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UQAM’s Clamp Down on Protests Leads to Calls for Rector’s Dismissal

"There's definitely some freedom that is taken away from those students, and the fact there are masked individuals is because UQAM has started to criminalize dissent."

All photos by Keith Race

Police intervention and arrests at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) on Wednesday have led to more protests today and calls for the rector's dismissal.

Tensions escalated when Montreal Police made 22 arrests Wednesday afternoon after protesters clad in black masks and donning umbrellas entered and disrupted classes.

There has been a series of protests on campus despite an injunction that prevents students from interrupting classes. Some student faculties at UQAM are on strike to condemn the provincial government's adoption of austerity measures.


A line of professors protected students by standing in front of them during what was a tense standoff between protesters and police officers on university grounds.

"There's definitely some freedom that is taken away from those students, and the fact there are masked individuals is because UQAM has started to criminalize dissent," said Jill Pittman, a civilian who participated in the occupation.

In the evening, a sit-in consisting of professors, students, and Montreal activists that formed in the J.-A.-DeSève building at UQAM resulted in barricaded doors and points of entrance. The atmosphere was festive, at first, among the about 300 people present.

Robert Proulx, the rector of UQAM, emailed staff and students asking for a calm return to classes Wednesday evening during the occupation.

"As rector, and I have said this during many occasions and I say it again today, acts of intimidation have no place at UQAM," said Proulx in the email.

After midnight, the situation quickly devolved as Montreal police forced their way into the building while protesters outside vandalized police cars.

"Obviously people get very scared when you see 60 militarized police officers with gas masks and guns coming towards you. There was definitely some fear and people did leave," said Pittman.

The intervention resulted in the arrest of one protester and four tickets distributed to others. The building remains closed while employees clean up dismantled property, shattered glass, and ransacked vending machines.


The situation and use of police intervention on campus has resulted in demands for Proulx's resignation.

On Thursday morning, a press conference involving students and professors criticized the decisions of Proulx. A silent protest was also held on campus to condemn UQAM's actions.

"It is the administration, above all, who has the power to defuse the conflict," said Marcos Ancelovici, a sociology professor at UQAM.

Political science student Fannie Poirier accused the administration of fanning the flames. The university's decision to expel nine students for strike involvement and hire additional security has been subjected to criticism from teachers and students.

"We're being intimidated in our classes by Garda and private security agents hired by UQAM," said Poirier.

Quebec Education Minister François Blais stands by UQAM's decision to ask for police intervention during the pair of protests on Wednesday. In a press conference on Thursday, Blais said the government would not intervene in the protests on campus but that he supports Proulx.

"The issue at UQAM is one of security and safety," said Blais.

He also said that Proulx had the support of the entire Quebec population. He denounced the actions of protesters, saying that the blocking of access to classes should not take place at a university.

Protests on and around UQAM's campus have continued into Thursday evening with one group of protesters blocking the exit from a classroom, before marching three blocks away and being kettled by the cops.

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