Quebec’s student movement, and the swelling ranks of its popular allies, staged a huge rally and march in Montreal on May 22. The march supported the students’ fight for free, quality public education and rejected government repression. Estimates by some mainstream news outlets and by many independent observers put the number of participants as high as 400,000.
It was the largest social protest in Canadian history. It amounted to a huge display of civil disobedience against a special law adopted by the Quebec government four days earlier. The law aims to break a more than three-month-long strike of post-secondary students in the province.
Lead banners on the march read: “100 days of strike, 100 days of (government) contempt!” and “Block the sexist tuition fee hike!” A huge banner of the militant, CLASSE student association — the largest student group — was carried overhead by hundreds of marchers and read, “May 22: This is only the beginning!”
Contingents of teachers, professors, high school students, public service workers and other trade unionists joined the march.
Marchers bused into Montreal from across the province while people streamed into the city center from neighbourhoods throughout the metropolitan region. French-language media termed the march a “monster” demonstration.
Montreal’s English language daily covered its front page with an aerial photo of the march and a headline reading “River of Red”, referring to the symbolic colour of the student movement (symbolising student indebtedness) that was omnipresent that day.
Leaders of the three largest student associations held an impromptu press conference along the route of the march. Leo Bureau-Blouin of the association of junior college students (the FECQ) told journalists: “We are united today in this huge demonstration aiming not only to mark 100 days of the strike but also to denounce the Charest (Quebec) government and the course of events following its decision to choose repression over discussion …”
Referring to the draconian Bill 78 that was adopted by Quebec’s National Assembly on May 18, which effectively proscribes the right of students to strike and protest, a leader of CLASSE, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, told reporters that the law is “absurd and unenforceable. The proof of that is here today, where the street is speaking forcefully.”
Challenging Quebec’s minister of public security, he said: “If the minister wants to be true to his law, he will have to levy fines on tens of thousands of people.”