Since February of this year, protests have been raging in Quebec, Canada over the decision to once more increase tuition fees for universities in the country. It is further proof of the long enduring anger that can arise over the concept of the burden of money or those least able to pay it. It is also a close mirror to protests that occurred in the UK over the same topic before spiraling into riots.
As an American, the tuition protests are incredible to me. Not because we are any strangers to marching for a cause (just the recent beginning of the Occupy movement in New York, which has spread all over the globe, is proof of that). But because Canada would provide students with a quality education for such a low price, and then try to slowly go back on that amazing system.
Before we get into that, here is a little bit of background.
When Tuition Fees Were Frozen
Originally, students in Quebec had only to pay a stunningly low $540 per year for their university education. It had been frozen at that rate from the 1960′s until the 1990′s. However, during that decade their was a sharp increase, with fees almost tripling in just four years. It stayed that way from 1994 to 2007, but then began to rise once more. Every year, it has risen piece by piece, and it is now just over $2,100 per year.
From the standpoint of an American, who has to pay around $6000 per year for even the lowest grade community college for tuition alone, a quality four year university costing around $58,000 for an entire education, including living and material costs, is hard to fathom. That is extremely low.
However, the problem is not the price, the problem is the rising costs in a country where according to their own covenant of rights, education should be openly accessible at every level for any citizen. Instead, they are very slowly moving toward a system where college is considered luxury for the elite, something merely for the upper classes. A system that is very similar to the US.
Obviously, there has been anger. The protests began in February, and hundreds of thousands of people have participated. Hundreds have been arrested, many have faced altercations with police and many have been injured. In March and May alone, two people lost an eye because of flash grenades shockingly used by police against unarmed protesters.
Several times, things have turned violent. Fractured skulls have other severe injuries have also been reported.
Thankfully, this is only a small – if tragic – occurrence. The majority of the protests are peaceful, and very large. The largest march to date took place earlier this month, and had an incredible 400,000 people estimated in attendance.
As I am sure you can imagine, the political pressure to end this conflict has been great. Bill 78 was passed to put limitations on protesters, such as refusing them the right to wear masks, restricting where protests can take place and has attempted to limit how many people can gather for a protest. It is now illegal for more than 50 people to gather, one of the more shocking and criticized elements of the bill.
Not only did this laws passage make things much worse, but it caused some figures to resign in protest. Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp notably stepped down after saying that it was obvious that the government was not taking actual steps to resolve the situation. She was replaced by Michelle Courchesne.
What Will Happen Next
Protests will continue, that much is obvious. This is not an issue that will just go away, and the government’s response has been alarming. Police brutality seems to be increasing – in the same way you saw an increase in the Occupy protests – and Bill 78 is nothing more than an attempt to temporarily strip protesters of their right to assembly, as evidenced by its expiration date of July 2013.
The conflict is not likely to end soon, especially given the embarrassment that would be faced by an already unpopular administration if they were pressured into taking back their decision on tuition fees. But we can hope for a good outcome.