Riot cops, protesters clash as authorities work to open blocked Quebec school

SAINTE-THERESE, Que. — The Canadian Press

Students protesting against tuition hikes battle with Quebec Provincial Police at the Lionel Groulx college Tuesday, May 15, 2012 in Ste. Therese, Quebec. (RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS/RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Riot police shoved away a crowd of protesters in an attempt to force open a school in one of several tense scenes in Quebec on Tuesday.

The provincial riot squad fired chemical irritants at about 100 protesters who refused to move while blocking the entrance of a junior college north of Montreal.

The self-described strikers, many of them wearing masks, received support from some parents and school faculty who stood alongside them in a show of solidarity.

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In the distance, a group of students were hoping to get into class. The so-called “greens” — in contrast to the red-themed protests — had won a court injunction to force open Lionel-Groulx college, north of Montreal.

Several warnings were issued before police moved in and arrested a number of students. Blasted with chemical irritants, some of the protesters hugged and wept. Some of their adult supporters reportedly did the same.

“It’s easy to repress,” screamed one of the last remaining protesters, taunting the row of riot police guarding the school.

“In 30 years they’ll be saying you were a disgrace! You were a disgrace!

“People will say we were repressed!... (You were) hitting people with billy-clubs, gassing young people.”

Earlier, police intercepted a bus that was headed toward the college. They emptied the vehicle and checked the identity of the occupants.

About one-third of post-secondary students in Quebec are boycotting classes in a protest against tuition hikes that has lasted more than three months.

What started as a battle over a $325-a-year fee hike appears to have morphed into a broader struggle over the role of the state, the legitimacy of protest tactics, and the boundaries of authority.

While some student faculties are casting this as a once-in-a-generation struggle, others have quietly ended their school semesters without much involvement in the protests.

In Montreal, 19 people were arrested Tuesday after access was blocked to the Jacques Cartier Bridge, one of the key commuter links between the city and the populous south shore.

The provincial government planned to meet with student groups Tuesday, one day after the provincial education minister resigned. But the government has made it clear it doesn’t intend to change its plans for tuition hikes.

A group of protesters has also gathered outside a hotel where Power Corp. — the influential company that owns Montreal’s La Presse newspaper — was holding its annual meeting in downtown Montreal. Riot police are guarding the hotel.

At the Lionel-Groulx college, the school’s director-general expressed exasperation.

Monique Laurin was heckled when she attempted to address the protesters and ask them to leave. They taunted her and called her a government shill, noting that she had been a candidate for the Charest Liberals in the last provincial election.

But Ms. Laurin implored the government to also take steps to resolve the crisis.

She called it impossible to try teaching amid such hostility, characterized by injunctions, picket lines, riot police and angry staff and students.

“It’s terrible to do this to us. It will create a horrible climate inside the college,” she said.

She added, of the students: “I care about them all. The reds and the greens — they are all my students.”