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The 2012 Quebec student protests refer to a series of demonstrations and strikes that began on February 13th, 2012 in the Canadian province of Quebec in response to a college tuition hike proposed by Liberal premier Jean Charest. The protests lasted for more than 200 days, well beyond the end of the school semester. The protests ended in early September 2012, after the newly-elected Parti Québécois government pledged to abandon the plan to hike tuition fees. On the web, a number of viral videos and images have emerged from the scenes of protest.
Quebec currently has the lowest tuition rates of any province in Canada, with a year of university education costing just over $2,100 on average. The proposed increase, pitched as a solution to the province’s budget shortfall, would bring it up to just under $3,800. The protests began on February 13th, when students at Laval University staged a boycott, which was soon joined by the much larger University of Montreal. The protests soon spiralled out to most of the province, reaching its peak on March 22nd when 300,000 people arrived at a rally in Montreal. Much like the Occupy Protests, the Quebec students have been used as a banner for a large variety of causes – with many people tying the tuition hike to broader issues of corporate greed and neoliberalism.
The suppression of the protests has been compared to the destruction of the Occupy Movement‘s camps. More than 2,500 people were arrested, with police using the infamous “kettling” technique that became famous during the height of the Occupy Movement. The Quebec government’s subsequent introduction of Bill 78 which, among other things, severely restricted the right to protest and assembly, has also drawn severe criticism and is currently facing a legal challenge in the Quebec Provincial Court.
The protesters were made up of roughly the same demographic as the Occupiers, so it is no surprise that there has been a large online presence. The protests have been covered by various news outlets like BBC News, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post and have given rise to several instances of viral videos on YouTube. There were a large number of solidarity protests outside of Quebec, with many fellow students taking up the cause as their own. Talks between the student groups and the Quebec government produced no solutions, and officially broke down on May 31st, leading to speculations that the protests would lead to a provincial election which would amount to a referendum on the hikes. This turned out to be the case, more or less; a provincial election was held on September 4th. The sovereigntest Parti Québécois narrowly defeated the incumbent Liberal party. On the day following the election, the Premier-elect Pauline Marois stated that on her first day in office, she would abandon the planned tuition increases and rescind Bill 78. Two days later, the last student groups on strike voted to return to class, bringing an end to the protests.
The protesters promoted the wearing of a red square patch on one’s clothing as a means of showing solidarity with their cause. The patch can be seen in a large number of photographs from the protests themselves, as well as on the clothing of student leaders and supporters. The patch gained its widest dispersal of attention on May 19th, when the Grammy Award-Winning band Arcade Fire wore the patches while playing backup for Mic Jagger during that night’s episode of Saturday Night Live.
From early on in May 2012, a demonstrator wearing a panda costume became known as “Anarchopanda,” the unofficial mascot of the Quebec student protests. According to news reports by Montreal’s Le Devoir and TVA Nouvelles, Anarchopanda teaches philosophy at a college during daytime and tries to serve as the buffer between the student demonstrators and the police. The Facebook page for the protesting panda has accrued more than 11,354 likes as of May 30th, 2012.
On May 25th, Anonymous released of a video criticizing the brutality of the police crackdown and demanding an end to the suppression of the protest movement. According to the video description:
Anonymous requires from the government of Quebec to respect the fundamental rights of the citizens. The freedom of expression is an inalienable right on which no government can walk, without paying a heavy toll for this misdeed.
Anonymous requires from the government of Quebec to put an immediate term of that repression, and to stop the police violence against the peaceful demonstrators.
A week prior to the video’s release, Anonymous claimed credit for an attack on the Quebec Government’s web servers, saying that the hack was a response to the passing of Bill 78. Of particular interest to Anons is the provision in the bill that bans the wearing of masks in public – which would prohibit the use of the famous Guy Fawkes mask.
On May 31 Anonymous announced that it had hacked into the ticket registry for the 2012 Montreal F1, an international formula one racing event set to be held from June 8-10. Along with the announcement, the hackers also released the contact information of 131 people who had purchased tickets for the event. According to e-mails sent to some of the victims of the theft, the hack is a prelude to a large protest that they plan to hold outside the race.
Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can avoid or contain us, or that the police will protect you from our makeshift weapons. There is nowhere to hide. We know every street, every alley, every park. We know where you will sleep, where you will shop and where you will drink. We have been planning to crash your party for some time now.
On June 3 the organizers of the Montreal Grand Prix announced that, in order to stifle the protest, they were cancelling the free opening day which usually begins the event.
Casseroles / Montreal Pots and Pans
A video depicting a “pots and pans” protest against Bill 78 was uploaded to Vimeo on May 25th, racking up over 33,000 views in its first eight hours, mostly due to spread over Facebook and Twitter. “Pots and pans” protests began in Chile, where demonstrators would bang on kitchenware in order to create noise and draw attention to the protest. Due to a provision in Bill 78 which said that all demonstrations had to be cleared with the government beforehand (which the protest depicted in the video did not do) the demonstration was declared officially illegal, though police still tolerated it as long as it did not become violent.
Quebec Fire Hydrant Guy
This photo of Montreal protester David Champagne was first taken on May 20th and subsequently posted on the photographer’s blog. The photograph depicts Champagne seated in a fold-out chair in the path of a stream of water coming out of an open fire hydrant while riot police run by in the background. By May 25th, the image had earned over 2,300 up-votes on Reddit, and had spread across Facebook and Twitter.
Bill C-38 Protests
As it did with the Occupy movement, the scope of the Quebec protests grew beyond the city of Montreal and the tuition bill. By end of May 2012, the protest movement reached Toronto, where more than 1,000 people showed up at a downtown park with pots and pans to protest Bill 78 as well as Bill C-38, a 425-page legislation that would amend 60 different acts and repeal several others if passed. Due to its proposal of austere measures across various sectors of Canadian public work, it has been dubbed “the omnibus budget bill” by the critics in the media.
Canadian Websites Plan Blackout
Taking a cue from the success of the massive Internet blackout during the SOPA / PIPA protests in January, more than 100 Canadian environmental, non-profit and labor union websites have pledged to black out in protest against the Bill C-38. Dubbed “Black Out, Speak Out,” the strike is scheduled to take place on June 4th, 2012 with participation from more than 100 websites and 13,000 individuals seeking to raise awareness of the legislation.
The New York Times – Montreal student protests are about money and a whole vision of society
The Huffington Post – Montreal Pots And Pans Video Of Protest Against Bill 78 Goes Viral
Huffington Post – Montreal F1 Ticket-Buyers’ Info Hacked By Anonymous
Huffington Post – Canadian Grand Prix Opening Day Cancelled After Protests Threats