Why are they protesting?


Lessons learned from Quebec's student movement brought to Regina 

Sophie Long
News Writer 

Students in Quebec have been protesting since February of this year, and on September 20, they received the final notice of their triumph. Shortly after new Premier, Pauline Marois, was sworn in on Thursday, she repealed the undemocratic sections of Bill 78 that prevented students from protesting.

The group CLASSE has been one of the main forces behind the student movement in Quebec. While the group’s efforts have procured a tuition freeze, they continue to fight for free education. With the rights of the student as the core foundation of the group, CLASSE and the other student groups in Quebec (FECQ and FEUQ) have been celebrating the change to Bill 78.

Premier Marois has wasted no time in removing the sections in Bill 78 that go against Section 2 of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under the charter, section 2 states the right to assemble peacefully. This monumental change in Bill 78 has demonstrated that the students in Quebec are having an enormous impact on government decisions. The pressure the students are able to apply to the province’s leaders is pivotal to the success the protesters have had.   

Emily Eaton, a professor at the University of Regina who has been involved in solidarity movements in the city, believes this bargaining strength is the reason behind their success. “The students organized in really democratic, decentralized ways and they put pressure on the government at critical times, they built their base of support in broader society … as a model of a way in which students could attempt to frame their struggles and for organizing themselves that’s a really good example," she said.

This is an important message for students in Regina as tuition here continues to rise.

"The students organized in really democratic, decentralized ways and they put pressure on the government at critical times, they built their base of support in broader society." – Emily Eaton

Regina students have played their own part in the Quebec protests. When Bill 78 was introduced, students in Quebec began what were called the “casserole” protests in which students would take to the streets in the evening and bang on pots and pans. These demonstrations were based on the Cacerolazo protests that began in Chile in 1971 as a response to a shortage of products. Eaton discussed the ways in which Regina supported the Quebec students’ movement.

“I knew there was a national call that went out, so I just put up a Facebook event and people started coming out, and for several weeks we held casserole night as a message of solidarity,” she explained.
Students in Quebec are now free to celebrate following the tuition freeze and repealing of Bill 78’s criminalizing of protesting. However, the struggle is not over and it is more important to students in Regina than ever before. CLASSE continues to advocate for free education and this is something that should be a concern for students across the continent.

“We are seeing right now across the country provincial-level government moves to defund public education and to move toward a user-pay model, so that more and more of the cost of going to school would be worn by the individual going to school. Rather than trying to make education something that is universal and accessible and, free ideally, we are moving in the opposite direction. Provincial level government have been defunding education and squeezing universities’ budgets and rather than fighting, university administration has been all too eager to increase tuition fees, move towards corporate funding of programs, increase the importance on innovation and commercialization," Eaton explained.

If students in Regina thought that the Quebec protests against tuition increases were not important to them, it has become more and more clear how important it is now that the initial struggle is over.

In the upcoming months, Regina will be hosting a few events around the city to explore how students and community members in Regina can learn from the Quebec student movement, so that a similar student movement can be started here. These events will also explain the importance of pressuring governments to re-evaluate their stance on education, and how students can lobby to make education affordable for all.

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