Gatineau riot police kettled over 200 students, professors, supporters, and journalists on Lac des Fées parkway on Wednesday, April 18.
The demonstration was en route to the Université du Québec en Outaouais’s (UQO) Lucien-Brault campus as students defied a court injunction for a third day ordering them back to class and criminalizing protests within 25 metres of both UQO’s Gatineau campuses.
On Monday, students barricaded themselves inside the Alexandre-Taché campus and forced the university administration to suspend classes. One student was injured by police and sent to hospital after the university rector ordered food not be delivered to students barricaded inside.
On Tuesday, protests and road blockades were held at the Taché campus, with police entering the campus building and riot police deployed. Video footage revealed a professor being arrested and taken outside of the building, the same man who spoke at a press conference on Monday and condemned the police as well as the Quebec government for using the judicial system as a weapon to end the strike.
Today, a large gathering of students, professors, and supporters assembled outside the Taché campus. Anyone wearing a red square cloth, the symbol of the Quebec-wide student strike, is prevented from entering any campus building. After rallying at Taché, the group marched towards the Brault campus, where police scrambled to get ahead of the demonstration and riot police were deployed to block the students on Lac des Fées parkway.
Within a few minutes, the students were kettled, boxed in by police on all sides, and told that they could not leave. Meanwhile, supporters gathered outside police lines on the road and on the campus. After an hour or so, police announced that they would let people leave one by one where they would then show identification and be given a $300+ fine for blocking the road. Those who refused to present identification would be arrested for obstruction.
Police later threatened demonstrators outside the kettle that they would raise the fine for those inside to $500. Radio-Canada reported fines were being issued for $444 and that over 100 arrests had been made by 2:15pm.
Students remained peaceful throughout the day although infuriated that the judicial system and the police are being used to stifle their freedom of assembly and expression.
In an interview with corporate media, one student expressed disgust at the police presence inside the university and preventing students from entering. “We’re not accepting the rise of fees, austerity, or the injunction,” she said. “You can’t shut us down with the law.”
Last week, a handful of students opposed to the strike filed a court injunction forcing classes to re-open and banning student protests near campus. The court upheld the injunction on Monday when the university attempted to have it lifted so that classes could be suspended until the next general assembly and strike vote on Friday.
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.
According to La Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), there are currently 184 student unions on strike representing 168,072 students.
The tactic of kettling demonstrations has come under fire since the policing debacle at the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010 which saw numerous kettles and hundreds of arrests, sweeping up innocent bystanders and peaceful protesters. Toronto police later denounced the tactic and swore never to use it again.
Although a 2009 British High Court ruled that kettling was illegal, over 10 years of legal disputes resulted in a ruling last month by the European court of human rights that kettling was legal, with the caveat that it not be used “directly or indirectly to stifle or discourage protest, given the fundamental importance of freedom of expression and assembly.”
With police scrambling to intercept the demonstration bound for the Brault campus today, which has yet to be hit by student protests, questions remain why dozens of police were deployed, many in riot gear, to stop students from reaching the campus.
Kettling in this case was used to discourage protest and uphold the injunction keeping strking students away from campus.