Students defiant as Quebec unveils law to quell strikes

Fri May 18, 2012 4:41pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

(Reuters) - Angry Quebec student leaders on Friday vowed to fight a tough new law to quell 14 weeks of strikes against tuition hikes, threatening to escalate their protests into a broad campaign of civil disobedience.

The Quebec government, seeking to end demonstrations it says could harm the economy, says anyone organizing a protest of more than 25 people must give police eight hours' advance notice, something critics see as an assault on civil liberties.

The new law, due to be passed later on Friday, would also ban demonstrations near universities and colleges and impose large fines on those who disobey.

"When laws become unjust sometimes you have to disobey them and we are thinking seriously about this possibility," Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, head of the militant CLASSE student group, told a news conference held jointly with major trade union leaders.

Asked if he would be prepared to go to prison, he replied: "We'll see."

The students, who pay some of the lowest tuition fees in North America, say the price hikes would leave them facing thousands of dollars in debt. They have clashed with police, blocked Montreal's main bridge and set off smoke bombs in the city's metro in a series of protests.

About 155,000 students - more than a third of Quebec college and university students - are striking against plans to increase annual tuition fees by C$1,625 ($1,595) over the course of five years, a 75 percent hike.

Headlines in two Quebec newspapers described the law as a "Declaration of war against the students" and "Law of the truncheon". The head of Quebec's bar association said the proposals would severely restrict basic constitutional rights.   Continued...

Quebec's Premier Jean Charest (C) and Minister of Education Michelle Courchesne (L) speak during a news conference at the National Assembly in Quebec City, May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger