The Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) suspended classes on Monday, April 16, as students defied a court injunction and blocked access to the Alexandre-Taché campus building.
Last week, a small group of students opposed to the strike filed an injunction with the Quebec Superior Court to force classes to reopen in the wake of the Quebec-wide student strike.
Justice Suzanne Tessier, former coordinator and professor at the Police Foundation Program at La Cité Collégiale in Ottawa, granted a 10-day injunction forcing students back to class and banning pickets within 25 metres of the Alexandre-Taché and Lucien-Brault campuses in Gatineau.
Although disobeying the injunction carries harsh penalties – up to $50,000 fine and one year in jail according to the Quebec Civil Code – UQO students marched on the Taché campus and barricaded the doors, where they were joined by students from the city’s CÉGEPs.
CÉGEP students voted to go on strike on March 13 with UQO students joining them on March 26. Students in Québec have been striking for weeks against Premier Jean Charest’s announcement to raise tuition fees by $325 per year for five years beginning in 2012.
Following the announcement that classes were cancelled, the university administration asked everybody to leave and remove the barricades but students continued to occupy the campus demanding that the administration agree in writing to suspend classes until the next general assembly on Friday and guarantee students not be reprimanded for their actions.
Negotiations between the administration, police, professors, and students ended around 1:00 pm with police threatening to storm the building to dismantle the barricades if students remained.
An emergency general assembly on the inside determined the occupation would remain, while professors and students on the outside came together to block police access to the main entrance.
Students earlier reported that police prevented food from entering the building, made arrests, and inflicted an injury on one student trying to receive food. The student was taken to hospital.
The UQO administration was in court this afternoon to have the injunction lifted and police did not intervene during that time. The judge ruled to uphold the injunction despite its overwhelming opposition. The 52 students who originally filed the injunction want to see the administration held in contempt of court for cancelling classes today.
At around 4:15 pm, students removed the barricades and took over Taché Boulevard before marching to Moussette Park where a general assembly is expected to determine the next move.
According to La Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), there are currently 184 student unions on strike representing 171,636 students.
Students have been holding near-daily demonstrations since the strike began weeks ago, including highway blockades and attacks on Charest’s office.
The first days of protest were met with police violence as one student lost an eye after being hit in the face with a stun grenade in Montreal. Police have also dispersed demonstrations using pepper spray, tear gas, and batons.
Numerous arrests have been made, including at a Montreal CÉGEP early this morning. Police are also looking to make arrests in relation to vandalism and alleged Molotov cocktail attacks on government offices and disruptions on metro lines in Montreal over the last twelve hours.
The Mobilization Committee of the UQO Professor’s Union held a press conference this afternoon condemning the injunction as well as the police for being uncooperative, intimidating, and injuring a student. They also accused the government, who is encouraging injunctions across Quebec, of using the judicial system as a weapon to end the strike.