518 Canadians arrested in protests

Nickalas Tabbert

Protests over higher university tuition led to the arrest of 518 people in Montreal Wednesday night.

Student protests have only grown since the provincial government passed emergency legislation last week to end Canada’s most sustained demonstrations ever, The Associated Press said.

Just before midnight police surrounded a large group of protesters to make a mass arrest, Montreal police Const. Daniel Fortier said.  The total of 518 arrests is the largest number of people arrested in a single night so far in the conflict that started back in February.

Arrests were also made in Quebec City and Sherbrooke.

What students are all bent out of shape about is a proposed increase of $1,778 for tuition over the next seven years – about C$254 (U.S. $249) per year.  Quebec has the lowest tuition rates in Canada.

Education Minister Michelle Courchesne and student leaders both want to talk, the Montreal Gazette said.  The students proposed conditions regarding the increase, but Courchesne said she will not accept them, saying the issue was “abundantly” discussed during a 22-hour bargain blitz the night of May 4-5.

The minister also rejected the students’ position calling for the repeal of a special law suspending until August the school term at affected CÉGEPs and universities and imposing heavy fines, up to $125,000, double for a second offence, if student associations organize illegal demonstrations, the Gazette said.

“We have to have pragmatic solutions,” Courchesne said after a cabinet meeting where the government reviewed its position.  “Now I see today that they are adding conditions.”

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec representing university students, said she will use alternative vocabulary because the government seems allergic to the word “moratorium.”

“We will not say we are not talking about a moratorium,” Desjardins said during a RDI television interview.  “Everything will be on the table.”

Léo Bureau-Blouin, president of the Fédération étudiante collègiale du Québec, said it is good news that the minister wants to talk.

“I think the demonstrations of recent days have shown the Charest government that the special law maybe was not the best solution,” he said.  “What is important is re-establishing contact with Madame Courchesne.”