Joan Boxalls's poem on fracking
Report from the Ground in Quebec 2012
This report was written May 28th, 2012
by Kira Page
To family, friends, and allies on the west coast and elsewhere;
I'm writing you almost a week after close to half a million people gathered in Montreal to mark the 100th day of the student strike, and to express their anger and rage at the passing of the Loi 78 in Quebec. Many of you have asked me for information about what is going on; it is also a time of need for students and their allies. My apologies for the length-- there's a lot to say, and this barely begins to cover it.
There so much to say about what's been going on that I'm not sure where to start. First off, though the rest of Canada only seems to be noticing now, students have been on strike for months. There have been hundreds of demonstrations-- easily one every day for the entire period of the strike, and often more. Since March, there have also been dozens and dozens of economic disruptions (blocking of bridges, of the world trade center, of major banks, occupations of government offices, shutting down of the metro system, and so on). For three months running, there have been massive marches-- the first at about 200,000 people, the second at 300,000, and this latest estimated to be around 450,000-500,000 people*. This past week, neighbourhoods starting showing their solidarity with students and against Loi 78 by holding their own 'pots and pans', or 'casserole', demonstrations-- for an hour every night, entire neighbourhoods march, or sit on their stoops, banging pots and pans. In my neighbourhood (a fairly small one), there have been marches of around 3,000 people every night since Tuesday (here's a vid of one of our first neighbourhood demonstrations).
This resistance to the tuition hike and to 78 have been met with intense repression and police violence. I have dozens of stories of my own, and of my friends, but for the sake of brevity I'll defer to the words of a friend who works with the Legal Committee of the largest student association in the province, CLASSE. He writes:
"As of May 18th, 2012 our committee has documented and is supporting 472 criminal accusations as well as 1047 ticket and penal offenses. One week in April saw over 600 arrests in three days. And those numbers only reflect those charged with an offense, without mentioning the thousands pepper sprayed and tear gassed, clubbed and beaten, detained and released. It does not mention Francis Grenier, who lost use of most of an eye when a sound grenade was illegally thrown by a police officer into his face in downtown Montreal. It does not mention Maxence Valade who lost a full eye and Alexandre Allard who clung to life in a coma on a hospital bed for days, both having received a police rubber bullet to the head in Victoriaville. And the thousands of others brutalized, terrorized, harassed and assaulted on our streets. Four students are currently being charged under provisions of the anti-terrorist laws enacted following September 11th."
Since Max wrote this a week ago, another 900 arrests have been made, and several more people have entered into critical condition as a result of their treatment by the police. Much of this is the result of new laws, both provincial and municipal. The city bylaws make a number of actions associated with protest (wearing masks, for one) illegal, and the offences come with fines of about $630. The "special" law that was put in my place by the province, Loi 78, is being described as 'draconian' and 'fascist', is widely considered to be in violation of the Charter (particularly freedom of expression and assembly), is currently the target of the largest constitutional challenge in Quebec history, and has made for easy comparisons to the periods of grande noirceure in Quebec. Again, from Max:
"Among other draconian elements brought forward by this law, any gathering of 50 or more people must submit their plans to the police eight hours ahead of time and must agree to any changes to the gathering's trajectory, start time, etc. Any failure to comply with this stifling of freedom of assembly and association will be met with a fine of up to $5,000 for every participant, $35,000 for someone representing a 'leadership' position, or $125,000 if a union - labour or student - is deemed to be in charge. The participation of any university staff (either support staff or professors) in any student demonstration (even one that follows the police's trajectory and instructions) is equally punishable by these fines. Promoting the violation of any of these prohibitions is considered, legally, equivalent to having violated them and is equally punishable by these crippling fines.... In addition to these criminal and penal cases, of particular concern for those of us involved in the labour movement is that anti-strike forces have filed injunctions systematically from campus to campus to prevent the enactment of strike mandates, duly and democratically voted in general assemblies.
Those who have defended their strike mandates and enforced the strike are now facing Contempt of Court charges and their accompanying potential $50,000 fines and potential prison time. One of our spokespeople, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, will appear in Superior Court under such a charge for having dared say, on May 13th of this year, that "I find it legitimate" that students form picket lines to defend their strike."
At the same time as thousands of students and their allies-- including many of the people around me-- are facing severe injuries, court charges, and massive tickets, the last few months have also been inspiring and wonderful and exciting and full of hope and bravery. I think part of why this has been able to occur in Quebec is because there is a long history of social solidarity that has been less affected by neoliberal policies and austerity measures than elsewhere in North America. At least in my neighbourhood, this sense of social solidarity and support is what people are talking about rebuilding and strengthening.
In a community assembly yesterday afternoon, people spoke about creating systems for legal and psychosocial support for people being arrested, having regular community picnics and BBQs to get to know each other, mobilizing in the neighbourhood in order to resist the neoliberalization of the province, and plans for working towards a general strike. The "pots and pans" demonstrations have also made more visible what has been true for a while: this struggle is about more than tuition hikes; it's about more than free education; and it's about more than students. In the last few weeks, we have seen a solidarity strike from public service employees, a huge upswell of resistance against 78 from hundreds of unions and community organizations, and the highly visible presence of non-students and workers as part of the movement. It looks more and more like people are actively working to move this beyond a student strike with fairly specific demands and towards a broader social struggle. On a more quotidian level, the ongoings in the province are the only thing anyone talks about, and the only thing anyone does; at this point, almost everyone I know spends almost all of their spare time supporting and participating in this movement.
There is so much more to say and know about what is going on, and a huge barrier to that happening outside of Quebec is the dismal English media coverage. English media, both inside and outside of the province, has been terrible (including the CBC, Al Jazeera, and so on). In the past few weeks, we have started to see some articles coming out in English with a much better analysis, so I've included some of them here. One of the first good articles in English was this article by a Montreal freelance journalist, giving a very basic overview of what is going on. More recently, the Montreal Media Co-op (generally a great source of information) posted this article ("10 Points Everyone Should Know about the Strike"), which is much more detailed and pretty great, though I think there's still a lot more to add. This article out of New York offers a more chronological perspective, and adds details about the new law (Loi 78), which aims to criminalize the student protests specifically. Here is a more brief analysis of Loi 78. Lastly, for those of you who are 'numbers' people, this outlines the changes in Quebec tuition over the last forty years, in relation to other university fees and fluctuations in minimum wage. This article-- also by an involved Montreal organizer-- addresses some of the reasons why there is little to no coverage in the English media, and offers some other resources as well. n+1 has some more personal experience of the strike. If you're interested in keeping up to date more regularly with English media, Rouge Squad, Quebec Protest, and this page on Facebook are all amalgamating or translating English media (of varying quality). Open File Montreal and the Montreal Media Co-op-- both grassroots community media outlets here-- are offering some of the best coverage so far form on the ground. If you want to watch the protests live, every night, go to the Concordia University TV Livestream.
As well as wanting to give some of you an idea of what is going on here, I am also writing in part because there is a lot of need for outside support. We need people to be writing articles and doing radio shows that are well informed and supportive (as I mentioned above, the CBC coverage, as one example, has been astoundingly inaccurate). There is a need for pressure from outside of Quebec on the provincial Liberal government, particularly with regards to the repression and violence they are perpetrating. This is a need for solidarity actions, particularly economic disruptions, that put real pressure on governments and institutions. There is also a need for money. For those of you who have some, or who work for organizations or unions who might, here are a few places to start.
- The CLASSE legal committee, as I outlined above, is fighting hundreds and hundreds of criminal cases, tickets, and other infractions with extremely limited resources. As they put it, "Not only must we help those being unduly criminalized and facing injunctions undermining their right to associate, but we must act now and make sure that the criminalization and judicialization of a political struggle does not work and set a precedent that endangers the right to free speech and free assembly. You can send you donation directly to the order of "Fonds de défense légale 2012" to the following address: Att.: F. Dupuis-Déri, Dépt. Science politique, UQAM, Case postale 8888, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3C 3P8). Donations may also be made online using Paypal via the following address: http://www.fondslegal2012.org/index-en.html
- CUTV (Concordia University Television) has been the only media outlet providing live coverage of almost every single demonstration to date; they work tirelessly and have caught some of the most important footage of the strike to date. In response, they have been beaten, arrested, and harassed almost every night. Their camera equipment has been broken and smashed by the police on numerous occasions; their cameraman currently has a set of broken ribs. If you want to support community media, they're a very good place to start. Go to http://cutvmontreal.ca/
- The Maison de la Greve, one of the central organizing locations for the student strike, pays their rent and other costs entirely through donations. Their support page of here; if any of you need help navigating the site in french, let me know. https://maisondelagreve.boum.org/maintenant/nous-soutenir/
- Lastly, one of the biggest needs that I have seen is for street medics and medical professionals easily available at demonstrations, many of which results in dozens and dozens of injuries, the vast majority of which are not reported. In response, I have been working with fellow organizers and health practitioners to put together street medic, First Aid, and demo safety workshops and trainings. Though we will be able to provide the training for free, we need to finance the actual first aid kits-- so if any of you are interested in supporting this venture, let me know.
Most importantly, of course, there is a need for people to struggle in their own communities, on their own issues, and I would love to hear about that work from you as well. If y'all have any questions or thoughts, I would love to hear them. With love and solidarity,
*The police have very different estimates from the ones I have given. While police estimates from previous demonstrations seemed more or less reasonable, most people here feel that they (intentionally) publicly stated very low numbers for this march (their estimates are about 100,000 people). Based on the size of previous demonstrations as compared to this one, based on photographs, and based on estimates from more reliable news sources, I am using the 400,000-500,000 estimate.