Montreal–The Printemps Érable (Maple Spring), named after the Arab Spring, continues in Québec and reverberates throughout Canada in an ever-deepening crisis since the massive Québec student strike began in February. It faces a new wave of brutal repression, whose extreme character accentuates the bankruptcy of Québec’s government.
In mid-May Line Beauchamp, Minister of Education, bad as she was, was pressured into resigning, having been determined as too student-friendly, and was replaced by extreme hard-liner Michelle Courchesne on May 14. The Charest government has used injunctions as a repressive measure all along, by which a single anti-strike student or parent may obtain a court order against strikers. On May 15 a student got an injunction against picketing students and teachers at Collège Lionel-Groulx in Ste-Thérèse and police were sent in.
Later that day, a meeting was held at which Courchesne broke off negotiations after less than an hour. Then, on May 18, the Assemblée Nationale passed Bill 78, a law so drastic that it amounted to a declaration of martial law. On May 22, nearly 150,000 marched in Montreal in defiance of its prohibitions.
Bill 78 is draconian: 1. The school semester has been “suspended” (scrapped) at all striking schools. 2. Fines designed to bankrupt individuals and organizations have been imposed for anyone who blocks access to schools. 3. No public assemblies of 50 or more people are allowed without prior police approval.
Furthermore, no masks are allowed, including scarves for protection against tear gas. This also prevents street theatre, a major expression of the movement which requires face paint and masks, including the “AnarchoPanda,” a very popular costume character bear who dances, waves flowers, and hugs people.
These are such serious constitutional violations that the Québec Human Rights Commission, the Québec Bar Association, and media commentators–both left and right–plus legal and political groups across Canada, have condemned them as violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as a form of lawlessness posing as law and order.
Though it is clear that the Québec government is not serious about educating the youth, there is another motive. The student crisis is being used to cover a deeper one: government corruption in the transportation and construction industries, overflowing in illegal campaign funding. There has been so much bribery and intimidation in awarding construction contracts involving members of the provincial government, that Premier Jean Charest himself may be implicated.
In October 2009, the head of the Québec Provincial Police, Richard Deschênes, attempted to investigate that corruption in “Operation Hammer.” Not only were many witnesses intimidated, even with a witness protection program, his report was also suppressed.
He and others asked for a Commission d’Enquête, a fact-finding commission similar to a U.S. grand jury. After two and a half years of pressure from progressive forces, a commission was established under Judge France Charbonneau. Under her leadership, the commission revealed an astonishing cesspool of corruption.
On June 14 Jacques Deschesneau, former Montreal poice chief who was also in charge of an inquest into corruption, told the Charbonneau Commission that he had leaked his own report to the press when he feared that his superiors in the government would suppress it. There is more to come, and it could bring down the entire Charest government and shake the rest of Canada.
Though some student leaders have expressed burnout, the rank-and-file student strikers and supporting teachers and workers have not and are keeping up the fight. Québec students and workers are not easily intimidated, and instead of frightening them, these bludgeon laws and tactics have only made them angrier and more militant. We will see this whole situation in Québec unfold, or perhaps unravel in the coming weeks and months. There is nothing more powerful than the idea of freedom. Nous Vaincrons!
–Ti-Ouistiti, P-J, and D. Chêneville