More than 400,000 Canadians—students and defenders of freedom of expression—filled the streets of Montreal this week to demonstrate against a 75 percent university tuition hike and emergency legislation that placed draconian penalties on people exercising their right to protest.
Almost 1,000 demonstrators were arrested as the protest passed its 100th day this week. Many times that number marched in defiance of Bill 78, passed May 18, which suspended the current academic term, laid out regulations that required protesters to notify police of demonstrations eight hours in advance and of any protest involving 50 or more people, and threatened to fine student associations $125,000 if they disobeyed or failed to stop others from protesting.
In light of the new law, the week’s protests appear to be the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. And they did not come without a price. In addition to the hundreds arrested, 11 people were hospitalized at the beginning of May when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd in Victoriaville. Two demonstrators suffered serious injuries: One lost an eye and another was critically wounded.
The government’s attempt to stem the protests with Bill 78 backfired. Anna Kruzynski, assistant professor at Concordia University in Montreal, said “there was an explosion of support for the student movement” when the bill was passed, “but also a real questioning of the legitimacy of this government, this government that is trying to push through austerity measures that the majority of the population do not want to see.” By Kruzynski’s assessment, a genuine, broad-based social movement, which includes families, children, the elderly and others, is mounting around concern for Canadian youth and affordable education.
Overreaches by the NYPD during the course of the Occupy movement drew people from across the country to New York City, Zuccotti Park and hundreds of local encampments. Similarly, Canadian leaders handed protesters an invaluable recruiting tool when they attempted to abridge the right to demonstrate. For answering the call to stand against the depredations of austerity hawks for the sake of themselves, others and future generations, we ask readers to honor and keep in their thoughts, hundreds of thousands of defiant Canadians