Last updated: August 13, 2012 12:00 am
Quebec students prepare for back to school strikes
MONTREAL (CUP) — This year’s “back-to-school” season means back to the picket lines for Quebec students as efforts to mobilize against the province’s special legislation, Law 12 (formerly the controversial Bill 78), kick into high gear.
While many students are entering their last weeks of summer, Law 12 has mandated some Quebec students to head back to class tomorrow to finish the spring term that was affected by the student strike. For some, there have been no classes since February.
The mandated return to class is viewed as a make-or-break moment for the student movement, which has been mobilizing against Quebec’s scheduled tuition hikes since they were announced in March 2011. The hikes currently proposed by the government amount to $254 per year over seven years, for a cumulative hike of $1778 per student.
“The week of August 13 to 17 in the Montreal-area [where most of the striking CEGEPs are located] is a crucial moment for the student strike. Either the strike will be crushed by Charest’s 'special law' or the strike will continue,” reads the call for students to re-block classes on the web platform of the action, Bloquons la Rentrée.
Under Law 12, the resumption of classes is scheduled to occur in waves throughout August beginning tomorrow. For students to be on strike, the majority of a representative body within the CEGEP or university must vote to participate in the strike.
Law 12 was introduced in the National Assembly as legislation to provide for “when and how classes are to resume and includes measures to ensure the validity of the 2012 winter and fall terms and the 2013 winter term.” The law includes clauses mandating classes for the disrupted winter semesters to resume at the fifteen CEGEPs and four universities on strike as of May 18 — the date the law came into effect.
The law also includes provisions to maintain “peace, order and public security.” Provisions include the submission of an itinerary eight hours to the presiding police force in advance of any demonstration with fifty or more people in attendance. The law gives the police force the right to alter the itinerary of the demonstration so as to uphold “peace, order and public security.”
After Law 12 was passed, between 500 and 700 lawyers and legal professionals marched in protest against it in Montreal. The law was criticized by the Quebec Human Rights Commission, while the Quebec Bar has questioned its constitutionality, and Amnesty International states the law violates Canada’s international human rights obligations.
An attempt in early July to strike down provisions within the law was dismissed by the Quebec Superior Court. The presiding justice told The Montreal Gazette that Law 12 must be debated in its entirety, set to occur in September.
In anticipation of resistance to the resumption of classes, the Montreal police service, Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), released a set of guidelines on Friday outlining how the force would apply Law 12. The SPVM states officers will not intervene in relation to Law 12 unless requested to do so by “the executives of educational institutions.”
“We’re working closely with people from schools because imagine, for instance, if we physically force the entry of some people within a school, and at the end of it they decide there won’t be any class. That would not be justified for us,” said Ian Lafrenière, coordinator of media relations for the SPVM.
If police are called to intervene by executives of educational institutions, Lafrenière explained officers would file a report of the intervention and the file would be turned over to the Crown prosecutor, who would decide whether to press charges.
According to Lafrenière, more than 300 SPVM officers have obtained the jurisdiction required to apply provincial legislation, like Law 12, within the municipal territory of Montreal.
He said SPVM officers have been briefed on how Law 12 is to be applied in the coming weeks. “We issued some information to our officers so they will all get the same view about applying that,” he explained, adding that the guidelines published publicly Friday are aimed to inform the public on how the SPVM will be enforcing the law.
“As I mentioned last spring, Law 12, it’s a tool. It’s one of the tools that we have. If you remember correctly, last spring we never applied Law 12 [then Bill 78]. We never had to use it,” Lafrenière said.
Other “tools” used by the SPVM thus far in the student strike include the Criminal Code and municipal bylaw P-6 —voted into effect in Montreal the same day as Law 12 — which bans the wearing of masks at demonstrations and declares illegal any assemblies of fifty people or more that do not provide an itinerary.
Lafrenière noted that officers would intervene to apply the Criminal Code if criminal acts occur during the back-to-school/strike actions.
The call to re-block classes by forming picket lines outside classrooms or school buildings comes from the Back-to-Strike Convergence which, according to their website, is looking to mobilize supporters from surrounding provinces and the USA in addition to local students.
Bloquons la Rentrée and the convergence are among several groups independent of the four major student federations and are calling for students to resist the application of Law 12 starting August 13.
“As a father of two kids I would love to tell you that it’s not going to happen — that everyone is going to be safe and sound next week and we won’t have to intervene at all ... [but] I have no clue,” said Lafrenière.
“We’ll be there, we’ll get ready for the worst, but we’ll be expecting and hoping for the best.”
UPDATE, AUGUST 12: Starting on the morning of August 12, some students and supporters began posting on the Facebook event for Operation Firewall that two of the four CEGEPs slated to resume classes tomorrow, Marie-Victorin and Collège de Maisonneuve, had postponed classes by one day to encourage full participation in their general assembly, where students could vote on whether to remain on strike for instance. Many CEGEPs and universities have general assemblies scheduled to occur throughout the coming weeks.