Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice François Rolland on Wednesday rejected a motion filed by Quebec’s student associations asking for an emergency injunction against certain elements of Quebec’s contentious Bill 78.

In a twenty-one page decision released late Wednesday afternoon, Rolland found that the students case had the “appearance of right”, but failed to meet the two other criteria for this type of emergency injunction, namely “irreparable prejudice” and “balance of inconvenience”.

In Quebec’s legal system various types of injunctions are available, to deal with situations too urgent to leave until a full court case can be conducted, potentially years in the future.

The injunction sought here was a “requete en sursis“, which is similar in nature to a safeguard injunction, and requires the aforementioned three standards be met. It is the most immediate form of injunction, and as a result it is the most difficult to obtain.

In addition to proving that your cause of action is not frivolous, and that you have a reasonable chance of winning the eventual court case (the “appearance of right”) you must also prove that if the injunction is not granted you will suffer irreparable harm, which cannot be remedied at a later stage (the “irreparable prejudice”), and that greater damage, or inconvenience, will happen to you if the injunction is not granted, than would to the respondent if it is granted (the “balance of inconvenience”).

“We have to remember it’s a decision on an emergency injunction, which was only seeking to temporarily suspend some articles of the law. Soon we will be able to argue against the law itself, and we have high hopes that when we argue on the deeper issues we will win,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for CLASSE, one of the student groups seeking the injunction.

In an interview with after the decision was released, Nadeau-Dubois explained that the student groups had filed two motions, today’s injunction, and a request to annul the law in it’s entirety. The second case will hopefully be heard this fall.

On the question of whether the student groups would appeal this ruling, or simply proceed with their main case against the law, Nadeau-Dubois wasn’t ruling anything out. CLASSE will be meeting with their lawyers, and other student associations, tomorrow morning to determine their strategy going forward, but nothing is off the table.

Nadeau-Dubois described Bill 78 as “a strategy from the government to apply the law in the short term, knowing the process to challenge the law will take longer. It’s a deliberate strategy to override the institutions which are there to protect our rights. If it succeeds then any government can pass an unconstitutional law, knowing by the time it’s overturned the crisis will have passed. It’s a terrible precedent.”

Justice Rolland’s impartiality has been harshly criticized by La Presse and Le Devoiramong others, in recent months. He has been quoted arguing that judges must not take part in public discussions, because doing so will compromise their impartiality. Nevertheless, he appears to have done just that earlier this year, when he told students seeking injunctions allowing them to return to class to appeal to the government, and seemed to demand that the government intervene. They of course did, with Bill 78, and he is now the judge handling appeals of the law.

“We had asked the judge to recuse himself in other matters, injunctions, because we thought he was not impartial at the time. This time we decided not to ask him to do so, and maybe that was a mistake. We will be considering all our options about this judge in the future,” said Nadeau-Dubois.

He also took strong issue with the government assertion that freedom of association does not apply to student associations in the same way it does to labour unions.

“We can’t wait to argue the real case. We have strong evidence and documents which prove that the student strike is legal, it should be recognized, and obviously freedom of association applies to student associations as well as unions. When it [the provincial law granting recognition and rights to student unions] was originally passed by the National Assembly, the argument that was made was that obligatory fees are at the heart of having the right to associate”.

One of the articles of Bill 78 which the student groups tried to have suspended allows the government to block the collection of dues by a student association or federation which violates Bill 78.

Nadeau-Dubois explained that the threat of this section of the law was one of their main arguments for the urgency and necessity of the injunction, and they were very dissatisfied with the judge’s decision that since the penalty had yet to be applied, their rights weren’t threatened.

“This is a clear attack on student associations, and on our right to freedom of association. If that part of the law is applied in August there is a high probability that it will simply kill the student associations of Quebec. That would be very sad. It’s probably the element of the law which is least explained in the media, but it’s one of the most serious parts.”

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

There was further confusion over the legality of spontaneous protests. Although Bill 78 seems to clearly make them illegal, the government argued – and Justice Rolland accepted – that they were legal if not formally organized.

“Bill 78 made spontaneous protests illegal. Now this judgement says they are legal, but what is the definition of a spontaneous protest? Citizens will not know if a protest is spontaneous or not, if it is illegal or not. We don’t know what we have the right to organize. In a democratic society everyone should have the right to organize and go down into the streets whenever they want, without the fear of a huge fine,” said Nadeau-Dubois.

To get a better handle on the legal issues involved, spoke to two legal experts to get their take on the ruling. Patrice Blais, a lawyer in Montreal, and David DesBaillets, a law professor at UQAM.

Both expect the students to win, and prove the law unconstitutional, at trial. They cautioned that while this ruling may be a setback, it should in no way be interpreted as a defeat.

“This is a preliminary ruling, which was decided on prejudice and inconvenience, not the facts of the case. It’s important to understand that losing at this stage does not indicate that you have a weak case, merely that you were unable to clear some exceedingly high legal hurdles. It is exceptionally rare to see a law overturned at the stage of a temporary injunction, that’s why I’m not surprised by this ruling. I would have been very surprised if a court at this point granted this injunction, just as I’ll be shocked if the law is not ultimately struck down,” said Blais.

“The court will almost always take the safe, conservative route, and in this case that was putting off a decision on the constitutionality of the law.”

“To me the decision is disappointing. I think it’s a cop-out. The court chose to pass the buck on constitutionality, and cited the case of Manitoba v. Metropolitan Stores Ltd. to establish that they were required to accept the constitutionality of the law Prima Facie, or as a given,” said DesBaillets. “This case was decided on the balance of inconvenience, by a court which was clearly eager to pass the decision onto a higher court.”

Both lawyers noted that it was odd that Rolland accepted the assertion of the Quebec government that Bill 78 does not restrain the right to hold a spontaneous protest. Given that a spontaneous protest would be considered illegal under Bill 78, and participants could be charged for attending, it seems clear that the law does exactly that.

“My reading of the decision is that the court is trying to make a fine distinction between student associations and individual protesters to provide constitutional cover, but in reality we know they’re one and the same,” said DesBaillets. “You’re not going to have much of a protest if no one organizes it or publicizes it, and in this case that’s the student associations. Bill 78 places so many limits and conditions on protests that, in effect, your rights have been curbed to the extent that you no longer have any meaningful right to protest.”

“I certainly think the reason the government inserted a time limit on the law has a lot to do with their own judgement that this law is not constitutional. It looks like they very deliberately passed a law they knew was unconstitutional in order to restore order at any cost, even if it undermines basic civil liberties. It’s a very dangerous precedent,” he continued.

“I find it interesting that the government is trying to minimize the effect of the law in order to justify its constitutionality” added Blais. “The time limit on the law [it is set to expire on July 1, 2013] is also very interesting, insofar as if this case goes to the end, the law will likely have expired and the government will argue that the issue is academic and the case should not be heard. But I think there will be a strong argument to continue the case, that it is not academic, because it will be about the government imposing laws with a time limit and avoiding constitutional challenges to their actions. That would set a very bad precedent in a democracy, that a government could pass any temporary measure without consequence or judicial review.”

“My understanding of the constitution is that it’s on the students side,” summed up DesBaillets. “I can’t imagine the court ultimately upholding this law.”

Photo of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois courtesy of Justin Ling via Flickr

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

Quebec students and allies outraged over the repressive and anti-democratic nature of Bill 78, its municipal companion Bylaw P-6, and other extreme police tactics, including political profiling and preventative arrests, are about to get some very heavy duty backup.

One might even say vindication?

In an opening address to be delivered today to the 47 member UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will express her “alarm” at ongoing attempts to restrict freedom of assembly in Quebec.

Her speech, a draft copy of which was obtained by UN Watch, will also express “concern” over similar restrictions in Russia (Russia’s law limiting protest was passed shortly after Bill 78, prompting some to speculate it was modeled on Quebec’s legislation) and “deep concern” over such restrictions in Eritrea.

In diplomatic terms alarm is a far more severe word than concern, making Canada’s restrictions on protest the most troubling to the UN agency.

In a speech running to several pages in length, and highlighting human rights issues in dozens of countries, the situation in Quebec warrants a single, albeit explosive, paragraph.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests”.

This expression of alarm will likely lead to Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist of countries which the agency believes are not upholding their international obligations with respect to human rights, a list which includes Syria, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

UN Watch, an organization best known for attacking any criticism of Israel by the UN as anti-Semitic or disproportionate, dedicated most of their release announcing the leaked speech to attacking Pillay’s criticism of Canada in similar terms.

It criticized Pillay for mentioning Canada, but not the situation in China or Cuba, and concluded that “…the UN commissioner is making a big mistake by sending the message that countries that have blots on their system – if indeed the Quebec law is a blot – are even worse than countries where the blot is the system”.

But of course she is sending no such message, and the inference that she is is a convenient fiction. It does not follow that anyone who has the temerity to mention the situation in Canada, or Palestine, is in some way delegitimizing the serious human rights threats faced in any other country.

The speech’s focus on Canada, Russia and Eritrea is in response to recent developments in these countries. It seems more than logical to focus on developing threats to human rights, rather than rehashing criticisms of countries like China, which the UN agency has severely criticized on many occasions in the past.

It is a particularly rich criticism of a speech where attention is paid to human rights situations in over a dozen countries, and Canada occupies only one paragraph.

UN Watch are correct that Canada has a much better reputation on human rights than many other countries, which makes it all the more alarming, and demanding of international attention, that we are now taking such a significant step backwards in our dedication to these rights.

The truth is that many in this country have done their best to bury their head in the sand as the situation in Quebec has descended into what can only be described as repression. Ask anyone if they approve of preventative arrest, profiling people for detention on the basis of a political symbol, mass arrests of peaceful protesters or indiscriminate use of force by police and their answer will be an emphatic no.

But our concern for fellow human beings in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia seems to end at our shores. Call it denial, perhaps we simply can’t accept that such things are happening here in Canada, but the silence in the media and among the population at large has been deafening.

It is no exaggeration to say that the situation in Quebec is the most serious threat to our fundamental rights, as articulated in the Quebec and Canadian Charter, and the International Declaration of Human Rights, that we have seen in decades.

That is why the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, has taken the unprecedented step of condemning Bill 78. It’s why over six hundred lawyers in full robes took to the streets of Montreal to protest the situation, a first in Quebec history.

It’s time to take our heads out of the sand and give them a stiff shake. Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [sic] to do nothing”, and right now there are an awful lot of good men and women doing nothing.

Our rights are not ironclad, they depend on our vigilance against even seemingly minor assaults. In this case we should be able to find common cause across partisan or ideological lines. This is not a left-right issue, but an assault on freedoms we all hold dear.

With her criticism, and Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist, Ms. Pillay has shone a light on our situation. What’s happening in Quebec is now the talk of the international community, Jean Charest our international embarrassment.

We need to take a stand, and send a message to the authoritarian-minded among our leaders that any erosion of our rights will be met with stiff resistance.

Pundits on the right love to invoke the sacrifices of our soldiers. Well, our soldiers died in two world wars for the rights and freedoms we enjoy, and which we have chosen to codify in our Constitution. Many also died defending these rights at other times in our history, such as during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, or the red scare of the 1950s.

Our rights were not granted, they were taken. Fought for over generations. They come to us drenched in the blood of our forebears who laid down their lives for them. A moments inattention and decades of blood, sweat and tears can be taken from us, without our noticing our neck is slit until we turn our head.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” goes the famous line from In Flanders Fields. Will we be the generation which allows that torch to fall? Our brave youth are in the streets of Quebec every night, paying the price to stand against an unjust law. They need our help.

If there was any doubt in our minds that what is going on in Quebec is a grave threat to our most basic liberties, the attention of the UN should serve as a wake up call.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?


You can also follow me on Twitter: @EthanCoxMTL

protests Casseroles

As a student living in Ontario, I pay more for tuition than Quebec students. I don’t have any scholarships. I pay full price. If I was told I would be paying around $450+ more a year, I honestly wouldn’t care. I really fail to see why students in Quebec are taking this so difficultly.

And why is that? Why does Quebec seemingly expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter filled with cheese curds? Why? Keep in mind, this is the same province that got its panties in a bunch when the Montreal Canadiens hired a coach who couldn’t speak French. Everything has to be a certain way in Quebec. And if it’s not done “right”, or different, then everyone goes bonkers. Can’t turn right on a red light either. Gah.

I have heard numerous attempts by Quebec students and their supporters to make the protests (riots) seem acceptable. Things such as claiming that the Quebec students are doing it for all of Canada, or that the real issue is debt. If you don’t want debt, don’t pay for something you can’t afford. It’s that simple. But such is the issue with the left-wing ideology. Even NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair can’t handle his affairs. But that’s besides the point. The thing is, in the real world, things are not just handed to you. I’ve learned this throughout my life. I would have hoped others would have too.

The issue I have with a lot of these students is what they think they’re going to get with a pointless degree. Majoring in 17th century art history sounds interesting, but you’re not going to get a job with that major. You’re wasting your time. And wanting the government – the tax payer – to waste our money, your time, and not accomplish anything just isn’t how the world works. I was taking film of all things. Film. Then I dropped out because I realized no one is going to care whether or not I know three characters from an old Mexican film no one has ever heard of, wants to see, or wishes to read about on IMDb. There’s just too many basket-weaving courses out there and there aren’t enough baskets that need weaving in the world for everyone. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.

The whole argument that it’s all of Canada Quebec is fighting for is utter lunacy. I have not seen a single Canadian flag at any of these protests. Instead, I constantly see the blue and white symbol of entitlement. The flag that resembles a province that doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the rest of Canada. A province of xenophobia and bills far worse than Bill 78. How about before Bill 78 gets shredded, a certain other bill is destroyed first? That’s what I want. And I could give you 101 reasons why too, but I’m not going to. At least, if such an event were to occur, it would make me nod in approval to my neighbouring province. Maybe not in respect. But just a friendly nod. You know, like when you see your neighbor take out the trash every garbage day?

The point is, Quebec should suck it up. If you don’t want to pay anything, work hard, and get a scholarship. If you are going to accumulate debt, make sure you know what you’re doing with your life so you can actually pay it back. Grow some balls (they don’t have to be large, just visible), and do something with your life other than acting like the big bad government is out to get you, because it’s not. The fact is, I find this utterly pathetic. There’s no revolution happening. There’s nothing worth fighting for. There is just so much more you can be doing right now than marching in the street, screaming and rioting. I’ll leave you with this…

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

Québec Solidaire MNA, and co-spokesperson for the party, Amir Khadir was arrested last night in Quebec City. Video from TVA shows him in handcuffs and being led onto a bus with an unknown number of other demonstrators.

A message was posted on the Facebook page of Québec Solidaire, the left wing political party for which Khadir is the only MNA, explaining that Amir left the National Assembly, heard casseroles, and decided to join the completely peaceful march.

The demonstration was declared illegal, some part of it was kettled, arrested and loaded onto a bus. In a statement on Khadir’s arrest, Québec Solidaire says 65 were arrested alongside him.

All, including Khadir, were charged with a violation of article 500.1 of the highway safety code. Something the QS post points out as odd, given that it was an entirely peaceful casseroles march.

The SPVQ (Quebec City police) declared the demonstration illegal because no route was provided. However they proceeded to ticket all those arrested under the highway safety code for obstructing traffic and claimed they were not using Bill 78.

While police in Montreal use a municipal by-law passed concurrently with Bill 78, which replicates many of its provisions, to declare demonstrations illegal which have not submitted a route eight hours in advance, I am unaware of a similar by-law in Quebec City.

Therefore it seems ridiculous for the SPVQ to claim they were not applying Bill 78 when they declared the demonstration illegal. The provision in the Highway Code relating to blocking traffic is meant to be used on people who run around on highways. By definition a protest is “blocking traffic”, so if it can be used on protests then all protests are illegal. Using this law to lay $494 fines on peaceful protestors is an egregious abuse of police authority, and misinterpretation of the law.

The sad and sorry truth of what is happening right now in Quebec is that, insofar as protest is an established pillar of democratic society, our democracy is breaking down.

Kettling has been declared illegal by the G20 inquiry in Toronto, and senior commanders are losing their jobs for employing the technique. Meanwhile in Quebec, it remains the bread and butter of the Montreal and Quebec City police forces.

Bill 78 has been declared unconstitutional by the Quebec Bar Association (representing lawyers and prosecutors) and yet it stands. It is now essentially illegal to protest in this province, and anyone who dares do so risks arrest and a charge or fine.

Democratic society was built by demonstration. It is because of demonstrations that democracy itself exists in our societies. That blacks are treated equally, that women can vote, that we have the weekend. Every good thing about society was fought for, in the streets.

And now Charest, our delusional and demonstrably corrupt Premier, thinks he can eliminate our right to protest? That he can send in the riot squad to arrest peaceful citizens expressing an opinion? That he can arrest a fellow member of the National Assembly for daring to agree with them?

Ya basta! Charest has got to go. Not in a few months, but now. He has taken a broadsword to the fabric of our democracy. He has arrested over 3000 peaceful demonstrators, more than during the October Crisis. He has ignored the will of the people, the very people whose consent he requires to govern.

We have the power my friends. His power comes from our consent. If we withdraw our consent he is powerless, an emperor naked as the day he was born. And I bloody well withdraw my consent!

Forgive my anger, but this latest egregious assault on our most basic liberties has hit me like a final straw across the back. I’ve had enough. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

If you’re in Quebec, you know what to do. Make tomorrow the largest night of casseroles this province has yet seen. Let the very ground quake with the sound of our pots and pans and righteous indignation!

If you’re anywhere else, tomorrow night was already scheduled to be Casseroles Night in Canada. Well over 100 locations around the world have already signed up to hold solidarity casseroles tomorrow at 8PM. Check the list for your town, if it isn’t there start your own casseroles! All you need is an event page, which you should post on the page for the national event. You’ll be amazed at how many people join you!

Let this be the last straw for us all. Nothing is more important than protecting our democracy, and it is most certainly under attack in Quebec.

Some will say the protesters are the undemocratic ones, not respecting decisions of elected representatives. Some will say protest is nothing to do with democracy, that the institution is confined to the ballot box. They should read more, because they are ignorant to the history and meaning of the word democracy.

A democratic government is responsive to the people. Charest is not. A democratic government allows all protests, no matter their cause. Charest does not. A democratic government does not arrest the innocent, does not sweep up large swaths of people on the street. Charest does.

If we lose this struggle, if we allow ourselves to be bowed and beaten yet again, I promise you it will not end here. This is our moment, our line in the sand, our primal scream “This far, no further!”

Wherever you are, whatever you do, join us in the street. To rail against the wicked, but also to celebrate the beauty, the love and the community of our movement.

In the flames of this debacle was born a beautiful thing. Call it civil society, call it community, call it the 99%. In the joy of our casseroles, we came together and shared our love.

An amazing indy filmmaker I met this week has a tattoo on her arm which reads “Love is the movement” For her, we all do what we do out of love. Love for our fellow people, love for our children (born or unborn), love for the earth.

This movement has awakened our communities, and set the fire of love burning in our chests. We are together, we are strong, and we’re done being pushed around.

We’re done being called crackpots and communists for questioning our governments’ slavish obedience to big business. We’re done being arrested, beaten and threatened for exercising our democratic rights. We’re done with greed, with austerity and with unbridled and unhinged capitalism.

You don’t need to be a communist to think our system is out of control. I daresay Adam Smith would agree.

So tomorrow, and every day after, send a message to the world. Our love is greater than your violence. Our community is stronger than your repression. Our dreams of a better world are better than your empty cynicism.

Across the globe, they rally for us Quebec! Because we will win. Because we must win. Because the consequences of losing now are too grave to contemplate.

I know some of you are scared. You have every reason to be. But we cannot let that fear win. If the fear of the police keeps us at home, they have already beaten us. Be peaceful, be joyous, be loving. Stand together and be strong. They cannot arrest us all. There is strength in numbers, and there is strength in each other.

Tonight, my heart is with Amir, and all the others. Tomorrow, I will be in the street. It’s too important not to be.


Follow me on Twitter. The revolution may or may not be televised, but you can bet it will be live tweeted! @EthanCoxMTL

Montreal’s newest festival has already begun. It runs every night, features music, athleticism and is very inclusive. It visits all neighbourhoods and in just its first year, this born-in-Montreal event already has worldwide media attention and spinoffs across Canada and in places like Paris and New York City.

You’d think such an event would make a mayor very happy. But for some reason, Mayor Gérald Tremblay is not. In fact he’s quite worried and upset, and he’s not the only one.

Some of the city’s other festivals have raised the alert level and even cancelled events because of the new kid on the block. Not very neighbourly, if you ask me.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the new festival I’m alluding to is the Maple Spring, student strike, anti-Bill 78 protest, Casseroles, call it what you will. Just don’t call it a threat to Montreal’s culture. It is part of Montreal’s culture – and lately a rather dominant part at that.

It’s not a threat to tourism either. We’re talking about a few hundred, few thousand, sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands of people, vibrantly though peacefully marching in the streets, rain or shine, banging on pots and pans, some of them dressed as giant pandas and such.

Sounds like an attraction to me. And this doesn’t even count those who come here just to witness and be part of an inspirational movement at it’s core. At the very least, these marches aren’t the type that will scare those not interested in activism away.

That is to say, they won’t scare tourists away on their own. Throw in draconian laws like Bill 78 that create tension on the streets where there wasn’t before as well as a corporate media bent on showcasing the few instances of violence causally linked to the protesters that occurred over the past five months (not a bad ratio given the number of people and timeframe) and you get a different picture.

Yes, it’s not the students or the casseroles that may drive tourists away from the city, it’s the actions of those in power, their media associates and their police enforcers. The same people warning of disruptions to festiville are those causing that potential disruption.

What about local business? Well, if you’ve ever marched for hours, you know that at some point you’re gonna need refreshment. I’m sure dépanneurs on the march route do a brisk business in thirst-quenching drinks and even cigarettes and other provisions.

Once the nighttime manifs end, there are tons more people in the streets than would otherwise have been there, and not just protesters but journalists (both mainstream and independent) and other hangers on. Many of them may seek another type of refreshment before heading home, the kind that local bars are very equipped to provide.

But wait, you say, weren’t there some problems at bars during the protests a few weeks ago? Wasn’t lower St-Denis a warzone? Sadly, yes. But don’t blame the red squares.

Surveillance camera video and lawsuits brought against the police by very disgruntled bar owners who had their terraces pepper sprayed and establishments raided show that it was, once again, the cops who provoked the problems. Cops having a difficult time differentiating between protester and ordinary patron, because, well, the protesters are ordinary people, the kind that have been keeping the bar economy and other economies including the festival economy going long before wearing a piece of red felt or banging on some pots and pans.

It’s about time festival organizers like Just For Laughs’ Gilbert Rozon realized that and instead of begging the movement to stay away, sought out ways for the two events to co-exist. Maybe instead of cancelling their opening event on Crescent, the Grand Prix organizers should realize that a tourist clientele that wasn’t scared off by constant violence in the streets of Bahrain won’t be scared off by Anarchopanda. Maybe it’s time that bar owners like Peter Sergakis, whose Station de Sports recently barred people holding pots and pans, realized that when your big attraction is a cheap 60-oz pitcher, you’re attracting the type of people who may have issues with austerity measures and economic inequality.

It’s time the stewards of the city’s established culture realized that the real threat is not a festive social movement but rather the likes of Tremblay and Jean Charest who will risk destroying the city’s economy and tourism industry just to maintain a status quo that benefits themselves and their wealthy friends. It’s time for the other festivals and the rest of Montreal’s culture to welcome the city’s newest festival with open arms.

As the gayest week of summer slowly sashays our way, organizers of Montreal’s pride festivities may have more to worry about than how many thousands of condoms to order.

Fierté Montreal is the target of a new Facebook campaign, “No Pride Under Law 78”, organized by queers upset about the organization’s close ties to the Liberal Party, which less than three weeks ago enacted Law 78, legislation that has been called Canada’s most regressive since the War Measures Act of 1970.

Ironically, on the same night that the Liberals unanimously voted the contentious law into effect, Fierté honoured Ministers Jean-Marc Fournier and Kathleen Weil (both in absentia) at the annual Gala Les Bâtisseurs for their efforts in fighting homophobia.

“No Pride” is calling on Fierté Montreal to revoke the awards given to the Liberal ministers, saying, “Members of the National Assembly who supported this draconian legislation have no place of honour in our community.”

They are also demanding that Fierté join in the legal battle against Law 78 and use all funds raised at the gala to fight the law in court. Lastly, and most symbolically, they want Fierté to name les Carrés Rouges—the student strikers—as the leaders of this year’s Parade.

Let’s stop for a moment, first, to think about what exactly Fierté is and what is really being asked of it.

Fierté Montreal is an organization whose biggest partners include the provincial and city governments, a major bank, and a pharmaceutical company. As sad as it is to say, Fierté now exists only to throw a week-long party, hand out some awards, and make a wad of cash for the city—all the while toeing the party line.

Long-gone are the days when the parade was a political act of asserting your right to live as you are, free from discrimination. As mainstream acceptance of gays grew—and with it a larger cash payout—Fierté was able to cut itself off from the very roots on which it was founded.

Sure, political statements can still be made at the parade: for example, the anti-capitalist contingent is allowed to march. Any action, though, that directly threatens Fierté’s current base will not be accepted easily, which is why members of “No Pride” will have to push hard.

Montreal’s Pride Parade is not the only one suffering from this apolitical blight. In 2010, organizers of Toronto Pride banned the overtly political group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, whose members take issue with Israel using its own tolerance of gays to brand itself as a haven of freedom despite its continued occupation of Palestinian territories. QuAIA was eventually allowed back into the parade after extensive backlash from other parade participants.

Just as Toronto Pride was forced to backtrack, Fierté needs to be forced to take a stand against a government that is trampling the rights of others in the name of “democracy and citizenship“. Any organization which claims to represent people historically marginalized by governments and police must not stand idly by while regressive laws are enacted against fellow citizens.

Fierté’s members need to be reminded of their organization’s roots in the bathhouse and gay-party raids of decades past—specifically, the history of the Sex Garage Raid, which directly paved the way for Montreal to become the queer haven it is today. (Click here for an excellent, if not brief, history of the Sex Garage Raid.)

At the very least, Fierté needs to take back les Bâtisseurs—“The Builders”—awards from the Liberals who so clearly have no understanding of what queers have been building all along. That being, a more just and tolerant society, something to which Law 78 is antithetical.

The other demands of “No Pride” might not be so easy for Fierté to heed, though. Firstly, financially supporting those charged under Law 78 with money raised at the Gala, while admirable in principle, might be an impossible task. If the money was raised for a specific purpose, Fierté can’t rightfully spend it on something else. If, however, they can use the money to fight the constitutionality of the law, then they would do well to remember that it’s not just students whose right to protest is being limited—its theirs as well. And protesting, as previously stated, is how the gay rights movement started.

As for “No Pride’s” final demand of inviting Les Carrés Rouges to the front of the parade, it doesn’t seem necessary for Fierté to take a stance on the strike given that they represent all queers, not just those with pro-strike sympathies. Of course, Les Carrés Rouges should be allowed to march in the parade, but “No Pride” fails to make a strong enough case for them to be at the front.

Ultimately, what’s important right now is that organizers of Montreal Pride festivities take action directly against Law 78. By getting in touch with its roots and defending the principles on which it was founded—democracy, freedom, and equality—Fierté will once again have purpose.

If, however, organizers of Pride refuse to speak up and act out, then I suggest the event’s name be changed to Vanity, since that is all that will be left.

Imagine you’re a suburbanite. You live in Laval, Quebec or the West Island.  Turn on your TVs, surf to Google News, read your newspapers, twist that dial to your favourite radio station; what do you hear, what are you reading?

The protesters in Montreal have, again, done something bad.

They broke a window, they woke up an old frail grandma, they threw some smoke bombs, or, maybe (oh the horror) they stopped traffic for an hour. No matter what they did, the optics are the same in the mainstream media; chaos is on the horizon.

The truth is conveniently hidden. No matter how many thousands of people attended a protest, the camera lenses zoom in on the hooded masks. The brave marching high school students, the smiling children waving Quebec flags, the seniors, resolute in the legacy they wish to leave for the next generation, are not part of the picture. It doesn’t make good headlines.

It is time the movement forgets about headlines. It is time the movement forgets about trying to win the streets over from the police with theatrical shows of force. It is futile. The police confront protestors with restraint and a sense of optics. They understand the protesters. They understand if they show a bit of force, if they give the illusion they can be beaten, protesters will feel heroic and empowered.

Look at the images. Black and camo clad vigilantes, mostly students and young sympathizers, grimacing with black flags think they are super heroes when they cause petty damage to corporate property and fight police. It is theatre. Any metropolitan police force in Canada could stop them. They are allowing the protesters to waste their time and energy.

If the police wanted to end a protest, if they actually wanted to engage the crowds, they have lethal weapons: guns. If things get desperate the state will crush resistance. Think of contemporary upheavals such as the Winnipeg General Strike, the October Crisis or Oka. Look at how easily the Occupy movement was dismantled.

Protests are good, but in Quebec and Canada it is becoming more about distractions than resistance. Bill 78 will keep the protesters in the streets; the movement is blinded by pride, and must engage in petty, almost orchestrated street clashes. It is time to move on. This tactic, in its current manifestations, is a failure.

I am calling on the student movement to stop protesting in the streets and start knocking on doors in the suburbs, in the slums and everywhere. Bring a handful of red squares, practice your arguments, memorize your facts and get moving. Organize. Get your friends to come with you. Plan out your routes, write a script so you and your friends can articulate your points and respond to common questions, and explain to your neighbours what this movement is really about.

Print a spread sheet, and once you have convinced someone to take a red square ask them to join you. Take down their emails and phone numbers. Plan a public event before you door knock and invite people. Get out. This is a war over the hearts and minds of the population. We can win. Imagine those 200,000 people from March 22 knocking on doors.

Go forth, ring a door bell and, instead of disrupting traffic, disrupt the news blaring nonsense on the television.

 * Photos by Chris Zacchia

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

It started in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where the first clang rang out. From there it spread through the maritimes, to St. John’s, Halifax, Moncton, and a half dozen other communities. By the time the last pot was dented, during a joyful march of over 1000 people through the rainy streets of Vancouver, over 20 000 Canadians had taken to the street and gotten their casseroles on.

But it didn’t end there. In the wee hours of this morning, Eastern time, demonstrations were ongoing in Brussels, Paris and London. All boasting of crowds close to a thousand strong.

Earlier, a crowd of several thousand had taken to the streets of New York, bringing casseroles to the Big Apple, and Times Square. Smaller marches took place in Washington, D.C., Madison, WI, Little Rock AK and many other locations in the U.S.

Here in Canada, the largest march by far was held in Toronto. Estimates ranged between 5000 and 10 000 people, across around seven distinct marches, the largest of which drew over 2500 people.

In over 70 locations, across Canada and throughout the world, people took to the streets with their metal pots and wooden spoons to voice their solidarity with Quebec’s social movement, and their opposition to Bill 78. All organized, except Toronto, in a scant 72 hours, by way of a humble Facebook event.

On twitter, the hashtag #CasserolesNightinCanada became a trending topic in Canada, and my feed was full of expressions of solidarity from every part of the country, and grateful thanks from Quebeckers.

Last night Canadians, and their international allies, sent a message. A message that we will not be divided against each other. That language and location will not keep us apart. A message that we are all in this together.

As the wonderful Judy Rebick noted:

There are two solitudes but it is mostly because the governments and the media don’t want the people of Canada and Quebec to really know what we have in common. Language is a barrier too and not enough of us are bilingual, especially in the rest of Canada.  But now we have the language of video and pots and pans.

For me last night was a bridge, a love letter from the rest of Canada to Quebec. People here didn’t know you cared. They didn’t understand that you were following our struggle, and standing in solidarity with our cause. Some still may not, but many learned last night. It was a message received here in Quebec with shock, but also great happiness.

At the regular night march last night, which has departed from Place Emilie-Gamelin at 8:30 for 37 straight nights, much of the buzz was about what was happening in other parts of the country. People would look up from their phone to exclaim “There’s even one in Kingston!” or pass a photo around of demonstrations in Toronto, or New York.

You gave us a boost, a shot of energy when we needed it most. This was only a beginning, and there is much work left to be done, but what a glorious beginning it was!

So after the success of Wednesday night, the question becomes, what next? The beauty of Wednesday night was its truly decentralized, and grassroots, nature. An idea was put out into the ether, and people from all over the world ran with it, and made it their own.

It was a truly organic outpouring of solidarity, which empowered people to create something beautiful in their community, and be the change they wish to see.

So what next is not up to me, or the other organizers. It’s up to you. This is your movement, in your community. Never forget that.

So what I have for you today is a proposal, developed in collaboration with those who helped organize the national element of last night. I hope you like it! But if you don’t, if going in a different direction makes sense for your community, if you want to modify it or change it, then by all means do so. You have the power.

We propose to continue Casseroles Night in Canada, and endeavour to make it a weekly occurrence. We have suggested the next one take place next Wednesday, June 6 at 8 pm.

Some have suggested doing them more frequently, and if that makes sense for your community, go for it! Our feeling is that to maintain interest and energy, and to allow these casseroles to grow bigger with every outing, we should focus our energy on one day a week. This will give activists and organizers a week between actions to promote their local event, and expand its reach.

We would love to see the number of communities increase, and larger and larger crowds in each location. We can start small and build slowly until our casseroles are a roaring thunder across this land which cannot be ignored. Our challenge to you, if you choose to accept it, is to build on what you started Wednesday night, and bring even more people into the streets next week.

In Quebec, the largest demonstrations have been on the 22nd of each month. May 22 saw 400 000 to 500 000 take to the streets of Montreal. June 22 will likely be bigger still. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take these 22 days to build towards a massive Casseroles Night in Canada to support the protest in Montreal on June 22?

We also propose that we add opposition to Harper’s ominous omnibus budget bill to the existing message of solidarity with Quebec’s social movement, and opposition to Bill 78. We think the budget is a critical concern for Canadians across the country, the most urgent and pressing threat facing us collectively, and at risk, if we can build loud and sustained opposition to it.

While the budget is an issue which unites us across the country, there are also more local issues which you may want to incorporate. If there is an important issue in your community, one which people are passionate about where you live, add it to the demands of your local action.

Casseroles are a tactic, they can be used to push for the change you want to see. In the country at large, but also in your community.

Together, we can bring the love, solidarity and community of our casseroles to every town, village and city in Canada. We have the power!

What happens next is up to us…


To facilitate organizing a sustained movement, we have created a Facebook group, a fan page in addition to an event page for next Wednesday. Please join the group, like the page and RSVP to the event.

These pages can serve as the organizing hub where we can share our experiences and ideas and build this movement. But they only work if everyone is part of the discussion. Please share both of these as widely as you possibly can. Make it a point to share each of them on Twitter and Facebook at least once a day.

Facebook sadly no longer allows recurring events, which is why we need the fan page/group (To keep everyone together long term) and the event (to spread the word about next Wednesday). There is a group and a page to see which one works better at bringing people together and allowing communication.

Oh, and follow me on Twitter. I say stuff. A lot of stuff. @EthanCoxMTL

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

In the roughly 100 days that Quebec’s students had been on an unlimited general strike, prior to Monday, the government of Jean Charest had deigned to sit at the table and negotiate for three or four days in total. So it was with a great deal of optimism that students returned to the negotiating table with Education Minister Michelle Courchesne this past Monday.

Both sides waxed poetic about their cordial relations, and desire to see a deal made that could end the longest student strike in Canadian history. Both sides promised to make compromises and bend, but not break, in their pursuit of a resolution.

Things got off to a rocky start on Monday however, when Quebec City police decided to start arresting the peaceful protesters who had gathered outside the negotiations. Over 100 were arrested, loaded into buses, and dropped off in the middle of nowhere at 3 am with a hefty fine. When a negotiator for the CLASSE came outside to try to negotiate with police, and dissuade them from yet another mass arrest of peaceful protesters, he was promptly arrested. He too was fined.

Not a tremendous sign of good faith when you arrest the other side’s negotiator, and 100 supporters, on the first day. Many suggested the students pull out at that point, but they stayed on and continued to try to negotiate a deal.

All week both sides made, for the most part, encouraging noises until tonight, when the government announced that it was unilaterally withdrawing from negotiations.

At a press conference to explain the government’s decision, Premier Charest said that there was a “big gap” between the two sides, and although he was disappointed, he didn’t see a point to further negotiations.

According to Education Minister Courchesne, the government made two offers to the students. Both amounted to a reduction of less than $100 on the original increase of almost $1625. In other words, they offered to reduce the hike from 75% to 71%. The government would also have reduced the tax credit students receive on tuition to compensate. Not much of a compromise really.

The government refused to even discuss Loi 78, the repeal of which students had made clear was a top priority. When asked at the press conference why the government refused to even discuss the special law, Charest tersely responded “It’s for their own security”.

Charest went on to get into a testy exchange with a journalist who asked why the government had walked away, when students still wanted to talk. When the journo suggested mediation, and Charest blew him off, he responded with “That’s how it works in the real world!” prompting an angry “Excuuuse me?” from the Premier.

But if even journalists are becoming frustrated by Charest’s obstinancy, they’re hardly to blame. While Courchesne claimed students refused to consider anything other than a tuition freeze, they came out telling a different story.

The student leaders explained that they had made four counter offers, none of which were seriously considered by the government. All had respected the government’s demand to be revenue neutral (in other words, put the amount of the hike into the treasury by one means or another).

In fact, the proposals students made, to cut the Education Tax Credit and Education Savings Plan programs in order to keep tuition down, were proposals I have made in several policy documents. Both these programs are inherently regressive, and primarily benefit the upper, and upper-middle class.

Charest bristled at the suggestion the RESP program be cut, insisting that it was there to help the middle class and he represents the middle class.

I long since gave up trying to figure out Charest’s motivations, but this latest move seems almost as foolhardy as the introduction of Bill 78. With the pressure of impending festival season, not to mention a widespread rebellion on the streets, you’d think he would have been willing to meet the students half way, at least.Especially when polls show around 70% of the province want a negotiated settlement.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for CLASSE, argued that the government was unable to negotiate in good faith because they were more concerned with their image than with resolving the situation.

“Such a gesture would be interpreted as a retreat, and [Courchesne] cited the front pages of the newspapers,” Nadeau-Dubois said. “What we were told inside was that a tuition hike was a goal. Madame Courchesne said her goal was to raise tuition, because if she didn’t, then the government would lose face.”

Heaven forbid, a democratic government would compromise in the face of massive public opposition, because if they did they might “lose face”. So despite the fact the student’s proposals would put just as much money into the treasury as the hikes, they were dismissed out of hand.

I’ve often said this has nothing to do with money and Charest has now clearly demonstrated that he is more interested in “winning”, and by extension breaking the social movement, than in finding a resolution, even if it provides the cost savings he claims this is all about.

The students, despite clearly having the stronger negotiating position at this point, came to the table ready to compromise, and ready to explore alternatives. The government came with an insulting offer, and flounced when it was rejected. It will be interesting to see if that’s what comes out in the media, or if some of the pro-government pundits will find a way to spin this as the students being obstinate and inflexible.

At this point it is looking less and less likely that Charest will call an early election this summer. Unless he does, or something else changes, it’ll be a long, hot summer of casseroles and protests. Not that I’m complaining, I love casseroles!

 * Photos by Chris Zacchia

A massive protest has been called by the student groups for this Saturday, June 2, at 2 pm. Set to start in Jeanne Mance park, the protest is billed as a family event, and people are encouraged to bring their children. Student reps hope to see a huge crowd in order to send a message to Charest that he must compromise.

I used to hate twitter, now I’m an addict. Feed my addiction: @EthanCoxMTL

 * Photos by Chris Zacchia

The clanging of pots and pans rang through Toronto’s west end Wednesday night as an estimated 2000 people of all ages came out to march in support of Quebec’s student movement and against the province’s Bill 78.

“We were both inspired by what was happening in Quebec and we’d both spent some time there in the last couple of weeks,” said Leila Pourtavaf, one of the event’s organizers. “Coming back to Toronto we wanted to both show solidarity, but also recognize that austerity is not affecting only Quebec.”

Wearing red t-shirts, hats, jackets, accessories and the now famous red squares of the Quebec protest movement, people gathered at Dufferin Grove, a west end park, and began the percussive protest at the appointed 8 p.m.

From the outset, the protest had the makings of a family affair. Claudio, a native Chilean, attended with his wife and four-month old daughter. He noted that pots and pans protests were originally used against the Allende government in Chile in the early 1970s, and were later renewed during resistance to the Pinochet dictatorship.

“In Chile there’s a very strong student movement protesting things similar to what’s happening in Quebec,” he said. “So for me to be here with my wife and child, it’s to express our solidarity with the students in Quebec, especially with this oppressive legislation that’s being put forth by the Charest government.”

Vast numbers of Quebecers have turned against the Charest government in reaction to strict limits put on freedom of assembly and of expression by Bill 78, broadening the protest movement beyond simply the issue of a tuition fee increase, which first sent Quebec’s students into the street en masse.

After half-an-hour of noisemaking that seemed only to attract more people to the park, the crowd started its march through the surrounding neighbourhood, bringing their sonic message to locals, mirroring demonstrations in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec that began May 19.

A contingent of seven Toronto police officers on bikes watched the crowd grow and followed the march, calling in support from squad cars to block streets along the route. Over the course of the evening, police repeated that the protest remained peaceful.

Along the route, some neighbours seemed puzzled, some snapped photos while others brought out their own cookware to beat along with the marchers.  Resident Jason Albuquerque said, although he was not aware of what the protest was about, he found it enjoyable and wouldn’t mind if happened again nightly, as long as it wasn’t too late.

As the stainless steel parade snaked through the streets and up towards Bloor Street, all appeared amused to watch, red squares materializing on their shirts in the procession’s wake.

“I was surprised that there is a movement going on here in Ontario, and hopefully it won’t be negative in terms of violence or destruction,” said Lorraine Heimrath a resident of Hepbourne Street, sporting her new fabric red square, husband Jean-Marie standing by.

“It’s in defiance of these new laws,” he said, referring to Bill 78. “I think people finally got up off their asses and started to say something because they’re not going to put up with it anymore, and I’m glad.”

On Bloor, the march seemed to reach a crescendo, attracting attention and support from bars, restaurants, cafes and residents along the main thoroughfare. The steady stream of people would turn south towards College Street before heading back towards its starting point and making a second round, though far fewer remained as the march headed east on Bloor at 10:45 p.m.

The march was the largest of several gatherings planned in Toronto and was part of a Canada-wide rallying call dubbed “casserole night in Canada,” after the Quebec “casserole” demonstrations that have broken out nightly in neighbourhoods across Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec.

The wave of arrests and clashes with police have made headlines internationally, with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, weighing in on the crisis on Wednesday. “It is regrettable that the authorities have resorted to a restrictive approach, rather than seeking dialogue and mediation to resolve the current situation,” said Kiai in a public statement.

Responding to mounting pressure, both student groups and the Quebec government are in the midst of negotiations that are now stretching into a fourth day, and have seen concessions made by the government on the tuition fee increase. Offers and counter-offers continue to be debated in what Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the student organization CLASSE, called “a bit of a ping-pong match” on Wednesday night.

Photos by Malika Pannek and Tomas Urbina

A week into the application of Bill 78, which criminalizes public demonstrations and imposes fines for student organizers and any protesters, there have already been over 1000 arrests by the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). This is more arrests by far than were carried out during the generation-defining 1970 October Crisis in Québec. With over 2500 arrests of protesters since the beginning of the student strike on February 13, the police crack-down represents the largest number of demonstration-related arrests in Québec history over such a short period.

And with the arrests have come an increase in complaints against the SPVM’s ethics commission (Commissaire à la déontologie), which currently has a stack of 84 complaints to investigate. One of them will surely be the the reviled Constable 728, who was caught on video the night of Sunday, May 20 pepper-spraying protesters at the corner of St-Hubert and Ste-Catherine.

In the video, subtitled “A Star is Born” a demonstrator is seen briefly taunting the police officer, and without further provocation, she pepper sprays him and his female friend directly in the eyes. The fact that the verbal altercation so quickly turned to the use of pepper-spray was shocking to many of the video’s 100 000+ viewers, and resulted in the officer being “pulled” from working future protests by the SPVM brass.

In addition to other instances of police unnecessarily using truncheons against peaceful protesters, there has been a rash of police attacks on media, as documented by Concordia University TV. SPVM spokesman Ian Lafrenière claims nonetheless that many of the complaints are simply based on form letters circulating on the internet and have been submitted to the ethics commission in order to “overload the system.”

If the system – both of police resources and ethics complaints – was already overloaded, Bill 78’s repressive measures have ensured that it goes into overdrive. The law makes virtually any pro-strike demonstration illegal, either due to its location or because the requirement to reveal the itinerary is not being observed. As such, many protesters become essentially “criminal” by virtue of being near the action, as was the case for sports writer Dave Kaufman who was chased down and beaten by police while calmly walking away from a demo on the night of May 22.

While many will recall the SPVM’s “hands off” approach to the equally illegal massive daytime demonstration which gathered over 250 000 people circling the entirety of downtown Montréal, the night march was treated less leniently. Culminating in an unprecedented 518 arrests on the night of Wednesday, May 23, the SPVM appears to be taking a more cautious approach since, either as the result of horrendously bad domestic and foreign press, or because of the unexpected decentralization of the night marches.

The protests have now sprouted into dozens of casseroles marches (follow them on Twitter at #casserolesencours), in areas other than the usual route on Ste Catherine. Thousands of people in less central neighbourhoods have joined in the nightly pot-banging to protest 78, inspired by a civil disobedience tradition popular in Chile and Argentina. In a subtle nuance to his initial call for civil disobedience against Bill 78, Québec Solidaire MLA Amir Khadir called on citizens to engage in “civil obedience” during a night demo: “we must obey the principles of democracy rather than arbitrary undemocratic rules,” he told journalists from CUTV.

Internationally, a barrage of criticism has been levelled against the Charest government for enacting Bill 78. Editorials in the New York Times, The Guardian, and even the National Post have come out against it, with the particularly ironic addition of Russian Human Rights Minister Konstantin Golgov, who accused police of using “disproportionate measures.”

Domestically, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois scolded Charest by saying “that’s where the Québec Liberal party has taken us: mass arrests, more often than not arbitrary ones, to silence opposition,” and RG/2B publisher André Gagnon has created the Facebook group “GLBT contre la hausse des frais de scolarité” to raise awareness about the student cause’s importance to the queer community.

* photos by Chris Zacchia

Noam Chomsky once said “Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the US media.” For Jean Charest, the embattled Quebec Premier, the English Media in Canada must seem like a wet dream come true.

Every news broadcast/newspaper I’ve seen in the last month has labelled the students protesting tuition fees and bill 78 as “rioters” “criminals” or “entitled students” at one time or another. Adding insult to injury, the nights the protests have been peaceful have gone unnoticed and underreported. If there are no broken windows, there is no breaking news.

The Canadian Media at times has given the impression that the tuition hike was a mere $325 a year; they fail to mention that the amount is cumulative over five years. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten into regarding the amount alone. That’s what happens when we are subjected to infotainment instead of information, a trivialization of the news.

Speaking of information, they have yet to mention the real reason behind the strikes; debt. Last year, the Quebec Liberals tabled a budget that would tackle the province’s growing debt. One of the methods they decided on was to raise college tuition by $1625 over the next five years.

The students justifiably got upset about the provincial government trying to hand down its own debt onto them; those who can least afford it, rather than the corporations who profit the most from their education. Galvanized by the 99% movement and the Arab spring, they decided to act.

The root of the problem concerning the Canadian media can be traced back to the United States. Although we are a sovereign nation, our government, institutions and corporations have a bad habit of emulating the goings on south of the border.

Back in the “me” decade, also known as the nineteen-eighties, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abolished the “fairness doctrine.” A move supported by Ronald Reagan who vetoed its opposition.

The fairness doctrine required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in “a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced.”

In order to insure that the fairness doctrine was followed, broadcast companies used the proceeds from other shows to pay for their news programs. The news was more balanced and fact driven rather than money driven with very little conflict of interest.

Just to add fuel to the fire, Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the media industry. The bill was supposed to foster competition, instead the media shrank from more than fifty national media outlets in the 80s to the six that remain today.

Since these two acts, journalists, reporters, even news anchors have been at the mercy of their corporate overlords. Take the case of Steve Wilson & Jane Akre who were legally fired for not falsifying the news for Fox or news anchor Dan Rather being fired for airing a piece on George Bush’s desertion in the National Guard.

Because a corporation is a person under the law and a person has a right to free speech, it is perfectly legal for a corporate owned news firm to knowingly lie to the public.

What we get as a result of all this, is infotainment, sensationalism and opinion as a substitute for the news that actually matters. Investigative and fact based journalism is a thing of the past; instead we are subjected to this:

In Canada, it is still illegal to knowingly lie to the public (the main reason why there is no Fox News Canada). However, nothing prevents Sun Media (Rogers), Bell Media or Shaw Communications from fluffing the truth or the entire story itself.

Canadian Media Corporations are now following the same wealth driven example as their American counterparts. These companies are not going to pursue an important story at the risk of losing a sponsor. The stories they do cover, now have their own interests in mind instead of the people who tune in. Corporate interests in general are geared against regulations, they are anti-tax and anti-labour. It’s no surprise then to see the Canadian media come down so hard on the students and not Bill 78.

The only media company in Canada that doesn’t have to answer to anyone (the CBC) is being defunded by the Conservative Government which shouldn’t have financial power over a public broadcasting company. The Government can’t tell the CBC what to report, but they can take away their funds if they don’t like what they see.

For those of you who think the internet is a safe alternative, think again. The internet is as profit driven as any media company. Internet companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.) look at your browsing history, E-mails and other preferences to better guide you to places they feel you’ll be interested in and of course the advertising that comes with it.

In effect, people with conservative tendencies get exposed to conservative sites and those with more progressive tendencies get exposed to progressive sites. No one ever sees what the other side is thinking.

If you took a political activist and a man who likes to travel and told them both to Google Montreal, the activist would get all sorts of news articles on the student strike and Bill 78, the traveler would book a vacation to Montreal never knowing the protests were taking place.

One final example of how low the media has gone, the self identified “most trusted name in news” Fox News was the subject of a non-biased nationwide study. The results released last week revealed that people who watched Fox News regularly were less informed than those who watched no news at all. Is this what you want Canada?  Cause this is where we are heading.

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In almost every report on the social movement now sweeping Quebec, including my own, words like conflict, crisis and stand-off figure prominently. Anger is omnipresent. The anger of protesters, the anger of government, the anger of those supposedly inconvenienced. Pundits scream about mob rule, anarchy in the streets and the dissolution of society as we know it.

Don’t get me wrong, there is anger, present of course. But that is not what you see if you take to the streets, or watch CUTV’s live stream. Pundits can’t stop bemoaning the inconvenience to “ordinary” Montrealers posed by these protests. But I wonder, are there any “ordinary” Montrealers left to inconvenience?

As I write these words there are demonstrations going on in every neighborhood of Montreal. “Casseroles,” where people leave their houses to bang pots in the street every night at 8:00 p.m., have led to marches everywhere. The police cannot keep up. Far flung suburbs like Vaudreuil and Île Perrot, the anglophone West Island and NDG, South Shore suburbs, Québec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Rimouski, Trois Rivières and the list goes on. Some of these places have never seen a demonstration, certainly not since the days of the quiet revolution. Now their streets swell with hundreds, thousands.

The prevailing question in the media is, how do we end this? Supporters and opponents alike seek a “solution” to put an end to the “crisis”. And we need one, those on the streets need to be heard. Actions need to be taken to address the demands of the masses. But what exactly is so bad about what is happening? Why do we need it to end so urgently?

As this movement goes on, and grows by leaps and bounds, it is increasingly clear that it is not a movement of anger, of rage or of hate. It is a movement of love, of community and of hope. People who would be alone in their houses watching TV take to the streets and march with neighbours they never knew they had. Back when we had real communities, they were driven by the coming together of neighbours each night. Instead of watching TV, we met in the street, we exchanged details of our day and we made plans for our future. Just as the “casseroles” cause us to do now.

Perhaps the most lasting effect of this movement will be to build stronger, more connected communities. Every day that it goes on, more of us meet in the street, build relationships and talk about what kind of a society we want.

This is what Charest is afraid of. This is what keeps the powerful awake at night. If we talk, if we exchange ideas and debate the future of our society, we will want to change it. And nothing terrifies the powerful more than a change to the system which gives them their power.

The most honest reason which can be given for why people are in the street is the simplest. We do not see ourselves reflected in our government. But we see ourselves, our concerns, our hope, our love and our aspirations, reflected in every smiling face we see on the street. For the first time in a long time we are having a real conversation about what kind of society we want. We’re having it with each other, every night when we meet in the streets. And slowly, but surely, we are realizing that we have the power to make our dreams a reality.

Over at Translating the Printemps Erable, a superb volunteer collective dedicated to translating French articles about the movement into English, the administrator recently posted an Open Letter to the Mainstream English Media. It is perhaps the best description of this incredible phenomenon I have yet seen. In it they bemoaned the coverage which focuses on anger, when what we see in the streets is love. They describe the nightly “casseroles” like this:

If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like . . . It is magic. It starts quietly, a suggestion here and there, and it builds. Everybody on the street begins to smile. I get there, and we all — young and old, children and students and couples and retirees and workers and weird misfits and dogs and, well, neighbours –we all grin the widest grins you have ever seen while dancing around and making as much noise as possible. We are almost ecstatic with the joy of letting loose like this, of voicing our resistance to a government that seeks to silence us, and of being together like this. I have lived in my neighbourhoods for five years now, and this is the most I have ever felt a part of the community; the lasting impact that these protests will have on how people relate to each other in the city is deep and incredible.

The video below is a simple, black and white video of one night in the life of nos casseroles, but it has gone viral, encapsulating as it does the joy and togetherness of our movement:

We walk past each other every day, but we do not smile. We do not stop to talk, we do not connect. In these protests, in the breast of this movement, we are remembering what it is to work together to make our world a better place. We used to know, in some far distant past, but we have forgotten.

Many in this movement are mad at the media. But in many ways it is not the fault of the journalists, or the pundits who cling to the status quo like a drowning man grasps a life raft.

If you try to understand this movement through the lens of politics as usual, you are doomed to failure. This is a spontaneous, joyful uprising. It is not Astro Turfed, it does not depend on the media or the political parties, or even the unions or student groups for oxygen. It is a fire which has slumbered in our bellies for so long, silent and nearly forgotten.

What the critics and the pundits do not understand is that they are no longer in control. People will no longer nod and agree with their paper or their TV. They can diminish it, can under-report our numbers and exaggerate our violence, but it doesn’t matter. Their words and their barbs cannot defeat the solidarity and love which flows through our streets each night.

People don’t need the media to tell them what is happening outside their door. They can hear it. They can feel it. The genie cannot go back in the bottle. We are awake, truly awake for the first time in a long time. We will not go back to sleep.

I started to notice after the passage of Bill 78, and the mass demonstration of May 22, a change. Not only in the streets, but online. As the “casseroles” spread, so did their footprint on the social networks through which we express ourselves. Friends who had always hated protests, right wingers, misanthropes, apolitical types and everyone in between began to post pictures of themselves with pots and pans outside their house.

My Facebook feed, which is normally full of cute pictures and a hodge podge of random posts, unified. It coalesced in a way I had never seen before. I now notice, and am surprised, if I see a single post unrelated to this movement.

Twitter, which had largely been ignored by Francophone Quebeckers, is now swollen with tweets about the protests. The way we come together in the streets has spread to our online presence. We share and comment and talk. We come together as citizens of a community, galvanized by a common cause.

This movement may yet fail. It may be co-opted, or lose track of its goals. It may fizzle or be beaten, as so many other movements have been. But there can be no denying that something extraordinary is happening in Quebec.

If we, as a society, as a people, are to make a stand against the governments which cut taxes on the rich and corporations and then plead poverty as they dismantle our society, our communities, it will be here.

If a line in the sand will be drawn, it is here, in the streets of Quebec. The battle for a better world starts in this city, this glorious, madcap city whose joie de vivre flows through the veins of each and every one of us like a river.

Join us, speak your solidarity from the rooftops, call out our name. Because here in these streets, a revolution has started. A fire which burns for a better world.

Call me an idealist, call me a dreamer, call me anything you like. But this is a moment in time we will tell our children about. Together, we can start something here that spreads like wildfire across this continent. What happens next is up to us.

To paraphrase Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in the woods, and we — we took the one less traveled on, and that has made all the difference.

Top photo by Chris Zacchia


Wednesday night a huge “casseroles” demonstration has been called for people across Canada to show solidarity with the Quebec movement. At 8:00 p.m., wherever you are, go outside with a pot and a metal implement and make some noise. Bonus points for meeting up with neighbours while doing it.

I’m calling it Casseroles Night in Canada, we’ll see if that sticks . . .

Twitter hashtag: #CasserolesNightinCanada

National Facebook event (details of meet ups, submit yours!)

Oh, and follow me on twitter for regualr updates: @EthanCoxMTL

Montreal student protesters send police a map of their march

It’s been over 100 days now since the student strike started and the pressure seems to finally be weighing on some of the stakeholders who were hoping they could just legislate it away. Charest just had to replace his chief of staff in hopes of finding a resolution before protestors run amok of festival season and the tourist dollars it brings in, and what other choice did he have?

Since enacting la loi spéciale, things have only gotten worse: there are choppers in the wire constantly, pedestrians have been pepper sprayed, there’s been over 1500 arrests (maybe more by the time this publishes), and flash mobs of pot-banging malcontents now roam the streets nightly.

It makes you wonder whether this city is slipping slowly into anarchy.

Rethinking Anarchy

When most people think of anarchy, they picture a post-apocalyptic dystopia where roaming bands of armed steam punks rape, pillage and plunder their way through radioactive wastelands. When a lot of Montrealers picture an anarchist, they think of unemployed artists and activists who belong to co-ops and show up at anti-police-brutality demonstrations to put-on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the truth of the matter is all that an anarchist really is, is someone who weighs the merits (moral and otherwise) of a law for themselves before deciding whether to obey it. For the most part, in fact, most anarchists obey most laws most of the time. They just tend to stand up and speak out against laws that they deem immoral and/or unlikely to yield their intended outcome.

In short: anarchists don’t necessarily want to abolish the state or the rule of law (some, admittedly, do); they just don’t accept a law as legal just because some government said so.

How Loi 78 Backfired

Okay, so there’s been plenty written and said about how la loi spéciale runs amok of justice and our democratic rights. But where it really backfired was in how it’s not only proven useless at preventing public uprisings, but also helped the student movement win some popular support that it was previously lacking.

Supporters of la loi spéciale contend that these are special measures, after all, intended to be applied in specific circumstances — such as when a groups of young rowdies with red squares start throwing rocks at the cops. But aside from how that’s not exactly how it’s been applied, it’s also been a reminder to many people just how stubborn a corrupt government with mafia ties can be when it wants a quick fix to a public problem of mass opposition.

For instance, la loi makes it illegal to wear a ski mask but not a niqab, or a little red square but not gang colours, and that kind of arbitrariness makes people nervous. It reminds us just how easily governments can legislate away our basic democratic freedoms (and democracy in the process) when it’s too lazy or stubborn to address them.

So while a lot of people don’t agree with the students (and are fed up with how far some have gone), many of them are starting to offer their support to students (by wearing the red square or banging on pots and pans). In other words, it caused a lot of people to reassess the legitimacy of the law based on both its moral merits and actual outcomes, and that kind of individual free-thinking is bringing Montreal (and Quebec) masses that much closer to anarchism than many of them probably realize or would like to admit.

After a couple of nights of pavement pounding, I decided to settle in for a bit of armchair activism. I fired up CUTV and Twitter and watched what was happening in the streets of Montreal.

“Oh, man,” I thought, “this one looks fun!”

The mood seemed so festive. All the protesters looked like they were having a great time. It wasn’t just the main march, there were impromptu marches and people banging on pots and pans all over the city.

While I caught some reports of police repression in Quebec City, what was happening in Montreal was the very definition of a peaceful protest. I went  into the kitchen to make a snack.

When I came back, the mood had changed…significantly. Hundreds of people were now being kettled by the SPVM on St-Denis just north of Sherbrooke. They were still peaceful, but the cops seemed anything but.

From my vantage point, the same one that roughly 6000 live viewers had, one cop was telling journalists that they had to turn off the camera and mic if they wanted to get out of the kettle:

Nevermind the fact that anyone, not just media, have the right (and some feel the duty) to observe and document police actions with any electronic means at their disposal. Nevermind the fact that this officer was just being an all-out jerk and probably only stopped because the Twitterverse got word of what was happening to his superiors. The message was loud and clear, the SPVM didn’t want the world seeing what they were doing.

And why would they? For the first time in this 100+ days conflict they were arresting a large group of people without the usual megaphone dispersal warning and without a pretext that they could later use as justification.

There were rumors of rocks being thrown, rumors later repeated in the mainstream media because the source of the allegations was a police spokesperson. Throwing stuff really didn’t jive with the festive feeling on the streets that night. If you factor in that Public Security Minister Jean-Marc Fournier wanted mass arrests and the SPVM’s almost baiting approach both on the streets and Twitter, you start to get a clearer picture.

They were, for the first time, enforcing Bill 78 (in this case, technically a municipal bylaw that mirrored one of the bill’s parts and carried a slightly smaller fine, but the argument remains). They were arresting peaceful protesters whose only crime was being in a group larger than 50 people without having provided an itinerary eight hours prior.

While my heart and sympathies go out to all the people who got scooped up for happening to be there when the state decided to rear its ugly head, my pity goes to the cops, tasked with being on the wrong side of history. As Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir reminded the press after trying to negotiate with the authorities on the scene, “we have to remember that the police are an instrument…they are also victims of this absurd law.”

It is, after all, politics that brought in Bill 78 and inspired these arrests. Therefore, everyone arrested Wednesday night and those who will be arrested for doing nothing more than exercising their charter rights in a way the government disapproves of are political prisoners. Yes, Jean Charest has taken political prisoners.

I’ll give you a minute to let the absolute absurdity of the situation sink in. A premier with a razor-thin majority government is detaining free citizens at will. Now I’ll give you another minute to let the outrage grow. There were more arrests Wednesday night alone than during the entire October Crisis. For those who don’t remember, the October Crisis involved kidnapping, bombs and murder. The Maple Spring involves people walking around wearing red felt squares and banging on pots and pans.

Fortunately, those pots and pans and the generally festive nature the protests have taken lately are the light at the end of the tunnel and the path towards winning the war. If you have political prisoners, you usually have a full blown social uprising to go along with them. Now, in Quebec, we have just that.

As word spread of the kettled protesters Wednesday, people started showing up and staged an impromptu sit-in on the other side of the barricade, pots and pans in hand. A truly beautiful moment of resistance and one that is now being repeated nightly all around the city.

At 8pm, ordinary people start banging on pots and pans from their balconies, in parks, on the street, you name it. When they see others doing the same, they congregate and sometimes they march, regardless of whether the group is 20 or 200 people. This is spontaneous and peaceful disobedience at its finest.

It is a thing of beauty and it inspired this now viral video, also a thing of beauty:

Now it’s spreading beyond Montreal, to other parts of Quebec and just today to Toronto. The red square itself has already spread further, including the states and Europe.

Quebec is now the focal point for peaceful social uprising and civil disobedience. Charest’s political prisoners were not taken in vain.

* Images: Canadian Press, Globe & Mail

Tuesday started out looking like a bad day for a protest. A constant drizzle fell on Montreal’s streets throughout the morning, turning my shoes into a soggy mess before I even reached the demo. In the wake of Loi 78 many expected a record turnout to celebrate the student strike’s 100th day, and rage against the infringements of our civil liberties contained in the “Special Law”, but with the rain I wasn’t so sure.

I should have known my fellow Quebecois are made of sterner stuff!

I started to realize the immensity of the day four or five blocks away when the sidewalks on both sides of the street were packed with one way traffic. Arriving at Place des Festivals at 2PM on the dot, I found a sea of humanity as far as the eye could see. The entire Place, from St. Catherine to Président Kennedy, was packed too densely to allow much navigation. I made my way to a raised photographer’s platform which allowed a better view of the enormity of the crowd. From there I could see that it filled St. Catherine in both directions, and the double lanes of De Maisonneuve and Président Kennedy all the way to St. Urbain.

Wave after wave of new arrivals joined the crowd, hundreds at a time. The rain had finally stopped and an oppressive and unexpected heat had people shedding layers left and right. The mood was festive, but determined, as signs read “This is only the beginning…” and “Bring it on.”

Crossing paths with a trade unionist I know, he reminded me that when half of Place des Festivals was equally packed for a free Arcade Fire show, media had estimated the crowd at 100,000. We agreed that there were likely 200,000 people there, with more joining by the minute.

If anyone believed this to be an exclusively student movement, the crowd on Tuesday would have set them straight. As I did my best to circulate through the sardine can, I was struck by how closely the protesters resembled a cross section of Quebec society. Students were clearly in the minority, as grey hair and strollers were everywhere. I noticed a large number of high school age students, some in distinctive school uniforms.

Sometime after 2:30 the protest set off up Jeanne Mance, where I bumped into the CUTV crew. For those who don’t know, Concordia University Television (CUTV) have been revolutionizing the way in which citizens interact with social movements by livestreaming almost all student protests through their website. Despite a shoestring budget, they have been the eyes and ears of the population, frequently risking injury to stay at the front lines and drawing audience numbers that would be the envy of any cable news channel.

The readily available livestream, coupled with francophone Quebeckers sudden embrace of Twitter, have allowed those at home to participate in demonstrations, report injuries and events as they see them live, and interact directly with demonstrators. This has done wonders to spread the movement outside of its Montreal base, and contributed to regular demonstrations in places like Sherbrooke and Trois Rivières, which are unaccustomed to them.

As the march hit Sherbrooke there was a moment of indecisiveness as contradictory commands of “left” and “right” were shouted out. Eventually the march, which was classified as the CLASSE march in media reports,  turned left, spurning the route submitted to police and choosing to embrace civil disobedience.

I stayed near the front, chatting with friends as we went along Sherbrooke before turning down Peel, a good ten blocks West of where we started. A friend called as we marched down Peel, informing me he’d just arrived at Place des Festivals and it remained packed with protesters as those leaving on the march were replaced with late arrivals. From there we descended to René Levesque and returned East.

As we marched I bumped into a good friend who works as a journalist covering the protests. He was estimating the size of the crowd at around 50 000, a number I scoffed at. As we passed Jeanne Mance we looked up to see the Place des Festivals was still packed with people. There were twenty blocks of marchers behind us, yet our starting point remained a mob scene. My friend the journalist started to revise his estimate upwards. This was clearly unlike anything we had ever seen before.

Chants alternated between a mocking “we are more than 50” in reference to the illegality of marches over that size in Loi 78, and a variety of colourful descriptions of the “special law.” The mood became more and more festive as marchers realized the size of the statement being made with the numbers in the street. An almost party-like atmosphere swept us up, with smiles on every face.

The march continued along René Levesque, before turning up Berri. As the crowd hit the Berri overpass, I ran up on top of the overpass for a better view. The street was full, from one side to the other, as far as we could see. The large apartment building overlooking the overpass was festooned with red square banners and dozens of people hung out their windows, banging on pots and pans.

I’ve confirmed with several journalist friends who have attended all the demos that they have noticed a striking change since the passage of Loi 78. The number of motorists honking in support, and residents cheering as a march passes by, has increased exponentially. Even in Westmount, an evening march was cheered along the well-to-do streets, with middle aged women running out to distribute water bottles.

Quebeckers who might not care deeply about the student cause are outraged at the “special law” and made their support felt throughout the day Tuesday, as passersby waved and cheered at the demo constantly.

As the march turned right on Cherrier, a whimsical chant of “The people, enrolled, will never be defeated!” was taken up. People danced in the streets and the crowd buzzed with news that CTV had reported over 400 000 on air. As we reached the massive and sprawling Parc Lafontaine I received a tweet from my journalist friend: “I am prepared to cook my hat and eat it.” He now agreed there were over 400 000 in the streets.

As we descended into the park a large contingent from the front of the march continued on through the park, while the bulk of people milled around. We sat down and took a breather, watching the seemingly never ending march continue to file in. After around 30 minutes we decided to take a walk back to see what was happening.

A stranger asked to borrow my phone, and reported that he had spoken with a friend further back in the protest, who was only now passing Central Station at Berri and De Maisonneuve. A friend who had left texted me from the Berri overpass to inform me there were still protesters down Berri as far as the eye could see, this almost an hour after we had passed under it with the head of the march. “This may be a 400 000 person demo alright,” he wrote “in walking back through the march it’s f’ing enormous.”

When we left, some time later, the march had still not ceased its steady flow of people into the park. Unfortunately a brief but violent rainstorm drove most to leave, while several other marches departed in different directions.

We retreated from the rain to Else’s, a quiet neighborhood bar on Roy St. Joined there by four or five journalist friends, from both independent and mainstream outlets, we agreed that the march was easily in the territory of a half million people. But as smart phones appeared, and news sites were canvassed a series of outraged cries went up. “This article says “tens of thousands!” “So does CBC!”

A friend who works for a mainstream media outlet counseled patience. “Those are early estimates, don’t worry, the headlines tomorrow will be hundreds of thousands.” But as time passed and more people joined us, more stories cited the tens of thousands figure. This led to a heated debate about journalistic ethics.

The same journalist noted that journos are bound by what they’re told, not what they see. Therefore he argued that they would publish what the police told them, even if they thought it wasn’t true. He also explained that journalists have a system for crowds, one which only applies to protests, and not any other type of gathering.

Because tens of thousands could mean 80 or 90 000, a demonstration below that threshold will often be described as “several thousand” if it is in the area of 20 or 30 000. By the same token, tens of thousands is a safe estimate that, it can be argued, would apply to crowds as large as 200 or 300 000, so it will be used even if a journalist believes the crowd to be over 100 000.

We argued that since no one but journos knows this code, they are misinforming their audience about the single most salient fact of any demo, its attendance. We argued that a reader who sees “several thousand” will assume that means 2 or 3,000, not 20,000 and a reader who sees “tens of thousands” will assume it means 20 or 30,000, not over 100,000.

He reassured us that notwithstanding this, today’s demo had been so huge they would report, at a bare minimum, hundreds of thousands. He accepted a, perhaps drunken, challenge to wear a red square pinned to his crotch at the next demo if he was wrong, and headed out to the night demo.

Sadly, he’ll be wearing that red square. Although Journal de Montreal published the number 150 000 on their front page, most other papers, including The Gazette and National Post published tens of thousands. As did CBC, CTV and other outlets online. The Globe’s print edition estimated between 100 and 250 000, but its online content continues to say tens of thousands. Meanwhile La Presse cites “Police sources” as saying there were over 100 000. So if the police are telling reporters over 100 000, where does “tens of thousands” come from?

Alternative outlets meanwhile, universally published estimates between 400 and 500 000 people, in line with the initial estimates on CTV and in other MSM outlets, which were subsequently revised heavily downward. Several papers cited CLASSE’s estimate, for its march only, which did not include the large FEUQ/FECQ and labour union march, of 250 000.

If all you knew about the protest was what you got from mainstream media, you would logically conclude there were around 30 or 40 000 people there. I have yet to speak to a journalist who believes there were “tens of thousands” there, but they all printed it.

Whatever the excuse, that’s wrong. People deserve the truth, or as close as a journalist can get to giving it to them. Is it hard to tell the difference between 300 000 and 400 000? Sure. Between 20 000 and 400 000? Not so much.

As for this writer, I attended the Iraq war demo in 2003 when over 300 000 took to the streets. I was at the Arcade fire concert and I’ve seen most of Quebec’s big demos. This was larger than all of them, by several orders of magnitude. I don’t know if it was 400 000 or 500 000, it might even have been closer to 300 000. But it sure as hell wasn’t “tens of thousands”.

And coming as it did on the heels of a poll showing an 18 point shift in public opinion from the government to the students, it was the second serious body blow Charest took in 24 hours. For my money, Charest is reeling, and trying to get out of this mess without losing face. If the students press their advantage now, they’ll win. How big a victory remains to be determined. At this point I’m not even sure Charest will survive till the next election.

Hundreds of thousands in the streets is a message to the rest of this province that the students fight is their fight too. The next poll will show an even more dramatic shift of public support. Charest will either back down or be driven from office. Notwithstanding the hard work that remains to be done, the students have won, and yesterday it was clear that they knew it too.


* Photos by Iana Kazakova

I will be publishing my take on why the students are right, and this struggle is so important, in the next few days on and, keep an eye out for it!

You can follow Ethan on twitter, where he posts regularly on the student strike, at @EthanCoxMTL