Looking for Banners from Québec’s ‘carré rouge’ Protest Movement for December Exhibit

During the six-month student strike, hundreds of banners were created to denounce tuition fee increases and protest the privatization of public institutions. These banners lead demonstrations through the streets of Québec’s cities. They affiliated neighbourhood resistance and demanded an end to police repression. Banners hung from l’Îlot voyageur and the Berri street overpass, and they fluttered above the demonstrators at CLASSE’s demonstrations the 22nd of every month.

Include Your Banner in a installation/exhibit representing the Québec Protest Movement!

contact: widge [@] burningbillboard.org

[en français]

Many banners hung over the facades of university and CEGEP buildings, while others blocked the entrance to Jean Charest’s Montréal office. If you have a banner tucked away somewhere and would like to include it in this giant quilt of dissent, I will humbly accept it and include it in the Counterpoint Quilt.

Devant les bureaux de Premier Ministre Jean Charest à Montréal, printemps 2012. Photographe inconnu.

One of my interventions as a striking student was to collect posters related to the strike for the Centre de recherche en imagerie populaire (CRIP). The creative abundance of the student movement that surpassed the poster, which inspired me to create a vaste digital archive on Facebook of visual artifacts from the strike: Imagerie d’un printemps érable. I have since changed my MA research-creation project to the production of a living archive of these artifacts that is (self)representative of Québec’s protest movement during the period of the strike.

I invite you to look through the 26 photo albums to see more than 2100 images of posters, banners, placards, digital images, stencils, graffiti, installations, performances and other visual representations of the Québec Maple Spring. If you have information about any of the visual artifacts – like the photographer, the person who made the poster, the date of the demonstration is was used in – please let me know so I can add these details to the archival information.

Banderoles au CÉGEP du Vieux-Montéal. Photographe inconnu.

As I mentioned earlier, I am creating a protest quilt (Counterpoint Quilt) for an exhibit at Darling Foundry in December (details coming soon). I want you are your group’s participation in the protests to be represented within this work of installation art that I plan to organize a traveling exhibit to various campuses throughout Québec and elsewhere. The creation and display of the quilt aims to generate an affective source of collective forward momentum that nourishes the movement in a cyclical loop of (self)representation and renewal. This work of collective dissent will reveal the strength and creativity of a vigorous political battle that we can claim victrory due to our resilience and our omnipresence on the streets.

Lors d’une manifestation au début de la grève étudiante 2012. Photographe inconnu.

The banners I am looking for were made by student associations, community groups, APAQs, teachers unions, artist collectives and others active in the 2012 student protests and larger social movement like the ones seen above. If you have one or more banners to donate to this work of protest art, I will include it in the Counterpoint Quilt. Any other information you may have about the banner: the group that made it, the date it was made and for which particular demonstration/action, etc, would be appreciated.

I want your role in the protest movement to be represented in Continue reading

How the Anglo Punditocracy Demonizes Québec’s Student Protests

Anglo Canada is sticking its fingers in its ears and humming a happy song. Many in the English-speaking punditocracy and media (or perhaps mediocracy?) are doing their best to persuade us that student protests in Québec are nothing of any consequence.

This is getting a little harder to do, now that so many other folks are joining the students. But it is not too late to jump on the bandwagon to ridicule or demonize the protesters. Just follow these simple steps. (Steps can be rearranged and amplified for dramatic effect.)

Step 1: Set the stage with a dismissive tone.  Many like to scorn protesters as naïve over-entitled brats. If you really get huffing and puffing, brand students as anti-social radicals. This leads nicely into step 2.

Step 2: Suggest a sinister undertone. Highlight any behaviour suggesting that protesters are undisciplined violent thugs. (Take care to frame this in a way that denies the possibility that the noble police force ever provokes any unpleasantness).

Step 3: Explain WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON. This is your chance to look like you are magnanimously enlightening those poor confused students. Remember, it is your job to reassure English Canada that the status quo is entirely reasonable and the forces of authority radiate with the glow of legitimacy.

Protestors walk north along Berri Street under the Sherbrooke Street overpass in one of Montréal’s nightly demonstrations prior to the introduction of Law 78. May 14, 2012.

Now that you have concluded that protesters are in the wrong, find some evidence

Steps 1 and 2 can usually work just by evoking appropriate stereotypes, but in step 3 you will likely have to introduce something that passes as evidence. Naturally you will want to select evidence that supports your point of view. But at all times, maintain your Continue reading

Don’t Kid Yourself: We all pay for the defunding of higher education

I went to McGill in the late 80s and early 90s when tuition fees were less than $1,200 a year, so with summer jobs and some parental help I graduated from my first degree debt-free. For my MA, which I took in Ontario, I worked part-time and graduated after one year with a debt of $10,000.

By way of comparison: my partner went to university in Ontario after grants were eliminated, and when the first round of tuition fee hikes were implemented. He completed a BA and then an MA, and graduated with a debt load (and compound interest) requiring monthly payments of around $650 for 10 years.

We know we benefited, and are benefiting from, our education. Both of us have found employment that allows us to make use of what we studied, and each of us paid back our loans. But that debt (particularly my partner’s), until it was fully repaid, impacted every major decision we made as a couple and then later as a family. And we still live with those decisions: when we bought a house, when we had kids, how many kids we could afford to have, the fact that we don’t own a car, how often we see our families who live out of town. (The other determining factor is the high cost of child care outside of Québec.)

“Have you set up RESPs yet?” we’re often asked. Are you kidding—with both kids still in child care? And since we have fundamental issues with the RESP system, the public money it represents and how, like the RRSP system, it’s geared to the wealthiest families who can most afford to save, we’ll be exploring other ways—once child care expenses go down—to save for our kids’ education so that they can start their adulthood as debt-free as possible.

Of course, if our house needs major repairs it promises to throw a huge wrench into “the plan”. Because for many of us, life is as precariously balanced as a three-legged stool: alter one element (like when I broke my leg last year, rendering me immobile for several weeks) and the whole thing threatens to topple.

Our societies are likewise delicately balanced: educated societies are healthy societies; equitable societies are safer societies. There is no one panacea—these elements work together. And they need to work well together—which requires accountability, sufficient financing, transparency, and effective administration. So the question is not “health care or education, what’s it going to be?”; the question is, what do we need in order to create an equitable, healthy, educated and engaged society, and what’s the best, fairest, most efficient way to get it?

It is within this context that we need to examine the rhetorical criticisms levied against the Québec student strike and the people involved.

Discarded placards in Place Jacques-Cartier, Old Montréal after 200,000 people marched through the streets against Québec’s tuition increases on March 22, 2012. photo by David Widgington

Tuition fees in Québec are the lowest in the country. What have they got to complain about?

It’s less surprising that Québec students are protesting than Continue reading

Why Vote Against the Québec Government Offer and Continue Student Strike

Since Saturday, some people have come up to me expressing their delight a strike that is finally over, now that a negotiated agreement has been made between the government of Québec and striking students. My reply is that “nothing can be further from the truth.” Here’s why.

“Education is not for sale. Yes to the general strike.” Photo March 22, 2012 by David Widgington.

1) Government Insincerity & Incompetence

The most obvious reason for rejecting the offer is that there is nothing in the so-called “agreement” that addresses the tuition fees nor offers any proposal for reducing the 82% tuition increase over seven years. The “agreement” that students are voting on this week, proposes to end the crisis with the establishment of a Provisional University Council (PUC), whose mandate would be to make recommendations to the Minister of Education by 31 December 2012 about “the optimal utilization of universities’ financial resources and show, where they exist, recurrent savings that can be freed.” These potential (but not guaranteed) savings would not reduce tuition increases but would instead transferred to diminishing the $500-$800/year user fees universities have been allowed to increase over the last few years. If no savings can be “freed” then status quo prevails. As a temporary measure, $125 in user fees will be reduced to compensate for the tuition increase during the 2012 fall semester. At the beginning of the strike, Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp argued for tuition increases to resolve university underfunding. Their offer now claims that universities have more money than they need, allowing them to squander millions on severance packages, luxurious promotional trips and marketing campaigns.

This 19-person Provisional Council would effectively audit universities to flush out administrative spending abuses. Based on the composition of the Provisional Council (six university rectors, four union members, two people from the corporate sector, one CEGEP administrator, two government bureaucrats and four student representatives) it is doubtful that it will have any genuine motivation to criticize university spending practices and recommend budget cuts to reduce student fees. And there are no provisions that prevent universities to continue to unilaterally increase user fees. Education Minister Line Beauchamp is quoted in Le Devoir as saying, “if gains for students are to be had, they still need to be calculated and are not guaranteed,” already opening the door for the Provisional Council to declare that university spending practices have been optimized and that no money can be “freed” from the budget.

I will vote against the government’s offer because it is a pre-election smoke screen aimed at further dividing the population and improving its position in opinion polls that show 62% support for tuition increases but an even higher percentage that believes Jean Charest mismanaged the student crisis.

In June of 2008, then-Education Minister Michelle Courchesne Continue reading

April 14 Family Demonstration Gathers up to 25,000 People to the Streets of Montréal

For everyone who missed yesterday’s family march against tuition increases and in support of a larger social movement against privatization of public services, here is a photo of seniors against tuition increases.

(2012 © Jacques Fournier)

Below are 2 videos from Occupy Montréal media.

The first is from yesterday’s march that gathered up to 25,000 people on the streets of Montréal.

This video includes images taken from a variety of recent protests from the student movement. The audio is from a passionate speech given by Julien Lavoie. The entire speech can be read on page 9 of Fermaille, the student publication from the Association Étudiante du module d’études littéraires (AEMEL-UQAM).

Kinetic Typography: We Must Stop Being Afraid of Words

This animation was made to help create solidarity between anglophone and francophone students across Québec in light of the contrasting scale and strength of our respective strikes. This contrast also seems to exist with regards to our respective “cultures of resistance”. In a province that has seen much mobilization surrounding language issues and sovereignty, the apparent omission of this debate from the larger contestation articulated during this student movement speaks to the possibility of a desire for unity along different lines. As Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois illustrates, these lines are class, race, ethnicity and gender; or a total view of class that includes these subject-positions in order to make the axes of power transparent in all systems of oppression. While there is room for the question of nationalism to become more visible in the broad, collective reflection we are hoping for, and naming “Printemps Québécois” (or “Printemps Érable,” or “Occupy Montreal”), the power of our uprising is to be found in its scope.

Yet the contrast between, say, UQAM’s strike and our strike still remains. So while we are definitely reshaping the political culture of Concordia, we need to find ways to excite, provoke and awaken the anglophone student body that has much catching up to do to match the fervour, courage, activism and solidarity found in many French-speaking universities. Along with collective and physical mobilization, picketing, marching and occupying, we should make sure the range of the conversation being had across the province does not get lost in translation (or in mainstream anglophone media.)

Nadeau-Dubois is relied upon much less frequently in the Gazette, CBC, or CTV than in francophone media. While the tuition increase will be fought by the students collectively, he is a very eloquent spokesperson to have represent our interests in media settings that are typically hostile (and hostile to dissent that is not voiced by elected representatives, officials, heads of institutions.) He is also a skilled orator who speaks with passion and conviction. This video uses kinetic typography to amplify this energetic quality.

by Tim Powell, Graduate Diploma Student, Communication Studies, Concordia University.

Why Québec Student Strike Should Continue Within a Larger Social Movement

It was a Monday morning just before 9:00 am. As I walked to the Charlevoix Metro, historically working class neighbourhood of Pointe St-Charles, the context within which the student strike was situated became blatantly clear. I was on my way to the Concordia University Graduate Students Association general assembly to update a commitment to an unlimited general strike.

Signage from the Société des alcool du Québec (SAQ) store in Pointe St-Charles is removed as the local outlet is closed, forcing the residents to go outside of their community to buy alcohol. Closing down local outlets of public services is one example of the commercialization of government institutions that prioritize fiscal good governance and profit margins over providing accessible services to Québec's communities. April 2, 2012

Across the street from the metro were the last vestiges the neighbourhood Société des alcool du Québec (SAQ) liquor store being dismantled. The local outlet closed its doors on March 31. For months, local residents have been campaigning for the store to remain open with public information strategies, posters in livingroom windows, protest demonstrations and a banner that spanned Charlevoix Street in view from the SAQ’s front door.

"Don't Leave the Pointe: services in the heart of the neighbourhood" banner still spans Charlevoix street as a reminder that public institutions do not necessarily have community well-being as a priority concern. April 4, 2012.

Like Premier Jean Charest, who maintains a deaf ear to student concerns that tuition increases will decrease accessibility to higher education and privatize public institutions of higher learning, the SAQ management couldn’t care less about community concerns. For them, the bottom line is king, but not the benevolent type who looks out for his subjects but rather type of king who wants more for less at his subjects’ expense.

According to a March 9, 2012 press release, the SAQ proudly announces that its 2011-2012 third quarter had net sales grow 5.9% with profit increases of 6.4%. In real terms this means that the SAQ increased its profit in the last three months of 2011 by $56.8 million to a total three-month profit of $1.023 billion! Exactly 22 days after revealing staggering profits, the SAQ closed at least three local outlets in (Pointe St-Charles, Ville-Emard, and according to the sign in the truck, “Côte-des-Neiges”) all of which are lower income communities. Apparently, lower income communities don’t deserve equal access. This reminds me of a billboard image I recently came across that reads a slight variation of the following: “We do not have a [social] problem, we have a capitalism problem.”

Banks closed their local branches in Pointe St-Charles decades ago in a mass restructuring bid to increase profits. Now, four times a year, Canadian banks proudly flaunt record quarterly earnings without flinching at the long-term side effects of their greed. In fact, governments praise them for their resilience and competitiveness. Only the cooperative Caisse populaire Desjardins remains to provide financial services to The Pointe’s residents. In 2007, Canada Post announced that it was to close the neighbourhood’s only post office. Community members decided this was unacceptable and protested the announced closure. Their efforts did not save the post office but it did keep postal services in the neighbourhood, with a postal outlet installed inside a local grocery store chain. Some battles for services are won and some are lost, but each battle needs to be fought to avoid losing everything.

"Education is not for sale. Yes to the general strike." Photo March 22, 2012 by David Widgington.

Every encroachment of capitalism into public institutions takes away resources from the public and transfers it over to the private, in a capitalist imperative for perpetual growth. Not the type of long-term growth that builds communities to improve society but the type of growth that bolsters private enterprise by increasing investment portfolios of a minority of individuals. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) that governments now vigorously advocate allow further encroachments of private interest over public good. PPPs provide public “investment” in infrastructure projects from which private corporations secure the profits. The extension of route 167 is one glaring example within the Charest government’s PPP approach to its Plan Nord.

In closing, I reproduce, below, a portion of the conclusion from a recent report by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS) that states:

     “A sharp increase in tuition fees is presented as the inevitable solution to an alleged problem of university underfunding. The facts analyzed [in the report] indicate that such an increase is actually a political choice aimed at privatizing the funding and role of universities.

We are currently experiencing a number of crises (environmental, economic, cultural). Given these circumstances, we should be using our intellectual efforts to reinvent the way we live and inhabit the world. Yet the transformations we see being imposed on universities actually undermine their independence and make them simple accessories to the unrestrained and irrational economic growth. Learning institutions are reduced to intellectual entrepreneurship centers that orchestrate the shift to a system ruled purely by economic considerations.

We must therefore not only oppose tuition fee hikes, but also reaffirm the importance of the public — not commercial — nature of universities so that knowledge may serve to foster individual and collective autonomy, critical thinking, and the transmission of intellectual heritage rather than simple market value.”

CUTV Program Director Arrested While Covering Student Protest

During live broadcast coverage of a student demonstration on April 4th, Laith Marouf, Concordia University Television (CUTV) Program Director and cameraman was arrested by riot police while reporting live during the demonstrations.

CUTV Program Director, Laith Marouf arrested while reporting live from student demonstration. 2012 © CUTV

Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s position statement regarding higher administration’s most recent approach to the student strike

Dear colleagues:

There has been much discontent with the higher administration’s most recent approach to the students’ “strike.” See the following web site:

The Simone de Beauvoir Institute (SdBI) profs and students involved in Winter 2012 courses have discussed this issue and agreed on a response, in the form of a joint statement. See the following web site:

As is stated in our collective piece, we do hope Concordia University’s higher administration will consider reversing its current approach and instead commit to engaging in dialogue with students and faculty so that “strike” concerns can be addressed.

Best regards,

Directrice, Institut Simone-De Beauvoir |
Principal, Simone de Beauvoir Institute
Université Concordia | Concordia University

Concordia University President Supports Free Education in Québec

Yesterday,  April 2, 2012, Concordia students occupied the 15th floor of the John Molson School of Business building. Their demands included academic amnesty for striking students and for the university to state their official position against proposed tuition hikes by the Charest government.

Still image from The Link video of April 2, 2012.

In a recent video produced by student newspaper, The Link, Concordia President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Frederick Lowy informally met with the students who refused to leave the hallway outside of his office and spoke to the crowd, during which he said:

“I personally would have no problem at all with zero tuition. With no tuition at all, provided the university could get operating funds from other sources. OK. There are other countries in the world, as you know, although not many but there are countries where there are zero costs to higher eduction, just like there is zero cost right now to elementary school education.”

Frederick Lowy must certainly know that there are indeed funds available, if only the Charest government would prioritize accessible higher education rather than subsidize mining corporations.

(2007 © Phil Angers taken from the graphic novel "Extraction!: Comix Reportage)

Here is just one particular source of funds that could (and should) replace the total sum of $265 million tuition fee increases [1] that the Charest government proposes. Consider this example from the Québec 2012-2013 budget: a $332 million grant of public funds is made available to extend route 167 so that the mining corporation, Stornoway Diamonds, can access public land for mineral extraction. Stornoway is only paying a fractional $44 million for the construction of a permanent road that leads nowhere else than its future mine.

“The Route 167 Extension is the $332 million road development project designed to connect the communities of Chibougamau and Mistissini to the Renard Diamond Project by way of a number of other prospective mining projects as well as the new Albanel-Temiscamie-Otish Park…

…On August 1, 2011 Stornoway announced the signing of two financing agreements with the Government of Quebec by which Stornoway will contribute to the construction and maintenance costs of the new road. Stornoway will contribute $44 million to its development …” [2]

Why is québécois society subsidizing this corporation to extract a non-essential mineral from public land?! Why has Premier Charest not consulted the public to ask us whether or not we would prefer to maintain and improve accessibility to higher education rather than to subsidize the profit margins of private corporations?! Would this money not be better spent on education or healthcare or anywhere else with longterm benefits for Québec citizens rather than for short-term dividends for corporate shareholders?

It is time for university administrators like Concordia President and Vice-Chancellor Lowy to break their silence. They must assume their roles as leaders of our public institutions to pressure Premier Jean Charest and Education Minister Line Beauchamp to begin dialogue with the student movement. Frederick Lowy should lead the way with his vision for zero fees for higher education in Québec.

All of Québec society — students and otherwise — should ask ourselves: Is it more beneficial for society to give money to private mining corporations so they may access public land for the extraction of gold or diamonds which are often socially and ecologically costly and only serve the interests of luxurious consumption and capitalist financing? Or is it more beneficial to take that same money and give it to public institutions to maintain or improve accessibility to higher education?

Now is the time to decide!

[1] Éric Martic and Simon Tremblay-Pépin (2012) Do we really need to raise tuition fees?: Eight misleading arguments for the hikes. Institut de recherche et d’information socio-économiques (IRIS) p.3.

[2] This text is taken from the Stornoway website (viewed April 3, 2012).

Blog at WordPress.com.