Violent crackdown at Quebec student rally ‘only serves to galvanize protests’

Students flash a peace sign at riot police as they march with thousands during student-led protest against the provincial government's austerity measures in Montreal, April 2, 2015. (Reuters/Christinne Muschi)
Protests against the liberal government in Quebec and its austerity measures are not going to die anytime soon but might gain momentum, Matt D’Amours, student journalist for The Link newspaper at Concordia University in Montreal.

RT:What's behind these protests? What are students angry about?

Matt D'Amours: Generally speaking, these protests are very much brought about by austerity measures that are being put in place by the current liberal government in Quebec. A lot of students and non-students alike aren’t happy about the direction economically that the province is taking. They feel that too many cuts are being made, and that the balance in the province’s budget is being made at the expense of the middle class and poor people.

RT:During the protest you were there as an observer but weren't actually a part of it. Why's that?

MD’A: Very simple - it is because I am a student but specifically from a practical standpoint the department that I’m in, Journalism, Concordia University, is not striking. But also my function first is as a journalist - when I go to these protests I cover them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I can’t identify with certain perspectives that are held on the other side of the debate. But really my main function is to observe and to report and to be as neutral as possible in this situation.

RT:The protests on Wednesday ended up with dozens of arrests. Why were they taken in?

READ MORE: Students barricade themselves inside Montreal University after arrests

MD’A: Yes, if you’re referring to the situation that we had on Wednesday at UQAM [Université du Québec à Montréal University] university… Basically what happened was that there was an injunction that was placed against these striking students at that school. As a result of that, that only galvanized and angered a lot of the student base. What we had were basically some students who were going around the campuses trying to block access to classes which is a common tactic for striking students. The university security called in the police to try and handle the situation. A lot of riot police were called in; 21 arrests were made if I remember correctly. As a result of those arrests - there was a second protest where one of the campuses for UQAM University was occupied by hundreds of students. [That] eventually led to another riot police intervention that did see the use of tear gas, and rubber bullets, and of course batons and shields.

RT:Why do police necessarily use violence while people are acting quite peaceful during these protests?

MD’A: It is a fair question, it is a question of a lot of students, a lot of professors, and a lot of journalists ask themselves from time to time. From my perspective having covered a lot of these marches, sometimes it is quite surprising to see how aggressive the police can be because you see huge variants in the kind of response you’ll get. One night the police will let a march, for example, go through downtown in Montreal for hours, and eventually the crowd will disperse relatively peacefully with no use of force needed. But you have other nights where the march will be declared illegal quite early, and police will move in with tear gas. A lot of people are asking the exact question you are asking me right now: “Why is that kind of violence necessary?” … I’m not qualified to judge the police tactics that are being used but I certainly understand that question and a lot of people were asking it after the response last night to those occupying students.

Protesters clash with Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers during a demonstration against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in Burnaby, British Columbia November 20, 2014. (Reuters/Ben Nelms)

RT:Some blame university authorities for the violence. What do you make of that?

MD’A: Yes, that is correct. There are some people who are very unhappy with the administration at UQAM. Basically what we’ve heard is that the administration would’ve been consulted in terms of what kind of police response was necessary, and that the administration did ask for the police intervention. There is quite a negative reaction right now amongst the striking students. And there is a huge loss of confidence, as well; you hear that sentiment as well, and not only from students. You’ve heard that from professors today. There were many press conferences where a lot of different organizations spoke out against the administration and the way that they handled the situation.

RT:Do you expect further protests?

MD’A: I do a lot of live streaming of these protests, and I always listen to the feedback of the viewers. One sentiment that I see a lot it is a comment that comes up that says that: “The kind of violence that you see like last night serves only to galvanize protesters.” And that is certainly a phenomenon that I’ve observed. The nights where you see things really escalate and violence is in play. You can usually set your clock to the next day, or the next few days ramping up in terms of other protest response. So I don’t expect that the protests are going to die down anytime soon. Especially after yesterday I would expect that it might in fact gain momentum.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.