Montreal Students Riot Over Tuition Hike [Video]
Violence erupted in the streets of Montreal Wednesday night after talks broke down between student groups and the Quebec government, leading to 85 arrests and shattered windows.
Several police officers were also injured in the riot that left the city stunned Thursday.
Banks and other businesses, cars, even a police station had their windows shattered by an angry mob that spilled out from a larger crowd of thousands of student protesters.
The violence followed a breakdown in talks between the two parties to end an 11-week fight over tuition hikes.
The government said one of the student groups, C.L.A.S.S.E., broke the truce by protesting Tuesday and condoning violence on its website and booted it from talks Wednesday.
“You can’t play both sides,” Education Minister Line Beauchamp said. “I regret that this (group) has chosen its camp.”
That prompted two other students groups to walk out in protest leading to the street demonstrations and subsequent riot.
The leader of one student group said the talks are suspended until the banned group is invited back to sit at the table again.
Martine Desjardins, of the Quebec Federation of University Students, told CTV‘s Canada AM the early discussions revolved around issues like student aid and not tuition fees.
“People want us to talk about the tuition fee problems,” she said in a telephone interview from Montreal Thursday.
“We were ready to spend hours and more hours on this topic,” Desjardins said.
She said there were preliminary talks about returning to the negotiating table to end the conflict after Thursday‘s violent demonstrations.
“As students we have a responsibility to go back to the table, but we need the government to understand what we need to talk about,” Desjardins said.
Although pressure is mounting on the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest to back down from the planned $325-per-year tuition hike, it appears less likely as the party rises in the polls, raising the possibility of a snap spring election.
Polls indicate Quebecers generally support the fees.
One survey this week showed the poll-leading Parti Quebecois, which has staunchly endorsed the students, losing support and seeing its lead evaporate in recent weeks.
A provincial election must be called between this spring and late 2013.
As the talks broke down Wednesday, students took a parting shot at Beauchamps, calling her a scolding school master more interested in political grandstanding than negotiating.
It was moments after the talks ended when students began spilling into the streets of Montreal and Quebec City, joined later by thousands of others denouncing Charest and demanding an election.
A few in the crowd wore masks, while some fired paintballs at police and media.
Police responded by pepper-spraying people as they moved in to quell the violence, including an attack on a downtown police station that had its windows smashed.