Cops pepper-spray Canada students furious at fee hike

More than 10,000 college students have marched through Canada’s Montreal in a massive protest against the Quebec provincial government’s plans to usher in a 75% hike in tuition fees over the next five years. At least four people were arrested.

­Police dispersed some of the crowd with pepper spray on Thursday, after claiming objects had been thrown by protesters.

­“Education is a right, not a luxury,” read one of the banners at the demonstration, which stretched for miles in the rain.

Activists estimated the march had attracted over 30,000 participants, as well as dozens of riot police officers. Three people were arrested, reports the Canadian Press news agency.

The angry action involved as many as 200,000 students across Quebec who voted in favor of boycotting classes on Thursday and Friday. The Globe and Mail website writes that students blocked access at several Montreal colleges and universities before the march, so that even those who wanted to go to class were prevented from entering.

Quebec faculty staff appear to have split over the protests.

"Access to education is a right and therefore should not be reserved only for those who can pay," Keena Gregoire, a faculty member of the Université de Quebec à Montreal, one of many UQAM professors who back the student strikers, as quoted by the Canadian Press.

But many hailed the news of the fee hike, since tuition fees in Quebec have been frozen for 33 of the past 43 years and the province’s universities are suffering from under-funding as a result.

Despite the protests, Quebec Premier Jean Charest is adamant that he will push through his plan to raise college fees by $1,625 in five annual installments of $325 each. Current tuition costs are around $2,200 annually, but by 2016 they will top $4,000 – and that is without counting university fees.

Even so, tuition fees for Quebec’s students will still be the lowest in Canada, where, according to The Montreal Gazette newspaper, the average nationwide tuition cost tops $5,300.