McGill student, November 11, 2011 McGill student, November 11, 2011 Victor Tangermann
This week, the UTSU sent a letter to the Quebec Minister of Education, Line Beauchamp, to show solidarity with Quebec students and to criticize the provincial government’s plan to raise university and CEGEP tuition. In a separate statement, Danielle Sandhu, President of the UTSU, spoke out against the heavy-handed McGill campus security and police response to a protest held at McGill University in Montreal on November 10, at which 14 students and a professor were allegedly assaulted.

The UTSU letter, written by VP External Shaun Shepherd, said the Quebec government’s decision to increase tuition by $325 per year until 2016 will limit access to higher education. “Education has long been considered the great social equalizer,” Shepherd wrote, “however, low- and middle-income students are increasingly unable to access college and university education as a result of financial barriers.”

“In solidarity with the students of Quebec,” he concluded, “ we urge you to reject the proposal for tuition fee increase and [to] reaffirm your government’s commitment to affordable, accessible and public education.”

Quebec Premier Jean Charest has argued that cash-strapped Quebec universities desperately need more money from tuition. His decision has elicited strong opposition from Quebec students. Last Thursday, 30,000 people staged a demonstration outside Charest’s office in downtown Montreal. Hundreds of protestors moved up McGill College Ave. and gathered outside the McGill administration building. Fourteen students entered the building and staged a sit-in in the office of university principal, Heather Munroe-Blum, until they were forced out by campus security.

Police on bicycles soon arrived at the scene and tried to break up the protest. They were pelted with sticks and water bottles and quickly forced to retreat. Riot police were then called in and, according to The McGill Daily, used “pepper spray, tear gas, and physical force” to disperse the protestors.

Philosophy professor, Greg Mikelson, was observing the protest when he was clubbed with a baton and pepper sprayed by police. “I had just stopped to watch what was going on,” he told CBC, “and the police just walked up to me and attacked me.”

Principal Munro-Blum has asked the dean of the faculty of law to lead an investigation into the incident. In an open letter to students, the dean said the purpose of the investigation is “to allow McGill to learn from the events of November 10, 2011, and to take steps that would reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.”

President of the UTSU, Danielle Sandhu, sent the newspaper a statement concerning the riot at McGill University: “We offer solidarity to students at McGill University, fighting to ensure that education remains accessible in Quebec. As students displaced from our own campus by riot police in June of 2010, we are concerned about the repression of political dissent and use of aggression at McGill.”

The McGill student union, the Students’ Society of McGill University, welcomed support from U of T and other Canadian universities. “I think that can only be positive. It’s been very difficult to get this story out in the major news media,” McGill’s VP External, Joël Pedneault, said about the outpouring of support. “I feel very strongly that if no one other than McGill denounces what happened [the police’s forceful handling of the protest], if that becomes a situation that becomes acceptable in Canada and Quebec, then we’re heading for very, very difficult times ahead.”

“I think it’s important that student unions draw the line in Canada and say that it’s unacceptable that police were compelled to use force against student protestors,” Pednault said.

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  • Subtitle: U of T student union opposes tuition hike in Quebec and police crackdown on protest
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