Massive student tuition march paralyzes Montreal

MONTREAL, Canada — A monster crowd, considerably larger than the one at Montreal’s famous 1995 pre-referendum rally, formed a kilometres-long sea of opposition to tuition hikes Thursday.

The protest began in the same downtown square that hosted the pro-Canada love fest just days before the sovereignty referendum.

This one filled the square — and then some.

In a spring laden with demonstrations against the Quebec government, this was easily the largest. The parade of protest was so long that its front end would be a full neighbourhood — or even two — away from the tail end. An organizing group boasted that the protest spanned 50 city blocks.

There were no incidents involving the chanting, placard-waving throng. There were, however, reports of some protesters carrying sticks.

There was also a threat from a major protest group: "If the government doesn’t announce a retreat on the (tuition) hike today the next step will involve actions that disrupt the economy," the C.L.A.S.S.E. group posted on its Twitter page.

The demonstration came two days after the provincial budget and a blunt refusal by Premier Jean Charest’s government to back down on the hikes.

The province is nearly doubling tuition fees over five years, to about $3,800. It will reach its target with a series of $325-a-year increases. However, the tuition fees in the province will still be among the lowest in Canada even after the hikes.

A number of protesters were from other Canadian provinces. One said that, while it might be true that Quebec has low fees, it’s a principle worth fighting to keep.

"Where I was from before we were trying to fight the same idea (of fee hikes) — but a lot of people didn’t get together like they have in Quebec," said Parker Dorris of Cranbrook, B.C.

"That's one of the main reasons I came to Quebec, because it’s such a liberal province and they fight for these kinds of rights."


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