by Karen Seidman, The Gazette (Full Text)
Saying they must battle a “wave of repression” that is sweeping the province, students took the Montreal police force to task on Monday for turning student protesters into criminals with the recent arrests of four activists months after a demonstration against tuition-fee hikes.
“This is an unprecedented wave of arrests,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for L’Association pour une solidarité syndicate étudiante.
ASSE says four of its members - three of them on the group’s executive committee - were arrested recently in connection with the occupation of Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s office on March 24 and a demonstration on March 31.
Nadeau-Dubois said each student is facing between four and nine charges, including mischief, aggression and breaking and entering, and more arrests are expected.
“We are a legitimate organization that represents 45,000 students,” Nadeau-Dubois said at a news conference. “There is nothing criminal in our intentions or actions.”
It was the second time in a week that a group has criticized Montreal police’s GAMMA unit, created in January to deal with increasing vandalism and assaults on police officers during protests.
Last week, the Coalition against repression and police brutality accused the Montreal force of targeting people for their political beliefs.
Both groups have filed complaints with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
Last winter, Quebec announced a plan to raise university tuition by $325 a year over five years beginning in September 2012, which sparked several protests.
Nadeau-Dubois said more demonstrations are planned for this fall, as well as the possibility of a strike.
Montreal police spokesperson Ian Lafrenière said he was “embarrassed” by the students’ accusations of intimidation.
“When you occupy an office and someone gets a broken wrist and there’s a broken window, that’s not a peaceful demonstration,” he said.
“I agree that people should be allowed to demonstrate. If you do nothing illegal, we won’t bother you.”
He said some students at the March 31 demonstration had Molotov cocktails and “criminal intentions.”
But Nadeau-Dubois said the worst infraction students committed was to put stickers on the walls.
Now, he said, students are being targeted by the police, and investigated and arrested at their homes as a means of intimidating them.
He said peaceful occupations have been used as a tactic of protest for decades by students, women and minorities. “I have a message for the Montreal police,” Nadeau-Dubois said. “You can chase us, arrest us and hit us but you will never succeed in intimidating us.
“No police squad will stop our fight to halt the increase of tuition fees.”