For the first time ever, ticket sales lagged for Montreal’s Formula One Grand Prix, which is usually sold out many days before the opening. The Grand Prix is one of the most profitable sports events in Canada because it draws several hundred thousand tourists eager to pour money into the Montreal economy.
But who, apart from the most enthusiastic Formula One aficionados, would come to a city that’s been plagued for more than four months by quasi-daily riots? All this started as a protest against a hike in university tuition fees, but soon morphed into a larger, anti-government and anti-capitalist movement.
The most radical student groups had threatened to disrupt the subway lines and block the bridges leading to the Grand Prix site, and their spokespeople had deemed the event “sexist, elitist and polluting.” So the organizers, wary that uncontrolled access to the site might end up in disaster, had no choice but to cancel the wildly popular “open house” that allows people to visit the pit lane, look at the cars, mingle with the crews and get autographs from the drivers. (The open house, the single free event of the Grand Prix, was also the only opportunity to enjoy the event for those Montrealers unable to pay the extravagant entry fees to the competition.)
The opening cocktail party, on Thursday, was marked by demonstrations – some protesters parading in the nude, others wearing masks and throwing objects at the police – the usual.
In the summer, Montreal is a city of festivals. It’s unlikely though that events like the Jazz Festival will be disrupted, since the militant students profess to like the arts – and besides, the artists (at least those who voiced an opinion on the issue) are on their side. Most likely the performers will be asked to wear the red square that is the emblem of the “revolution” and none will dare say no. Who wants to be booed on stage?
The only person in the artistic community who dared dissent from the students’ cause was Gilbert Rozon, founder of the Just for Laughs Festival, and he paid a high price for freely, albeit in very polite terms, expressing his opinion. He was the victim of a huge stream of vicious personal attacks on Twitter, including angry calls for a boycott of the festival.
Mr. Rozon asked for an appointment with the student leaders to clear the air. He offered them cute masks mixing the red square and the Just for Laughs logo, and the student leaders ended up with a benefit show whose proceeds will go to their movement. The show will not be part of the regular programming of Just for Laughs, but will be produced by … Mr. Rozon’s sisters. A miraculous sign of sibling solidarity?
The bill that Montreal and the province will inherit from this agitated spring hasn’t yet been totalled up, but it will be enormous. Police overtime already numbers in the millions of dollars. The college teachers hired to provide intensive courses in August to the students who lost their spring trimester are asking for handsome compensation, even though many of them encouraged their students to boycott classes, a move that provided them with a three-month paid holiday.
Julien Villeneuve, a professor of philosophy at the Collège de Maisonneuve in east-end Montreal, spent the trimester frolicking in demonstrations under the disguise of a giant panda nicknamed “Anarchopanda.” How can one blame the students, when their own teachers lead them on such a silly, irrational path?