quebec students.
“A campaign of mass educationals, solidarity delegations and mass mobilizations should be used to lead up towards a student strike in Ontario,” the federation said in a recent letter.
Meanwhile, in Montreal, tens of thousands of people of all ages were marching, while wearing the iconic red square of the province’s student movement.
The crowd ranged from hardcore elements carrying posters with revolutionary slogans, to elderly marchers, students’ mothers, and groups of people bused in from the Ottawa area.
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 and its emergency law.
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 was 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.
Under encouragement from the more hardline C.L.A.S.S.E. student group, a minority of protesters broke off from the main crowd in a symbolic slap at the Bill 78.
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 even tougher, rules for organizing protests.
Dutil listed Geneva, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and Spain as jurisdictions that require far more than eight hours’ notice — up to 40 days, in the case of L.A. — in order to hold a protest.
“Other societies with rights and freedoms to protect have found it reasonable to impose certain constraints – first of all to protect protesters, and also to protect the public,” Dutil said.
But the Charest government’s critics accused it of badly mismanaging the crisis. One opposition party suggested a solution to the impasse: an election.
The Coalition For Quebec’s Future said the government, following a series of corruption scandals, had lost the moral authority to lead. It suggested Premier Jean Charest should promise to call an election in September to help ease the tension immediately.
For its part, the Parti Quebecois urged Charest to head back to the bargaining table with the students. It said the premier had made things worse with his decision to legislate instead of negotiate.
“This law, sadly, didn’t solve anything and won’t solve anything,” Marois said.
“The premier has lost control of the situation… Can the premier tell us how he intends to put an end to this crisis rattling Quebec? What happens now?”