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June 14, 2012 - No. 89

Quebec Students' Fight for the Right to Education

Opposition to Charest Government's Plan to Indebt Students
Student Associations Denounce Plan to Drastically Increase Student Debt
A Carefully Planned Form of Theft - Press Release
Brief of the Quebec Federation of University Students

June 22 Day of Action
Students Continue Actions During Summer to Affirm the Fee Increase Is Not a Viable Option
Ten Thousand March in Montreal "Family Demonstration" to Support the Students

Intensified Repression and Political Profiling
Charest Government Underscores Its Illegitimacy
Hearings on Motions to Oppose Special Law Begin in Quebec Superior Court

Workers Denounce Special Law
South Shore Workers Speak Out

Artists' Crucial Role in Defence of Civil Liberties

Singer-Storyteller Declines National Order of Quebec
Artists Demand Public Apology from Minister of Culture
Comedians Raise Funds to Oppose Special Law

Opposition to Charest Government's Plan to Indebt Students

Student Associations Denounce Plan to Drastically Increase Student Debt

The Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) and the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) held a press conference in Montreal on June 13 in response to the Charest government's draft amendment to the Regulation on Student Financial Assistance (AFE). The Charest government calls its draft amendment an improvement to the AFE program and claims it will protect the poorest students from the effects of the tuition fee increase. The announcement of the proposed change was made at the end of April but the figures have just been published. Martine Desjardins, President of the FEUQ and Éliane Laberge, President of the FECQ each strongly denounced the draft amendment as a carefully prepared government plan to drastically indebt Quebec students, and as a form of theft from students and the entire population. The FEUQ distributed its brief, Drastic Increases to Student Debt that it will present to the Advisory Committee on the Financial Accessibility of Education on June 18, concerning the modifications to the loans and bursaries program. The Committee will make its recommendations to the Charest government on the draft amendment.

Éliane Laberge, President, FECQ (left) and Martine Desjardins. President, FEUQ, .

Martine Desjardins opened the press conference by saying that the Charest government presented these modifications to student financial assistance as a global solution to the problems caused by rising tuition costs.

The leader of the FEUQ referred to the new policy that will increase the ceiling on loans by converting bursaries into loans for students whose parents' combined earnings are between $45,000 and $60,000.

"When we received the draft amendment to the student financial assistance regulations, we were shocked to see an explosion of lending limits and therefore an explosion of student debt. A student will see his or her debt even triple in the first years of implementing the so-called improved AFE program. What this means is that for a student whose parents earn between $45,000 and $60,000 per year who wants access to loans and bursaries, the ratio of loans versus bursaries will be reversed from what it currently is."

She estimates that this and other measures specified in the proposed amendment may increase the average student debt from its current level of $14,000 to more than $20,000.

She added that a large number of students who work during the summer and do not qualify for loans and bursaries will suffer the full brunt of increased tuition fees and see their purchasing  power greatly reduced. She denounced the fact that while debt is increasing, limits for admissible expenses used to calculate loans and bursaries such as housing or food will be frozen for the next seven years. This means that for the next seven years, a student's eligible food expenditure will continue to be $7 a day.

FECQ President Éliane Laberge said, "On April 27, the Liberal government proposed a blanket solution to supposedly end the crisis we're in, a solution that would compensate all the students most affected by the tuition fee increase. Meanwhile, we see that this solution is tainted. It's not a real solution since all the middle class students -- and by middle class I mean those whose parents earn between $45,000 and $60,000 -- will see their debt triple as of next year. [...] They tried to sell us a solution to end the problem of [decreased] access to education caused by the tuition fee increase. Since when is debt a solution to access to education in Quebec?" She said that student debt is one of the main reasons for dropping out among students at the post-secondary level. The Charest government's assertion that raising the threshold of parental contribution from $35,000 to $45,000 by 2016-2017 protects the poorest students is unfounded because while these students receive a bursary, they will still incur debt with a loan of $2,400 per year, she added. The two student leaders said the government must stop trivializing student debt as it is a major source of problems for students and jeopardizes the future of Quebec.

The FEUQ and FECQ leaders stated clearly that the measures announced by the Charest government are not a solution to the crisis caused by the tuition fee increase, especially given the more than 17-week student strike.

"These measures are a poor assessment of resources, a poor evaluation of the situation," said Desjardins. "At the political level the situation is dealt with by denying the reality of students' living conditions. It's unacceptable. We've been on strike for more than 17 weeks and the students have not done this to be told that students and taxpayers will pay even more," she added.

Desjardins said that the government must withdraw its plans. She said that the alternative to student debt is, among other measures, a tuition freeze, the enhancement of aid to match students' real situations and the revision of the regulation on student contributions that, for example, would permit students to save the money they earn working over the summer.

(Translated from original French by TML.)

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A Carefully Planned Form of Theft

This is undoubtedly one of the Jean Charest Liberal government’s most insidious plans, the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) and the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) announced. While the government proclaimed to anyone who would listen that it would improve the Student Financial Assistance program (AFE), at the same time it took the opportunity to drastically increase student debt. "Once again, Jean Charest is attacking the students, dangerously increasing student debt. It is funding loans and bursaries at no cost by cutting the tax credit and is mortgaging the future of Quebec by increasing student debt! The students end up footing the bill twice: through rising tuition fees and [the loss of] the tax credit. It is literally theft!" said FEUQ president Martine Desjardins.

This is the main conclusion of the FEUQ's analysis of the government measures, which it will present to the Advisory Committee on the Financial Accessibility of Education (CCAFE) of the Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports (MELS) on June 18. Although students from families who earn less than $45,000 are relatively spared, as bursaries will cover the $1,778 increase in tuition fees, students from the middle class are hit hard. And with compensatory allowances -- a new form of loans created by the Charest government -- student debt will more than double.

"Once again, the government is unmasked. While we were negotiating in good faith with Ms. Courchesne, they were preparing a plan to heavily increase student debt. For students from families with a gross income of more than $45,000, it is an explosion of debt. The government keeps telling us that loans and bursaries will compensate for the increase, but at what cost? This debt that will become a real burden on the [next generation of] Quebec?" added Éliane Laberge, FECQ president.

The most devious aspect of the government's plan is that all these measures are implemented without indexing the allowable expenses to which students are entitled. This means the amount loaned to students is still insufficient to guarantee current expenses -- no funds are allocated for their indexing -- to the extent that they will continue to need to eat on $7 a day for the next seven years. They will be forced to turn to compensatory allowances and loans from financial institutions. "We still have the same problem -- we have a Premier who plays the party leader instead of taking up his responsibility as a statesman, who could not care less about the consequences of his actions and lets the situation deteriorate. Is this the kind of government that Quebec deserves? No!" concluded the presidents of the student federations.

The FEUQ's analysis is available at: www.1625canepassepas.ca/argumentaire

The Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) and the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) together account for over 200,000 students in Quebec.


Mathieu Le Blanc, Media Liason, FEUQ, office: (514) 396-3380, cell: (514) 609-3380, email: attpresse@feuq.qc.ca, Twitter: @ matleblanc77

Charlotte Watson, Communications coordinator, FECQ, cell: (514) 554-0576, office: (514) 396-3320, email: crc@fecq.org, Twitter: @ charlottewats

(Translated from original French by TML.)

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Brief of the Quebec Federation of University Students

At the joint press conference with the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) on June 13, the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) circulated its brief entitled Drastic Increases in Student Debt. The document is the FEUQ's response to the Charest government's draft amendment to the Regulation on Student Financial Assistance (AFE). TML is posting below highlights from the brief. The complete brief in the original French is available here.

According to the FEUQ, the proposed amendments introduce three main measures:

1. The gradual increase of the threshold of parental contributions from $35,000 in 2012-2013 to $45,000 in 2016-2017;

2. Raising the ceiling on loans for students whose parents' combined earnings, in 2016-2017, are between $45,000 and $60,000;

3. The creation of a new form of loan called supplementary allowance.

The FEUQ considers the increase to the parental contribution threshold positive and thinks it should have been done long ago. Raising the contribution threshold eliminates the parental contribution reported for students whose parents earn $45,000 and less. Financial assistance is granted by establishing student expenses that are allowed by the loans and bursaries program, less contributions (students, parents, spouse). The meagre salaries that students earn during the summer, for example, are considered contributions and therefore reduce the financial assistance granted. Students affected by the increased threshold of parental contribution will be entitled to full bursary, but the FEUQ notes that they will still incur debt through a loan of $2,440 per year. The FEUQ argues that the allowable expenses are well below actual expenditures that students must incur. Therefore these students that Charest has said will be protected will also become further impoverished with tuition increases. In addition, a gross salary for both parents of $45,000 per year in 2016-2017 is roughly the minimum wage while the parental contribution threshold is not very high.

Raising the loan ceiling for students whose parents earn between $45,000 and $60,000 is the main measure contained in these measures that will increase student debt, according to the FEUQ. Raising the loan ceiling is achieved by converting declared parental contribution amounts into loans. According to FEUQ it will a lead to a major conversion of bursaries into loans. The FEUQ document contains a projection of test case students whose parents earn between $45,000 and $60,000 and concludes that this category of student debt will double and even triple. In 2012-2013 the FEUQ calculates that in some cases a student's debt could go from $2,440 to nearly $6,000.

The supplementary allowance is a new form of loan that applies to students who receive financial assistance of an amount less than the special allowance. This special allowance is itself a loan introduced in 2007 for students who receive only loans and are eligible for loans up to $ 2,440. The amount of the special allowance corresponds to the amount of the increase in fees since 2007. This is debt added upon debt, ostensibly to counter the effects of rising tuition. By 2018-2019, the FEUQ believes that this additional allocation will increase a student's debt from $2,440 to $4,718.

The FEUQ also denounces that all these measures, which will cost $39 million, will be funded by the elimination of 3.5 percentage points in tax credits for students' tuition and examination fees.

The FEUQ study makes the following recommendations:

1. That the Government of Quebec withdraw the implementation of the increase to the loan ceiling for families earning more than the first threshold of parental contributions.

2. That the Quebec government withdraw the implementation of the supplementary allowance.

3. That the special allowance covering the increase in tuition fees be given as a bursary to all recipients without exception and must not involve any increase in loans.

4. That the Quebec government freeze tuition as of 2011-2012.

5. That the parental contribution threshold be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index from 2017-2018.

6. That the AFE increases the amount of allowable expenses for the recipients of student financial aid, including additional amounts for living expenses and transportation costs for students who do not have access to public transportation. Transportation costs for non-residents and internet fees should also be included in the allowable expenses

7. That the Department of Education, Recreation and Sport introduce an automatic annual indexing of all allowable expenses in the calculation of the AFE. This indexation should be equivalent to the Consumer Price Index for that year.

8. That the amount of maximum income protection of the AFE be raised to $1,445 per month, and adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index and that this indexation should be automatic.

(Translated from original French by TML.)

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June 22 Quebec Day of Action

Students Continue Actions During Summer to Affirm the Fee Increase Is Not a Viable Option

Quebec City
Friday, June 22 -- 2:00 pm

Quebec National Assembly
For information: Facebook

Friday, June 22 -- 2:00 pm

Place du Canada
For information: Facebook

Click to enlarge poster.
The student associations, Quebec labour centrals and social and community organizations have called for a Quebec Day of Action on June 22 to support the students and oppose the Special Law, with major demonstrations planned for Montreal and Quebec City. Originally called for just Quebec City, organizers decided to have two simultaneous actions so as to have the maximum number of people participating in Quebec's two largest cities.

"We invite the entire population to mobilize for this memorable day. Whether in Quebec or Montreal, we must all be in the streets to demonstrate against rising tuition fees and Bill 78," states the Broad Coalition of Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE).

The date of June 22 marks not only 130 days since the students began their strike against the tuition hikes, the 22nd of the month is now considered a national day of action. The 22nd of each of the past three months has been marked by massive turnouts of students and Quebeckers from all walks of life: March 22 -- 200,000 students and supporters marched in Montreal; April 22 -- a quarter million people were in the streets of Montreal on Earth Day; May 22 -- half a million people were on the streets of Montreal to oppose tuition fee hikes and the Special Law.

In related news, the Broad Coalition for Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE) plans to use the summer to continue its discussions with the population. It wants to "dismantle certain prejudices" that some may have developed, states CLASSE.

"What people see about the student strike in the media are images of confrontation and violence," said CLASSE co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. "We want to speak directly to them, answer their questions, take their criticisms and respond to them," he added.

The aim will be to disregard the media and reach people where they are, he explained. CLASSE representatives plan to go to public places, metro stations in Montreal and major events to meet the people. "There may be some tensions, but if people can clearly see we are there to discuss, most will be happy," said Nadeau-Dubois.

As for the resumption of negotiations with the government, CLASSE believes that the initiative must come from Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, since it was she who ended them.

"We could easily resume the dialogue, but if the government's position hasn't changed, we won't get any further than last time," he said. "If we are invited, we will go, but it's the government's responsibility to convoke us," he added.

For its part, the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ), has prepared new proposals to present to the Education Minister in anticipation of a possible resumption of talks.

"We held several meetings this week with economists and tax experts who have studied some solutions, before we give the government other proposals," said FEUQ President Martine Desjardins.

The Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ) held its congress June 8-10. Following the conclusion of the FECQ's meetings, Éliane Laberge, newly-elected president of the FECQ, held a press conference to present the FECQ's plan of action for the summer.

Éliane Laberge, President of FECQ

She began by reaffirming that the FECQ's main message remains the same -- the tuition fee increase is not a viable option. She then acknowledged the different actions in support of the student movement, in particular the manifestations des casseroles, "have allowed people to take to the streets, to unite with their neighbours to say what it is they want for their future."

Elaborating the students' plan of action for the summer, Laberge announced that mobilizations will start June 17-22, culminating in the demonstrations in Montreal and Quebec City on June 22. This day is being organized in conjunction with CLASSE and the FEUQ. She invited everyone to join in the rally as a way to kick off an active summer of mobilizations.

She affirmed that the June 22 mobilization will be against the tuition fee increase but also against the crisis provoked by the Liberal government shutting out an entire generation of youth. The objective, she added, is to demonstrate how the Charest government has taken decisions that don't correspond with Quebec's values. This will be achieved through events organized with community organizations and MNAs from different regions, she explained.

Regarding the requests for mediation, she said that the FECQ considers that "the crisis is still full-fledged. Perhaps the student associations will want to continue the strike in mid-August. The logical and responsible way to resolve the crisis is through discussion. Mediation is also a responsible choice. We think it's possible; it depends on the government's openness."

Referring to the violence and profiling in the recent demonstrations surrounding the Montreal Grand Prix, she said, "It's dangerous if Quebeckers are afraid to say what they think. It's one of the government's worst faults -- not listening to the population. [...] No one is comfortable with acts of violence. The message is always better received without it. We also think that there is a responsibility on the part of the police who are very repressive. People should not fear violence when they want to express themselves in the streets."

In Quebec City, the Quebec City Regional Action Front of the Association for Student Union Solidarity (FRAQ-ASSÉ) supported by the Confederation of Students from Laval University (CADEUL) are organizing a festive family demonstration on Saturday, June 16. It will be the first of its kind in Quebec City.

"This big family demonstration aims to be a joyful and inclusive rendezvous of anyone who is concerned with education and the defence of our fundamental principles," said Émilie Tremblay, FRAQ-ASSÉ spokesperson.

"We have contacted the Quebec City police (SPVQ) to give them the route, organizers' names, and to ask them to minimize as much as possible their presence to avoid scaring the children and to encourage everyone to join us," she added.

"With about  500 arrests [in Quebec City], the population is scared to take to the streets to demonstrate its discontent with the government's decisions. Confidence in law enforcement is low. With this plan, we hope to reassure the people," explained Martin Bonneau, President of CADEUL.

(Translated from original French by TML.)

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Ten Thousand March in Montreal "Family Demonstration" to Support the Students

On June 2, despite pouring rain, more than 10,000 people took part in the "Family Demonstration" in Montreal called by the Broad Coalition for Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE) to defend the right to education and oppose the Charest government's Special Law. People from all walks of life were there, with teachers in particular making their presence known with a large banner declaring their opposition to the tuition hikes, as well as their union banners.

See the Friday, June 15 edition of TML Daily for further coverage of actions across Quebec and Canada in support of the Quebec students.

(Photos: TML Daily, A. Guedon, A. Querry)

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Intensified Repression and Political Profiling

Charest Government Underscores Its Illegitimacy

Police detaining and arresting people on the metro and at the site of the Grand Prix in Montreal, June 10, 2012.

The past week has seen heightened state repression and intimidation by the Charest government and its police against those who are part of the student movement, all those who show their support for the students' fight for the right to education or who oppose the Special Law for its attacks on the rights of all. Unable to give a political argument to justify their actions and provide themselves legitimacy, Premier Charest and his Ministers have continued to slander the students as violent in order to dismiss their just demands, cover up the role of the police as the ones who incite violence and create a situation to justify further political repression. Over the weekend, police used the Grand Prix race events in Montreal as an opportunity to intensify their political profiling, stopping and searching hundreds of people who wore the red square, had on red clothing or anything else deemed to be in support of the students.

The Broad Coalition of Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE) denounced the political profiling and attempts at intimidation as illegal and called for an independent inquiry into the hundreds of searches over the weekend and the last four months of protests. "When a minister one day calls a red square a symbol of violence and two days later you see hundreds of policemen searching, stopping, detaining and arresting hundreds of citizens because they wear the same square, I think we have to ask serious questions as citizens about the link between political power and the police forces," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, CLASSE co-spokesperson. "It is absolutely necessary that full light be shed on these troubling accounts. We must not accept that police arrest and detain citizens under the pretext that they are wearing a political symbol. The public has a right to know what has happened," he added. He also said CLASSE is currently looking into any and all recourse to expose the events.

CLASSE pointed out that the events in recent days are part of a larger wave of political and police repression. "The Human Rights Commission should examine not only the weekend's events, but also the actions of the different police forces since the start of the dispute. We're talking about brutality and mass arrests at demonstrations, and also intimidation and illegal and arbitrary searches of citizens wearing the red square. This cannot go on," said Camille Robert, CLASSE co-spokesperson.

Similarly, President of the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) Martine Desjardins stated, "We are highly concerned that several arrests and searches were based on flimsy pretexts, such as simply wearing a red square or being dressed in black. I think this crosses a line."

Éliane Laberge, president of the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ), concurred, saying police activities were "completely disproportionate" to the situation. "It's normal to have a police presence, but preventive arrests against persons wearing the red square or who appear to be protesters, seems excessive to me. People should feel at ease and comfortable to demonstrate and express their views," she said.

Political Profiling, Repression and Arrests at Grand Prix

A reporter from McGill student newspaper Le Delit is detained by police on June 10, 2012 despite having press credentials in plain view; at right, a transit user is detained by police for 15 minutes for wearing a red square.

On Saturday, June 9, the Montreal Police (SPVM), the Quebec Provincial Police (SQ) and their riot squads waged particularly violent attacks against demonstrators. The police had received marching orders to prevent demonstrators from getting close to the Grand Prix race activities at any cost. Twenty-eight arrests were made.

Many people wearing the red square were stopped, searched or "preventatively arrested" in the metro or on the Grand Prix site on Ile Notre-Dame. Two reporters from Le Devoir who put on the red square on June 9 to verify if accounts of arbitrary arrests were true, were arbitrarily arrested after being searched twice in the metro. After extensive questioning they were directed to leave the site. A cameraman was also arrested, his camera confiscated and its contents deleted. "We don't know what the hell to do with these images," an officer said. Other incidents included a woman with red hair being barred by police from buying a ticket to attend the Grand Prix. A Canadian Press reporter who didn't have a Grand Prix ticket was forced back into the subway.

Arrests and systematic searches were also carried out the following day, Sunday, June 10 at the Montreal Grand Prix on St. Helen's Island. The SPVM carried out 34 "preventative arrests" at the doors of the Jean-Drapeau metro station and forcibly removed nearly one hundred people wearing the red square from the Grand Prix site.

Despite  the many eye-witness accounts of these activities of the SPVM, Police Commander Alain Simoneau declared at a press conference on Sunday afternoon, "I can guarantee that there was no discrimination against anyone, people with red squares or without, students or not. None at all!"

What criteria the police used remains to be seen. One woman who went to Jean Drapeau Park with a friend for a picnic and was carrying a picnic hamper stopped to ask some students what was going on whereupon she and her friend were detained. After hours of sitting manacled in the hot sun and on a bus, she started passing out from dehydration and had to be transported by ambulance to the hospital.

To justify their arbitrary arrests and profiling of so-called suspicious elements, the SPVM used Article 31 of the Quebec Criminal Code which states, "the peace officer is justified in arresting any person whom he finds committing the breach of the peace or who, on reasonable grounds, he believes is about to join in or renew the breach of the peace." Serious questions have been raised that the limits inherent in Article 31 when acting under its auspices were transgressed.

The SPVM also said that nine other people were arrested the night before in association with Grand Prix events, five of whom are accused of criminal acts including assault, threats to police officers and obstructing police.

Before the Grand Prix began, police had stepped up attempts at intimidation of activists through early morning searches of people's homes. On Thursday, June 7 at 6:00 am the SPVM conducted eight searches -- seven on the island of Montreal and one on the South Shore.

In Montreal the searches took place mainly in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhoods. In the Plateau, a 19-year old woman, Yalda Machouf-Khadir, and her boyfriend were arrested. Nima Machouf, Yalda's mother told police, "I'm watching you to make sure you don't ransack my home and humiliate my family and the neighbourhood."

She recalled, "Everyone was asleep. At 6:00 am the doorbell rang. I opened it and saw that something was happening. I saw several people. They told me they had to question my daughter. I asked them for a warrant and they showed it to me. I looked at it and said, 'OK, I will get her.' They said 'No, we're coming in.'"

Later the same day, three events in support of the student movement were held at the opening events for the Grand Prix. The SPVM and the SQ who surrounded the site didn't hesitate to attack demonstrators with chemical irritants and truncheons. Twenty-seven people were arrested.

The next day, June 8, at the 46th consecutive night protest, 12 people were arrested. Again the police used chemical irritants against demonstrators.

Police violence near the Grand Prix events in dowtown Montreal, June 7, 2012.

Since the start of the student strike, reports indicate that more than 2,671 arrests have been carried out. The SPVM claimed that as of June 1, since the start of the student conflict, it has made 1,595 arrests for criminal acts or violating laws. It is not clear whether the discrepancy refers to people detained and released without charges.

Meanwhile, the government continues to defame the students as violent and those who intimidate and threaten. Minister of Finance, Raymond Bachand, who attended the Grand Prix, reiterated on that occasion that he had no intention of yielding to the students' demands and that the conflict would be settled in the next general election. "I am not the type to shy away from intimidation. Because the day we start to give in to intimidation is the day democracy dies," he said turning truth on its head since it is the government, not the students, which has suspended civil liberties and refuses to negotiate. It has shamelessly stuck to its self-serving and intransigent position which continues to aggravate the situation.

The criminalization of the right to dissent and collective and individual profiling of those opposing the anti-people program of the Charest government raises the question of what the Charest government is up to. Why won't it negotiate with the students who have put forward alternative ways to fund the system of higher education? Why does the government persist in its defamation campaign to associate the students with violence when experience shows that unless the police instigate attacks on peaceful demonstrators or bring agents provocateurs, the students are intent on peacefully raising their political demands. TML calls the attention of readers to the instructions received by the police in Ontario on the occasion of the G8/G20 protests to help answer these questions. (See TML Weekly Information Project No. 22, June 2, 2012 for further discussion on the significance of these developments.)

(Photos: TML Daily, D. Champagne, Universitv)

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Hearings on Motions to Oppose Special Law Begin in Quebec Superior Court

On Tuesday, June 12, the Quebec Superior court began hearing the two motions filed by the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ), the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ), the Broad Coalition for Student Union Solidarity (CLASSE), the Quebec Students Roundtable (TaCEQ), as well as the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ), the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), Quebec House of Labour (CSQ) and the Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (CSD). There are some 140 claimants from 70 organizations who are part of the two legal actions.

The lawyer for the Association for Student Union Solidarity (ASSÉ), Giuseppe Sciortino, told the media during a break that, "If this law is found unconstitutional a year from now, there are people who will have been arrested and convicted although the law was unconstitutional. That's why we are asking for a stay."

According to media reports, Sciortino argued before the court that with this law, the Charest government has chosen not to respect the students' democratic decision-making, but instead to negate their right to strike, leaving them only the right to boycott their classes. Despite the fact that this government treats the student associations like trade unions and imposes the same responsibilities on their members, it is stripping them of the rights accorded to trade unions, he pointed out.

He added that the government's recourse to the courts (rather than negotiating with the students), forcing a return to class and giving itself the capacity to sanction offending student associations through the Special Law, has given Education Minister Michelle Courchesne the power to find students guilty of contempt without a trial.

The lawyer said that the Special Law also gives police arbitrary powers with regard to the right to demonstrate if they find the schedule or route provided by the organizers unsatisfactory.

The second motion, which aims to invalidate the entire law on the basis that it is unconstitutional, could be heard as soon as July 3.

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Workers Denounce Special Law

South Shore Workers Speak Out

TML spoke with workers on Montreal's South Shore about Quebec's Special Law that was passed on May 18.

Forklift driver, Iberville: Charest is using everything he can to maintain power. He's only interested in serving his rich friends. He thinks he can rise in the polls and win the next election by attacking the youth. I don't know how they conduct their polls [to find support for the Liberals is going up] but up to now I haven't met anyone who supports the Liberals.

Truck driver: With this Special Law, Charest attacks everyone, not just the students. By taking away the students' right to strike with the 50 plus one rule and picket lines that respect the students' choice under the fraudulent pretext of defending the right to education, Charest is preparing to do the same to the workers. I'm sure of it. In my opinion, he could put through a similar bill that modifies the labour code and uses the same system of injunctions that was used against the students, but under the pretext of the right to work. In that way he could circumvent anti-scab laws.

Meat cutter, St-Hyacinthe: This situation resembles the October Crisis of 1970. At that time, the aim was to crush the people's demand for Quebec's independence; today it's to stifle our desire for political change and a change in the direction Quebec should take. We all know this Special Law not only affects the students but also threatens the workers with what could happen if we don't accept to worsen our working conditions. We were already hit with injunctions and riot police at our last strike in 2010. They want that to be the norm all over Quebec now and any time the workers defend themselves.

Forklift driver, Iberville: Not being allowed to wear masks doesn't make sense. It is the police who are covered from head to toe with their helmets, gas masks and shields. A truck driver from Blainville told me a good one the other day. His son, who goes to Lionel Groulx CEGEP in Ste-Thésese, was attacked by police last week. He said when you see parents beating their kids you call the police. But when the police beat your kids, who do you call?

Maintenance Worker, St-Hyacinthe: We have to get rid of the Liberals, that's clear. But how? We can't just do nothing and allow ourselves to be criminalized and turned into slaves working for $10 an hour. We have to see how to renew the unions and how to guarantee that we kick out Charest.

Meat cutter, St-Hyacinthe: As long as "Jean Charogne" (carrion) is there, we will be in a state of constant crisis. That guy really thinks Quebec belongs to him and that he can give whatever he wants to his rich mafia friends. But with the Special Law, he's plunging Quebec into the darkness of the Duplessis era. It makes no sense. We can't go back there -- we have to find a way out.

Railworker, St-Hyacinthe: The media has played a dirty role, as usual. They sowed confusion to rally a bit of public opinion to Charest's side. It's disgusting. During our strike in 2010, we hadn't done anything but the media peddled all sorts of lies about us -- that we were vandals and all sorts of things. People looked at us like we were criminals. They're doing the same to the youth. We can't accept this.

Technician, St-Damase: I think it's important that we discuss together and not just keep to ourselves or we feel powerless, like we're imploding. They want to scare us so we don't support the youth. It won't work. Between defending our youth, who are right to want to decide their future, or the corrupt Liberal government, the choice is simple.

(Translated from original French by TML)

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Artists' Crucial Role in Defence of Civil Liberties

Singer-Storyteller Declines National Order of Quebec

Singer/storyteller Fred Pellerin declined to be named to the National Order of Quebec at a ceremony on June 6 in the Legislative Council Chamber of the National Assembly.

In an open letter he outlined his reasons for declining the honour. "I accepted this nomination without hesitation. Under the present circumstances, however, my beloved Quebec -- on which I want to build a vision for our children -- is mired in social crisis. I cannot think of going to Quebec City today to accept this medal. One's deepest convictions are more important than awards. [...] To set aside my convictions for the sake of this award would besmirch [this honour]."

He added, "It so happens that the people who I am being asked to honour as a member of the Order, are currently deep in crisis. I would be disappointed with myself if I were to raise a glass to toast these people under the current circumstances, when our very democracy is being shaken to its foundation. My heart follows my people and my people have no heart for such celebrations."

Pellerin's concerns with the political situation in Quebec were confirmed by Minister of Culture Christine St-Pierre's response to his rejection of this honour. She resorted to repeating the government's slanders of the students and their just demands as violent, underscoring the government's inability to deal with the crisis on a political level. "[Fred Pellerin] has the right to wear the red square; we have freedom of expression, but we know what the red square means. It means intimidation, violence and it also blocks people from studying. For us that's what it means, and for a large, large, large majority of Quebeckers, that's what it means," she said.

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Artists Demand Public Apology from
Minister of Culture

Nearly 3,000 artists in the cultural community published on June 13 a letter demanding a public apology from the Minister of Culture and Communications Christine Saint-Pierre, for equating the wearing of the red square with support for violence. Artists have given their support to students since the early days of the strike, including actors, directors, film makers, writers, college and university professors, cultural journalists and others.

In their letter, the artists stressed that the Minister's remarks are for purposes of playing politics and lowering the level of debate.

The signatories emphasized that those who oppose the government's vision are the ones that create a humanistic culture, a culture which is "in opposition to the corporate culture that violates freedom of thought."

They denounced the government's use of fear-mongering in the name of establishing "order," pointing out that such methods "bring to mind very bad memories of a not too distant past."

The artists denounced the violence perpetrated by the government through "a police force that multiplies the acts of brutality against peaceful demonstrators," and embodied in the Minister's "lies and contemptuous words."

According to director Dominic Champagne, the Liberals are leading a campaign of fear for political ends, one that is reminiscent of the campaign in the 1970s when the aim was to "associate the FLQ with the PQ to attempt to discredit anything that could be progressive in Quebec."

Minister St-Pierre begrudgingly apologized on Wednesday morning, June 13, but then returned to her  offensive remarks which reiterated the government stand justifying the suspension of civil liberties based on its fabricated pretexts that the students are violent.

"Nobody in Quebec can forget the violent acts that have been committed in recent months. [...] I'm talking about threats, intimidation, colleagues who have found gas cans in front of their houses," she said.

She had nothing to say about the police brutality, political profiling and mass arrests or the fact that too often claims of weapons caches and such things loudly advertised by the police and government have turned out to be nothing of the sort.

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Comedians Raise Funds to Oppose Special Law

A group of 15 Quebec comics who call themselves the Coalition of Outraged Comedians (CHI) has announced they will participate in a fundraising performance to help finance legal fees to challenge the Special Law. Their slogan: "There's nothing like a comedian to show the farce has gone on too long."

"When the youth started taking to the streets, the government didn't listen to them. I find this contemptible, not just for the students but also for us," said Luce Rozon, one of the organizers.

"The government no longer listens to us. It is steering the boat by itself and sneers at the rest of us on board. With the Special Law [coming into force], the artists told us that we couldn't let this pass and that we had to do this show, now," Rozon said.

"Between the red and green [squares], people will laugh until they're blue in the face," he said and explained that the performance was not directed against Gilbert Rozon [head of the Just for Laughs festival who supports the Special Law -- TML Ed. Note], but in favour of the manifs de casseroles and against the Special Law.

The CHI performance will take place June 18 at 6:30 pm at the Théâtre Saint-Denis. Tickets range in price from $25.78 to $52.78 and are available here.

(Translated from original French by TML)

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