Talks over Quebec student demonstrations collapse

June 13, 2012

By Associated Press and Worldview

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Students in Quebec have been in the streets since February, protesting an increase in college tuition fees. The strike began in February and has become the longest and largest protest of its kind in Quebec’s history. 

Students have called for a tuition freeze, but the government has ruled out that possibility. Students also object to an emergency law put in place to limit protests, known as Bill 78. Student union leaders are in court this week, fighting the law, says Vincent Bastien, the vice president of FECQ, one of the student unions behind the protests.

The French-speaking province's average undergraduate tuition — $2,519 a year — is the lowest in Canada, and the proposed hike— $254 per year over seven years — is tiny by U.S. standards. Opponents consider the raise an affront — a manner of thinking that has its roots in the philosophy of the 1960s reforms in Quebec dubbed the Quiet Revolution.

The social movement set Quebec apart from the rest of Canada, and has the Quebecois comparing themselves to European countries where higher education is mostly free, rather than to the neighboring United States.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who has vowed to shake up the debt-ridden province's finances since he was elected nearly a decade ago, has refused to cave in.

Charest's government passed emergency legislation on May 18 restricting protests and closing striking campuses until August. The law requires that police be informed eight hours before a protest begins, saying organizers must provide details on the route of any demonstration of 50 or more people. It also prohibits demonstrations within 50 meters (165 feet) of a college and declares that anyone who incites or helps another person break the new regulations can be fined.

Amnesty International says the law breaches Canada's international human rights obligations and called for it to be rescinded by Quebec's legislature.

Groups outside the province have condemned the new law. In Ottawa, labor unions joined major student organizations in a demonstration in support of the Quebec students' demands. In France, meanwhile, the far left New Anti-capitalist Party also supported Quebec's students and condemned what it considered an unprecedented law "criminalizing all social movements."

Wednesday on Worldview:

Vincent Bastien, the vice president of the The Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), one of the largest student unions that has helped organizing the ongoing protest, outlines what students are demanding from university and government leaders. He explains how the student protest in Quebec has become part of a larger social movement, with support from student groups from Chile to the United States.

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