|TML salutes the Quebec students, teachers and parents and those who supported them during their courageous and persistent struggle against the tuition fee increase. The September 20 announcement by the new Parti Québécois government of the cancelation of the hike and a decree repealing the provisions of Law 12 (formerly Bill 78, the Special Law) was welcomed by students and their allies celebrating their victory while remaining vigilant.
"Students should be well aware that it is their work in the spring and during the election campaign that allowed them to declare this victory today. That's what made the difference and now we are reaping the fruits of our labour," said Eliane Laberge and Martine Desjardins, presidents of the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) and the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ), respectively.
"This is the triumph of justice and equity," said Desjardins. "Collectively, we just wrote a chapter in the history of Quebec. Collectively, we just proved that we are able to hold our own and achieve one of the greatest victories of the student movement."
"The cancellation of the hike and the Special Law is obviously a priority, but we must quickly resolve problems with student financial aid," said Eliane Laberge. "Students, who have resumed their school session, currently have no government support. Order must be brought to the chaos of the start of the school year. [The new Minister of Higher Education and Research Pierre Duchesne] must work towards resolving this situation and look at the recent changes made by the Liberal government."
Regarding the Post-Secondary Education Summit to be held in the first 100 days following the election of the new government, the FECQ and FEUQ representatives said, "For the federations, the success of such a summit is largely based on its preparation. So as not to repeat the farce of [the Summit of] December 6, 2010, the government must establish a clear and precise roadmap with the modus operandi of the Summit. To help students and the public to correctly comprehend the students' reality, the government must publicize the study it regularly produces on students' living conditions, as soon as possible before the Summit."
"There is a lot of talk about university funding, student contributions, accessibility and quality. But there is little talk of university management and, more importantly, the objectives that we want to set to expand our university network. And I'm not even talking about all the issues that surround research. If we want this summit to be a success, preparation is the key. And it must implement solutions that will permit the work to continue," said Desjardins.
In conclusion, the FECQ and FEUQ presidents said, "We have always been committed to the future of Quebec and the future depends on, among others things and is not limited to, a high quality and accessible post-secondary education system. It is today's youth who have to endure tomorrow's challenges. Give them all the necessary tools and stop putting sticks in their spokes."
The Broad Coalition for Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE) also praised the courage and determination of all those who rallied in recent months. It also said that this victory is not the end of the struggle and the popular and student mobilization must continue.
"If the Parti Québécois today decreed a series of measures to respond to our demands, it is because we stuck to our principles and defended them in a combative and unifying manner," said Camille Robert, co-spokesperson for CLASSE. "In the future, our approach will succeed over any retrogressive measures." CLASSE reiterated that it remains opposed to any increase in tuition fees, including indexed cost of living. "Education is a public service that must remain accessible and not a commodity whose price varies depending on the market," said Jeanne Reynolds, co-spokesperson for the organization.
"We can be proud of what we accomplished, but keep in mind that the struggle for access to education does not end today. In this sense, we continue to defend free education as a social project," concluded Camille Robert.
The Quebec Student Roundtable (TaCEQ) for its part said it was pleased with the cancellation of Law 12 and the tuition hike announced following the first meeting of the new Cabinet. "There is no doubt that the student and popular mobilization in recent months has greatly contributed to the achievement of these goals," it said in a statement.
"We want a real discussion on post-secondary education in the context of this consultation. It must cover university funding as much as student debt and research, while not losing sight of the importance of the quality of education," said Paul-Émile Auger, general secretary of TaCEQ.
Call to Victims of Political and Police Repression
During Student Strike
The League of Rights and Freedoms, the Association of Progressive Lawyers and Broad Coalition of Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE) have launched a call to the victims of political and police repression since the spring. The call is a response to the fact that the Police Ethics Commissioner, which saw complaints increase by 14 per cent in 2012, rejected 46 per cent of all complaints filed during the student conflict, several of which were accompanied by video footage and witness testimonies.
The three organizations said during a September 27 press briefing that they intend to produce a report on human rights violations committed during the student strike. Victims and witnesses are invited to participate in the information gathering process with the aim of convincing the Marois government to hold a public inquiry. In this regard, a petition posted on the National Assembly website in June calling for a public inquiry has gathered more than 11,000 names in less than a month. A group of 131 teachers and Québec Solidaire also made the same request earlier this month.
The student strike which lasted just over six months resulted in 3,387 arrests. According to the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP) this corresponds to three times the number of arrests for the 1990 to 2010 period. In 2005, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, concerned with mass arrests, said that only a criminal act could lead to the arrest of a protester. With regards to preventive arrests, the League of Rights and Freedoms has already said that the concept of preventive detention does not exist in Quebec law.
"The new Minister of Public Safety Stéphane Bergeron said last week that he planned to see if an investigation into police work would be initiated. His statement appeared very timid to us, compared to the often brutal punishment suffered by protesters during the student strike," said Nicole Filion, spokesperson for the League of Rights and Freedoms. Since the spring, the League has been calling for a public inquiry into all the events that have occurred during the student strike. "The responsibility of elected officials should also be considered and victims of human rights violations must receive reparations. The investigation must also be an opportunity to reaffirm the need to preserve freedom of expression and the right to protest," she added.
The other two organizations have also emphasized the importance of knowing who gave the order for the arrests, including the mass arrests.
The three organizations said they have already received more than 100 accounts and hope to create the broadest possible list of cases of human rights violations that occurred in several cities in Quebec, including Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Montreal and Victoriaville.
"The student strike led to thousands of arrests, searches and arbitrary detentions and abuse," said Émilie Breton-Côté, representative of CLASSE's legal committee. "Some people were seriously injured, others were abused, intimidated and deprived of their right to protest for simply bringing to a public venue their message against a government that refused to listen. We cannot turn the page on these violations of rights and just shut up," she said.
The report will also analyze the legislative and regulatory provisions that the police used for their interventions. "The police have an entire legal arsenal that gives them discretionary powers to intervene. These powers can lead to profiling and, in the case of student protests political profiling was the issue," said Sibel Ataogul, spokeperson for the Association of Progressive Lawyers. "The public inquiry should also focus on these practices and target profiling laws and regulations that promote these practices."
People wishing to deliver their testimony are invited to do so by October 15, 2012 by visiting the League of Rights and Freedoms website.
Demonstration Celebrates Students' Victory and Announces Continuation of Struggle
On September 22, at 2:00 pm, nearly 3,000 students and their allies answered the call of the Broad Coalition of Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE) and rallied in Lafontaine Park for the seventh monthly mass protest to celebrate their victory in defeating the tuition hike.
CLASSE spokespersons reiterated that the recent victory is the result of the strength built over the last six months, which must be carried forward. "This victory is an inspiration for social movements around the world that are also fighting austerity measures. The gains the Quebec student movement achieved are an exception, for now, and demonstrate that nothing is immutable in politics," said Jeanne Reynolds, CLASSE co-spokesperson.
Several thousand students adopted one-day strike mandates for the September 22 day of action, a day normally reserved for classes.
While the movement has made headway on the tuition fee question, CLASSE said, other issues persist in post-secondary education. Among these are the financing and allocation of research funding, student financial aid, quality of teaching and the governance of educational institutions.
"We would not be any further ahead if the tuition freeze was funded to the detriment of student financial aid or through cuts to teaching positions," said Reynolds. "In addition, many students are still in a precarious situation because of the suspension of financial aid payments for the end of the winter session. This is an urgent issue that the government must remedy," added co-spokesperson Camille Robert.
Before the march even started the police staged a provocation when they attempted to arrest a small group of demonstrators under the pretext that they were dressed in black and wore masks. Demonstrators intervened and succeeded in blocking the attempted arrest. They chased the police away chanting, "No police in our demonstrations!"
The demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Montreal and once again received support from residents and tourists. At the corner of Guy and Sherbrooke streets, for no apparent reason, the police staged another provocation. They declared the demonstration illegal and attacked the demonstrators. They cited the municipal regulation adopted last spring by the City of Montreal that says demonstration organizers must give police an itinerary before the start of a demonstration. Two youth were arrested for being what the Montreal police called "disruptive elements."
This brutality against the youth and these arbitrary arrests once again highlight the need for an independent public inquiry into police behaviour. Quebeckers oppose the practice of permitting police to act like a power unto themselves that is not accountable to the public.
Education Is a Right!
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