Student protests heat up in Quebec

David Brancaccio May 18, 2012

David Brancaccio: In what’s seen as the most intense student demonstrations in the history of Canada, students in Quebec have been protesting hikes in tuition since the winter. Now the government there is debating emergency legislation to temporarily close some universities and to levy penalties for protesting of as much as $35,000 for individuals. The law could pass today.

Joining us from Quebec City is Leo Bureau-Blouin, one of the student leaders. Good morning.

Leo Bureau-Blouin: Good morning.

Brancaccio: Give me a sense of the legislation the government is trying to pass, and why you’re so upset.

Bureau-Blouin: It will be a restrictive law. We can’t protest at least than 50 meters of a teaching institution. There are also some disposition that gives government the power to destroy the student’s union in Quebec, because it gives permission to cut the funding of the student’s union. So it’s really a law that I think goes too far.

Brancaccio: Now, you see this as a free speech issue, but these protests have been going on for about ten weeks now. I see, for instance, that just the other day, demonstrators apparently interrupted classes at Montreal University. Surely the students in those classes should have the ability to learn if they choose?

Bureau-Blouin: Yeah, but that’s not the problem. It’s already prohibited by the law in Quebec to block access to a teaching institution. And we think that it was not necessary to have such a big fine, and we think that this goes against our freedom.

Brancaccio: Give me a sense, if you would, of the increased tuition costs that students like you are being asked to pay.

Bureau-Blouin: We’re talking about a big tuition increase here in Quebec because we have a long tradition of having affordable education for everyone. And we are concerned that if it costs more and more to go to university, less kids are going to go to university and we are going to be less competitive.

Brancaccio: Leo Bureau-Blouin, one of the student leaders. He’s speaking from Quebec. Thank you very much.

Bureau-Blouin: It’s a pleasure.



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