250,000+ Defy Anti-Protest Law in Quebec

250,000+ Defy Anti-Protest Law in Quebec

Jeremie Bedard: Students will insist on their rights to education and their right to protest -   May 23, 2012
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250,000+ Defy Anti-Protest Law in QuebecJESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux, in for Paul Jay.

Today marked one of the largest protests ever to be recorded in Quebec's history. We are joined with Jérémie Bédard-Wien, who is a student organizer and who was on the ground today in Montreal. Jérémie, would you please describe for us what events have unfolded?

JÉRÉMIE BÉDARD-WIEN, STUDENT ORGANIZER, CLASSE: Right. Well, last week, the government of Quebec enacted a dangerous bill, Bill 78, which represents a crackdown on protests, and specifically on the student strike that has been happening in the past three months in Quebec. And today about 400,000 citizens, old and young, workers and students, marched in Montreal against Bill 78. Ironically, it was also the biggest event of civil disobedience in Quebec, since the protest was technically illegal, according to Bill 78.

DESVARIEUX: You said there were a lot of workers, students. It was just this huge act of solidarity.

BÉDARD-WIEN: People were very happy to march in solidarity with students and against Bill 78.

DESVARIEUX: And today is also the hundredth day—correct me if I'm wrong—that students have been protesting in Montreal over the tuition hikes.

BÉDARD-WIEN: That's right. Today marks the hundredth day of the beginning of the student strike that has been [incompr.] Quebec [incompr.] since the last three months. The strike was first a protest against the tuition hikes that governments announced in this year's budget, but it very quickly became a larger social struggle. And now it's become a struggle even for the right to protest and the right to associate, both of which are guaranteed under Canadian Constitution.

DESVARIEUX: And for those who haven't really been following the day-to-day of what's been happening in Montreal, has there been any progress with the government? Where do you stand?

BÉDARD-WIEN: Oh, it's been moving really quickly. The last time I was on the program, student associations throughout Quebec rejected the latest government offer to students and [incompr.] while the minister of education resigned last week, last Monday, and was replaced by someone who could toe the party line more effectively. And this time the party line was to impose Bill 78 on students on the strike, Bill 78, which makes spontaneous protests illegal, which contravenes the Canadian Constitution. Bill 78 also prohibits picket lines in front of schools, which is why we've been able to enforce the strike, and imposes extremely large fines for people who organize protests, for people who call on other people to participate in these protests, and for student unions to call picket lines. These fines can range from $7,000 to $125,000 for an organization, which would effectively kill both CLASSE and individual local student unions.

DESVARIEUX: And now that you've just had a big day today, where do you go from here? What's your strategy? What's the next step?

BÉDARD-WIEN: Well, I think protests today basically invalidated the special law. The police didn't intervene, because it couldn't intervene and stop a crowd of 400,000 persons, the largest demonstration in Quebec's history. And from now, well, we expect the minister to restart negotiations, which they had broken by enacting this special law. The minister's already sent a press release telling us that they will negotiate, they will indeed negotiate without conditions. So we now have a whole lot of leverage with the entire population on our side and we're hoping to be able to negotiate in the next few days, hopefully finally kill the tuition hike.

DESVARIEUX: Well, we'll definitely be keeping a close watch on this. Thank you very much for joining us, Jérémie.

BÉDARD-WIEN: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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