Vice Blog

Maple Spring Breakers: Quebec Students Are Back on Strike in a Big Way

Thousands are taking to the streets again, aiming to be part of a larger social movement, not just a student movement.

by Nick Rose
Mar 28 2015, 5:40pm

A student protester outside of Quebec's the National Assembly who was shot in the face with a tear gas cartridge by police. Photo by Gabrielle Duchesne courtesy of

Spring has definitely sprung in Quebec and seasonal offerings of warmer weather, maple syrup, and student strikes abound.

Tension has been mounting for some time now and on Monday, 62,000 students in the province voted to go on strike—40,000 of which will remain on strike for the next two weeks—meaning no class and lots of protests for a significant chunk of Quebec's student body.

Anti-austerity marches, spearheaded by student groups, are becoming a daily (and nightly) fixture, as students demand an immediate end to cuts in public spending championed by Philippe Couillard's Liberal government.

On Tuesday night, thousands marched through downtown Montreal under the banner of the "Esti de grosse manif de soir" which translates roughly to the "Fucking huge nighttime protest." The theme, once again was austerity and there were inevitably some clashes with police, but in the end only four arrests were made. The vibe was entirely different in Quebec City though, where on the same night, 274 arrests were made by virtue of a municipal by-law.

La capitale nationale was also the scene of probably the most brutal display of crowd control so far.

On Thursday night, 18-year-old CEGEP student Naomie Trudeau-Tremblay was shot in the face with a tear gas cartridge at almost point blank range as she joined a crowd of students who had gathered in front of the National Assembly following the release of the government's latest provincial budget.

Though the young woman injured by the projectile plans to sue for her injuries, Quebec mayor Régis Labeaume is defending his police force by suggesting that they were provoked by the demonstrators: "What are they doing two inches from the nose of the police?"

Obviously, all of this talk of students strikes and heavy-handed police tactics makes for easy comparisons with the Maple Spring that rocked the province in 2012. But that was three years and two governments ago and, back then, the main issue and catalyst for mass protest was a $1,625 tuition hike.

Protest groups are now aiming to be part of a larger social movement, not just a student movement.

We spoke to Fannie Pommier, a political science student at Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and member of Comité printemps 2015, a group that helps organize and mobilize protesters.

"In 2012 there was a fight against the $1,625 tuition increase, which itself was an austerity measure. We've been cutting back on public services since the 80s (and) what we've seen is global impoverishment. We are demanding the immediate withdrawal of all austerity measures proposed by Couillard's government."

And it's not just budgetary matters that have students fired up.

Petroleum extraction, tar sands, and the environment have become an integral part of protest rhetoric in the province, which could become a new hub for tar sands transit, much to the detriment of the environment and First Nations territories. There is even a rap battle for "climate justice" taking place Saturday night in Montreal called Slam the Tar Sands.

"What the government is doing right now—selling our land to corporate enterprises—it's not only anti-democratic, but it's dangerous for the next generation, and irresponsible. It's not even our land, it belongs to the First Nations. And meanwhile they are telling us they don't have enough money for state-funded daycares," Pommier said.

Pommier was hesitant to say that the current wave of strikes and protests will reach the same critical mass that Maple Spring did in 2012. But, according to her, the movement is still very much in its early stages. Instead she put the emphasis on long-term goals.

"We are launching this as a long term struggle against a government that is trying to ruin our living conditions. He (Couillard) can expect us to struggle against for the years to come."

In 2012, 300,000 students (75 percent of the province's students) went on strike. Pommier said that ideally the movement would reach critical mass like the Printemps Érable, but she is cautiously optimistic.

"It's a longshot, but we still have to be ready to be impressed because you never know what we can pull off when we all mobilize together."

At the time of this writing, 102,000 Quebec students are scheduled to go on strike on Thursday April 2.