Coming up

Don't miss




Royal decree on low-cut tops

Read more


Ukraine, The Escalation: No Stopping Putin? (part 2)

Read more


Ukraine, The Escalation: No Stopping Putin?

Read more


Bangladesh: Textile workers' lives still at risk?

Read more


José Bové, Candidate for the EU Commission presidency, Group of the Greens

Read more


NYPD's online campaign backfires

Read more


Celebrating the Bard's birthday in Britain

Read more


Yuki Tatsumi, Senior Associate of the East Asia Program, Stimson Center

Read more


USA: Executions halted over drugs secrecy

Read more

  • US warns Russia against making ‘expensive mistake’ in Ukraine

    Read more

  • Israel halts Middle East peace talks over Hamas deal

    Read more

  • French policemen accused of raping Canadian woman

    Read more

  • Internet should stay free of government intervention, conference says

    Read more

  • A radio station defends peace and tolerance in CAR

    Read more

  • Echoes of 2pac and Biggie? French rap feud turns violent

    Read more

  • Ferry disaster, nuclear test fears cloud Obama’s South Korea trip

    Read more

  • Fresh clashes in Rio over dancer's death

    Read more

  • US would defend Japan in islands dispute, Obama says

    Read more

  • Platini: PSG in danger over Financial Fair Play rules

    Read more

  • Afghan guard kills US doctors in Kabul hospital attack

    Read more

  • Ségolène Royal denies banning cleavage at French ministry

    Read more

  • Video: Mayor in east Ukraine ready ‘to turn Slaviansk into battlefield’

    Read more

  • New far-right mayor moves to quash Paris region mosque

    Read more

  • Millions of Syrians desperately need aid, says UN

    Read more

  • Muslims in CAR pray for an escape route

    Read more

  • Madrid beat Bayern 1-0 in first leg of Champions League semis

    Read more

  • Britain's ex-PM Blair warns against spread of radical Islam

    Read more

  • Turkish PM offers condolences to descendants of Armenians killed in 1915

    Read more

  • Gay marriage, one year on: ‘French civilisation did not crumble’

    Read more


Student protests revive debate over Quebec independence


Video by FRANCE 24


Latest update : 2012-05-25

Hundreds of students were arrested in Quebec this week as the protests that have gripped the francophone region for over three months turned violent. As the movement grows, it is breathing life into the contentious issue of independence for Quebec.

When thousands gathered in Montreal this week to commemorate 100 days of student protests events soon turned ugly.

As the day wore on, demonstrators began hurling rocks at riot police who in return charged at protesters. Hundreds were arrested.

Despite the best efforts of Quebec Premier Jean Charest to quell the ongoing unrest, it was clear the movement was gaining momentum.

What had started as a minority student protest against a projected 82 percent hike in university tuition fees back in February has escalated into a popular movement, bringing together anti-capitalists and environmentalists under the same umbrella.

The protests, which have been backed by the separatist Quebecois Party (PQ), have also given a much needed boost to the independence movement in the predominantly French speaking region.

‘Winning conditions’

The debate over sovereignty for Quebec had receded in recent years after the 1980 and 1995 referendums ended in defeat for the separatists.

But some believe the protests, and in particular Charest’s bungled crackdown, could rekindle the longstanding issue – and even force a third vote.

“One consequence is the rest of Canada, which might have been spared a third round of national-unity wrangling, is now back on track for more of the same,” Michael Den Tandt wrote in a provocative column for Post Media News.

Den Tandt points the finger of blame firmly at the feet of Charest, who heads the non-separatist Liberal Party.

In a desperate bid to end the protests, Charest introduced a controversial law known as Bill 78, which restricted the right to protest. Demonstrators are now required to seek prior police approval before they take to the streets.

The draconian law, which has been dubbed ‘bludgeon bill’ because of the expected violent police crackdown, was deemed a step too far by many Quebecois and merely increased the ill-feeling towards Charest.

A poll released on Tuesday by the Journal de Montreal found an 18 percent shift in favour of the students, compared to a poll taken 10 days previously.

Charest faces an election next year, and while his and his party’s popularity nose dives, the chances of the separatist PQ gaining power increase with every passing day.

The imminent release of a report into corruption in the construction industry could be the nail in his coffin.

With the PQ in government Den Tandt believes the famous ‘winning conditions’ – the circumstances which would provoke Quebecois to seek independence – will be in place.

“It seems the Quebecois may at long last realise their dream of full independence within a united Canada,” he said.

Although the PQ has been firmly behind the students, some believe they have failed to take advantage of the unrest and promote pro-independence feeling.

Federal government silent

In a sign of how delicate the matter is, Canada’s federal government in Ottawa has remained conspicuously silent, despite the protests grabbing increasingly international attention.

Most politicians have kept their lips firmly sealed, wary of appearing to interfere in provincial politics and stoking the fires of separatist sentiment.

With education and university fees being a matter for provincial authorities, the government has had an excuse to stay out of the battle.

“The federal government does not want to add fuel to the fire and turn this into an independence movement,” Gregory Webber, a Quebecois lecturer at the London School of Economics, told FRANCE 24.

Distinct Society

Whether or not the protests will switch to calls for separation from Canada, they have highlighted Quebec’s difference from the rest of the country, a trait often referred to as its ‘distinct society’.

The differences do not just encompass language – there are also major cultural and social divisions. Free education for university students, although long gone, is an ideal that remains enshrined among many in the region, unlike in the rest of North America.

Whereas a rise in fees caused outrage among students in Quebec, even greater hikes in University costs were met with little more than a whimper in other parts of Canada.

Even the press coverage in the country highlighted the divide. Whereas the Francophone press are considered to have reported both sides of the row, the Anglo media have often been harsh on the demonstrators.

In the Globe and Mail, journalist Margaret Wente derogatively described the protesters as “the Greeks of Canada”.

“The Greeks want the Germans to send them more money every day and no matter how much the Germans send they keep asking for more. The students who are protesting are the Greeks of Canada and we do not want them anymore,” she said.

Writing in the Toronto Sun, Megan Harris slammed them as ‘self-righteous’.

But even with the notable division between Quebec and the rest of the country resurfacing, LSE’s Webber does not believe the protests will increase the likelihood of another bid for separation.

“These protests simply highlights the fact that people from Quebec are different from the rest of Canada,” he told FRANCE 24.

“These protests are simply a reflection of a ‘distinct society’ movement rather than a campaign demanding independence for Quebec.”

Date created : 2012-05-24


    Montreal marks 100 days of student protests

    Read more


    Quebec emergency law enrages student protesters

    Read more