Direct action undertaken by striking Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) students and their allies has resulted in classes being cancelled until Monday, the final day of a ten-day court injunction ordering them back to class and criminalizing protests within 25 metres of either campus.
After being kettled by riot cops for hours on Wednesday, in an attempt to prevent a large demonstration from reaching the Lucien-Brault campus, students rallied again Thursday and marched on the campus where they were met with police pepper spray and batons.
Three buses of Sûreté du Québec (SQ) riot police from Sherbrooke arrived on April 19 to reinforce the Gatineau police and their anti-riot detachment.
A massive police presence has attempted to enforce the injunction and over 300 arrests have been made in the past two days.
A professor on Tuesday was the first to be arrested, after police cordoned off his office in the Social Sciences department and arrested him for obstruction, a day after he criticized police conduct, the judiciary, and the Quebec government in a press conference.
The government has come under fire for using the judiciary and the police to enforce the tuition hikes and circumvent the democratic decisions made by students.
On Thursday, students entered the campus through a side door and occupied the cafeteria, forcing the university to suspend classes. Student action against the injunction has resulted in a resounding victory, with classes only being held in part on two days during the ten-day ordeal, after a handful of students opposed to the strike took their grievance to the courts.
For the second day in a row, police used Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) transit buses to hold students after making mass arrests. Police swept up 161 people on Wednesday after a multiple-hour kettle on the Lac des Fées parkway and issued fines of $444 for blocking the road. Others who were forced to urinate in public were slapped with an additional $267 fine.
On Thursday, police once again used buses to house those mass arrested from inside the cafeteria; 151 were arrested in total. Students rallied at the Gatineau and Hull jails in solidarity with those arrested, who were held in buses for hours after the sweep. In a press conference, police announced that 148 charged with mischief would appear in court yesterday evening but this has yet to happen.
Police were unapologetic for their conduct which has sent multiple people to hospital throughout the week. On Thursday, student medics and paramedics treated those hit with pepper spray and batons, and an older parent of a student was shoved to the ground and suffered a head injury. Instead, police and the university in separate press conferences condemned what they claim were acts of vandalism perpetrated by students and those traveling from outside the city.
Police were also accused of lying to parents of a minor eating at the cafeteria when the occupation ensued and caught up in the mass arrest. They apparently told the parents that their son, a Nouvelles Frontières student, would be released in the afternoon in time for his athletic training at the school. When he failed to show, the infuriated parents had to retrieve him from the police station.
Police also ticketed a woman driving by and honking in support of the students outside the jail.
Among the arrested were three international students from Senegal, as well as students who arrived from Montreal by bus. At the time of publishing, they have yet to appear in court.
On Monday, students barricaded themselves inside the Alexandre-Taché campus and on Tuesday, riot police were deployed for the first time to suppress the strike. Some students who were born and grew up in the city admit this is the first time they have ever seen the riot squad detachment of the Gatineau police.
UQO is one of the first schools to have been hit with an injunction in Quebec with police violence being used to uphold the court ruling, despite the democratic decisions made by students themselves and the mandate to strike.
The Université de Montréal received an earlier injunction but classes have since been suspended, as they have also been at the Université de Sherbrooke where an injunction was issued this week.
There are also rumours circulating that the Cégep de l’Outaouais will be the next to face an injunction as the school recently received a mise en demeure forcing professors to hold classes. These events suggest a tactic to divide students in the city as they will be forced to defend their respective campuses.
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.
With the Quebec-wide student strike now in its tenth week, and protests crippling Montreal, Education Minister Line Beauchamp is hoping to bring the two sides together to negotiate.
However, the government attempted to create a rift between the three large student federations over alleged “violence and intimidation” perpetrated by students and the accusation that La Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE) did not condemn the actions, referring to the vandalism against government offices and metro trains in Montreal.
The other large student unions, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) will not meet with the Minister until the CLASSE holds its congress this weekend to determine its position, marking a potentially important departure from the 2005 student strike where the FEUQ and the FECQ met with the government without the (then) ASSÉ’s participation.
Police and security have been denying entry to campus buildings for those wearing the carré rouge (red square) – the symbol of the Quebec-wide student strike.
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.