“On ne lâche pas”* slogan of the student mobilisation
Part Two of a two-part series.
In Part One of this two-part series Conway discussed the organisational roots of the Quebec student movement, and their use of social media to get out their message around the reports of the established media. He noted popular support of the student movement is growing and expressed concern about the violence being perpetrated on student protesters as “Quebec Premier Jean Charest continues to roll out the police state to the applause of far too many Canadians”. He said that Charest’s refusal to negotiate with the students, has failed to resolve the issue. He concludes that in a panic Charest “opted for naked state repression to crush the students”, by “ramming through Bill 78, which he suggests should be named “The Temporary Quebec Police State Act” .
Bill 78 flagrantly and knowingly violates numerous provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law expires 1 July 2013 before any constitutional challenges can wend their weary way through the courts, but it will have served its political purpose of crushing the student mobilisation. Besides this use of legal and financial terror to repress the movement, the anti-terrorist squad has been ordered by the Minister of Public Safety to interview student leaders, a clear act of heavy-handed intimidation. Montreal’s City Council joined the parade of repression by banning the wearing of masks during demonstrations (thus depriving protesters the protection of choice against tear gas and pepper spray). Not since the notorious section 98 amendment to the Criminal Code in the aftermath of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike has such a brutally repressive and flagrantly anti-democratic law been adopted in Canada.
The repression has so far failed to break the students. Indeed, the mobilisation has grown stronger and more determined, convinced that Charest’s behaviour was an act of desperate, heavy-handedness and a final admission of political failure.
Huge demonstrations in Montreal, and many smaller ones throughout the province, continue in open defiance of the law, with the students now joined by large numbers opposed to the law and its attack on democracy. On May 22 over 100,000 (students claim a lot more) marched in Montreal in defiance of the law, and on May 28 hundreds of robed lawyers marched in solidarity with the students. Over 500 lawyers have offered their pro bono services to carry on the battle in the courts.
Hundreds have been arrested. The mobilisation, the repression, and the arrests continue, now including leader of Québec Solidaire and Member of the Quebec National Assembly Amir Khadir. He was arrested on June 6 in Quebec City. The next day his Montreal home was raided and Khadir’s daughter and partner, both prominent student leaders, were arrested. They were among 11 student leaders arrested in dawn police raids in Montreal.
Canada’s media have behaved shamefully throughout, acting as servile cheerleaders of Charest’s repression and carrying out a negative propaganda offensive against the students. Citizens had to go abroad to get balanced, informative analysis. The Guardian in the UK and Al Jazeera English provided better reportage and analysis than The Globe and Mail. The best coverage was provided by Concordia Student TV and the student press in general. It was only on June 2 that The Globe and Mail woke up, announcing on its front page, “It’s Not About Tuition Any More”, providing two full pages of analysis and background.
It was never only about ttuition. It was about what is happening here and abroad as the austerity measures imposed by neoliberalism wreck the lives of growing numbers of people, especially the younger generation. It is about what the neoliberals contemptuously call “entitlements” to education, health care, jobs, economic security, a reasonable life – “entitlements” that must be taken away or cut severely.
Quebec students and others fighting back against the neoliberal juggernaut are answering clearly. These are not “entitlements”, rather they are “the rights of citizenship” in any free and democratic society. They intend to take them back and to extend them in an effort to build a humane and civilised society.
Neoliberalism’s answer in Quebec, and around the world, is the same as the answer of capitalism whenever it has been threatened by democracy and popular mobilisations in the past: repression and naked force. The question we face is nothing less than “who rules, who has the power?” And by the way, whatever became of democracy?
John Conway is a University of Regina political sociologist and the author of “The West: The History of a Region in Confederation” and “Debts to Pay: The Future of Federalism in Quebec”.
*We’re not backing down.
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