Daily Archives: May 24, 2012

Red Square Revolt: Quebec Students on Strike (documentary film)

Red Square Revolt: Quebec Students on Strike

montreal.openfile.ca
Lessons from Montreal: Documenting the tuition crisis for Americans
Sarah Leavitt • Thursday, May 24, 2012

A group of New Yorkers have taken an interest in Quebec’s student strikes and have created a documentary in the hopes of bringing the news of the tuition conflict to Americans.

“After Victoriaville, we could see things were going to get more intense and so we scheduled a trip,” Nate Lavey, one of the filmmaker’s, told OpenFile Montreal via email today. “We knew that the demo on Monday was going to be big, but we hadn’t planned on the government passing Loi 78, which has made the whole situation incredibly tense and dangerous for activists, students and professors.”

Lavey was inspired to make this documentary because of the dearth of coverage in the U.S.

“We had been disappointed by the lack of U.S., English-language coverage,” he said. “We knew radicals had been involved, but since many of them come from francophone backgrounds, their perspective on the strike wasn’t getting out, especially beyond Canada.”

Lavey and his team began shooting the documentary this past Saturday and worked hours on end to get it completed and online by Wednesday morning. After being unsuccessful in receiving funding from independent media outlets, they put their own money into the project. So why was it so important for them?

“We think it’s important that this story — and especially the perspective of radicals — make it out of Quebec. The strike is part of burgeoning anti-austerity movement that is sparking worldwide, so the lessons from Montreal are going to be relevant to people everywhere.”

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Filed under activism, film and video, international affairs, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions

Putinism Comes to Quebec?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/opinion/our-not-so-friendly-northern-neighbor.html

WHEN Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese. But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr. Putin’s medicine.

For a change, Americans should take note of what is happening across the quiet northern border. Canada used to seem a progressive and just neighbor, but the picture today looks less rosy. One of its provinces has gone rogue, trampling basic democratic rights in an effort to end student protests against the Quebec provincial government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75 percent.

On May 18, Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the authority of the provincial premier, Jean Charest, passed a draconian law in a move to break the 15-week-long student strike. Bill 78, adopted last week, is an attack on Quebecers’ freedom of speech, association and assembly. Mr. Charest has refused to use the traditional means of mediation in a representative democracy, leading to even more polarization. His administration, one of the most right-wing governments Quebec has had in 40 years, now wants to shut down opposition.

The bill threatens to impose steep fines of 25,000 to 125,000 Canadian dollars against student associations and unions — which derive their financing from tuition fees — in a direct move to break the movement. For example, student associations will be found guilty if they do not stop their members from protesting within university and college grounds.

During a street demonstration, the organization that plans the protest will be penalized if individual protesters stray from the police-approved route or exceed the time limit imposed by authorities. Student associations and unions are also liable for any damage caused by a third party during a demonstration.

These absurd regulations mean that student organizations and unions will be held responsible for behavior they cannot possibly control. They do not bear civil responsibility for their members as parents do for their children.

Freedom of speech is also under attack because of an ambiguous — and Orwellian — article in Bill 78 that says, “Anyone who helps or induces a person to commit an offense under this Act is guilty of the same offense.” Is a student leader, or an ordinary citizen, who sends a Twitter message about civil disobedience therefore guilty? Quebec’s education minister says it depends on the context. The legislation is purposefully vague and leaves the door open to arbitrary decisions.

Since the beginning of the student strike, leaders have told protesters to avoid violence. Protesters even condemned the small minority of troublemakers who had infiltrated the demonstrations. During the past four months of protests, there has never been the kind of rioting the city has seen when the local National Hockey League team, the Canadiens, wins or loses during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The biggest demonstration, which organizers estimate drew 250,000 people on May 22, was remarkably peaceful. Mr. Charest’s objective is not so much to restore security and order as to weaken student and union organizations. This law also creates a climate of fear and insecurity, as ordinary citizens can also face heavy fines.

Bill 78 has been fiercely denounced by three of four opposition parties in Quebec’s Legislature, the Quebec Bar Association, labor unions and Amnesty International. James L. Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, called Bill 78 “a terrible act of mass repression” and “a weapon to suppress dissent.”

The law will remain in force only until July 1, 2013. The short duration says it all. It amounts to a temporary suspension of certain liberties and allows the government to avoid serious negotiations with student leaders. And it grants the authorities carte blanche for the abuse of power; just hours after it passed, police officers in Montreal began to increase the use of force against protesters.

Some critics have tried to portray the strike as a minority group’s wanting a free lunch. This is offensive to most Quebec students. Not only are they already in debt, despite paying low tuition fees, but 63 percent of them work in order to pay their university fees. The province has a very high rate of youth employment: about 57 percent of Quebecers between the ages of 15 and 24 work, compared with about 49 percent between the ages of 16 and 24 in the United States.

Both Quebec and Canada as a whole are pro-market. They also share a sense of solidarity embodied by their public health care systems and strong unions. Such institutions are a way to maintain cohesion in a vast, sparsely populated land. Now those values are under threat.

Americans traveling to Quebec this summer should know they are entering a province that rides roughshod over its citizens’ fundamental freedoms.

Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour are associate professors of political science at the University of Montreal.

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http://montreal.openfile.ca/blog/montreal/2012/explainer-first-24-hours-bill-78

Explainer: The first 24 hours of Bill 78

Posted by Justin Giovannetti on Saturday, May 19, 2012

After a rare nighttime debate at the National Assembly, Bill 78 was approved by a vote of 68-48 on Friday afternoon with the nearly full support of the Liberal caucus and the right-wing Coalition Avenir Quebec.

Given the tongue-twisting name of, “An act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend,” the bill imposes severe limitations on a Quebecers’ right to hold a spontaneous assembly:

  • Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
  • Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
  • All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
  • Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
  • Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

Opposition from legal scholars
Many of Quebec’s organizations and professional associations showed some concern about the law. Typically a quiet and conservative organization, the Quebec Bar came out swinging against the bill.

“This bill infringes many of the fundamental rights of our citizens. The basis of a democracy is the rule of law. We must respect the law. We must also respect fundamental freedoms, like the freedom to protest peacefully, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association,” Bar President Louis Masson told The Globe and Mail.

Speaking to CBC’s The House, former judge John Gomery was critical of the law. While some believe that the law would not stand up to a court hearing, a sunset clause of July 1, 2013 will probably keep it out of the Supreme Court.

“My view is that this legislation is part of the extreme reaction that this debate has provoked. Violent demonstrations provoke violent reactions,” Gomery told CBC host Evan Solomon. “I think it is surely going to be contested before the courts.”

Quebec favours the law
According to a CROP poll commissioned by La Presse, 66 per cent of Quebecers are in favour of the law. Some are discounting the poll because of its small sample of 800 responses. The poll also showed a record low level of Quebecers supporting a tuition freeze: 32 per cent.

CLASSE takes down calendar
So that it is not found guilty of aiding protest that might not be properly planned or executed, the student coalition CLASSE removed a calendar from its website where students added planned activities. A central point for organizing protests, CLASSE was facing a fine of $125,000 for the first offence.

Montreal police lines jammed by people filing “protest reports”
In a bid to undermine Bill 78, hundreds of people called their local Montreal police precincts on Friday, attempting to file plans for “protests” composed of 50 friends going out for an evening. Under the law filing these plans of a dubious value is required.

According to the Montreal police, most of the plans filed were bogus.

It’s all Greek to Margaret
In a column for The Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente compared Quebec’s tuition protesters to debt-riddled Greece. While criticizing the province’s “cradle-to-grave” social system, Wente claimed that rioting students are “overwhelmingly middle- to upper-middle class.” Calling herself appalled, Wente concluded by stating that Quebec students would “shut down Alberta” if given the chance. Greek Quebecers were not happy with the comparison.

Following the Russian example?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he is looking to bring forward a new law to crush Russia’s protest movement: $32,000 fines for people engaged in unauthorized protests. The Putin-Charest photomontages are imminent.

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http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/blog/bernans/10947
Charest’s Draconian Law Sets Stage for Québec Pussy Riot!
Posted on May 18, 2012 by David Bernans

Pussy Riot already likes red
Pussy Riot already likes red

Unable to break the will of students who have been on strike for a record 14 weeks protesting an 82% tuition increase, Charest’s Liberal government has taken a page from Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin. Education Minister Michelle Courchesne has tabled Bill 78, the Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend.

Are you planning on a Barbeque or a soccer game in a public park in the province of Québec? Make sure to invite no more than eight people. Once Bill 78 becomes law, the organizer of a gathering of 10 or more people* in a public place will be required to notify the police in writing eight hours in advance of said gathering with a full itinerary of the group’s movements.

Obviously, police are not going to arrest some kids at a soccer game, but what if the kids on one team all have red squares on their uniforms and the other team has the Liberal Party of Québec (PLQ) logo? And what if the PLQ players can pick up the ball with their hands and have referees remove the red square goal keeper whenever she gets in the way? Has this innocent game now become an illegal political gathering, protesting the draconian Bill 78 without a permit?

These are the kind of tactics being used by protestors in Putin’s Russia to avoid similar government restrictions on freedom of assembly. Such tactics illustrate the problem of enforcing bans on unpermitted demonstrations without looking like authoritarian thugs. By targeting the impromptu concert-demos of the anti-authoritarian feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot, Russian authorities have given the phenomenon international notoriety.

Premier Jean Charest has put forward this legislation ostensibly to calm the fires of revolution that have caught the attention of international media. He wants to rehabilitate Québec as a tranquil tourist destination. But perhaps, instead of legislating an end to a social movement, Charest has just given birth to Québec’s own Pussy Riot!

David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.

* Bill 78 was amended after this article was written. The relevant section of the legislation now applies to gatherings of 50 or more people.

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http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/canada-politics/quebec-bill-78-echoes-russia-anti-protest-idea-202141533.html

Quebec Bill 78 echoes Russia’s anti-protest idea: is it Jean or Vladimir Charest?
By Andy Radia | Canada Politics – Sun, 20 May, 2012

It is a little ironic that the Quebec government’s Bill 78 came down on the same day a Russian anti-protest bill was to be introduced.

Friday was supposed to be the first reading of a draconian draft law in Russia that would raise the maximum fines for organizers of unsanctioned protests to $48,000 from $1,600. Participants’ fines would increase to $32,000 from $160.

Quebec’s legislation, which passed Friday, also sets multiple requirements on public demonstrations and threatens stiff penalties to people who disrupt college and university classes.

The bill has been met with a chorus of criticism.

Louis Masson, the head of the Quebec Bar Association, says the Bill “clearly limits” the right to freedom of assembly. Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey told CBC News that Bill 78 is a “terrible law” that suspends the freedom to association, express and protest, without sufficient reason. Pauline Marois, leader of the opposition Parti Québécois, said it was “one of the darkest days of Quebec democracy” and demanded Premier Jean Charest hold elections because of the unpopularity of the law.

And, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. consulate in Montreal has warned visitors and U.S. expatriates to be careful because of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir  Putin will have to wait for his legislation “to cope with an increasingly assertive opposition.” The anti-protest bill in that country was abruptly delayed until next week because of disagreements within the government.

What’s contained in Quebec’s Bill 78? Openfile.ca has published this list explaining the new rules:
-Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
– Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
– All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
– Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of
violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
– Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

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Filed under international affairs, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions

Anti-Gay Protesters Attack Immigrants in Petersburg (May 17, 2012)

Anti-Gay Protesters Attack Immigrants
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
May 23, 2012

An authorized International Day Against Homophobia rally held in Petrovsky Park on the Petrograd Side of the city was broken up by ultranationalists and Orthodox radicals and ended with attacks and mass beatings Thursday [May 17].

A man shot at two demonstrators with a gun firing irritant fluid, and then a militant crowd smashed windows in two buses carrying Central Asian migrant workers — whom they initially mistook for departing LGBT activists — with stones and attacked those inside one of the buses when it came to a standstill.

Called the Rainbow Flash Mob, the rally — which had been officially authorized by the Petrogradsky district administration — was stopped about half an hour after its start time when the police, who were present in large numbers at the scene, told the organizers that they would not be able to hold back the anti-gay protesters for long, according to the LGBT rights group Vykhod (Coming Out).

Despite their massive presence, the police did not attempt to disperse an aggressive crowd that gathered near the rally site shouting homophobic slogans, firing rubber bullet and irritant guns and throwing objects.

Video footage from Piter.tv shows menacing-looking young men — many with their faces hidden by medical masks or black cloth — clapping rhythmically and chanting, “We will hang and bury you!”

Yevgeny Zubarev, a reporter with Piter.tv, said rubber bullets were also fired at journalists, as he was nearly hit by one.

OMON riot police officers stood in a line, preventing the radicals from entering the rally, but did nothing to stop the threats being made.

The anti-gay protesters, of whom there were more than 200, included Orthodox activists, nationalists and young men who resembled neo-Nazis or football hooligans. One young man, who held an offensive anti-gay sign, was wearing a scarf with the logo and name of the Young Guard, United Russia’s youth organization.

The first attack occurred soon after the rally began, when a man wearing a suit and tie and glasses discharged a pistol firing irritant fluid at a woman who was holding colored balloons, and then shot at a man who rushed to help her. A video on the Piter.tv web site shows him shooting at people and shouting “Sodomy is a deadly sin” as he was being led away by a police officer.

The police told the organizers to end the rally, which was scheduled to last from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., after about 30 minutes, arguing that officers would not be able to hold the crowd for long. Only two of the scheduled speakers had time to make speeches.

Releasing more than 500 colored balloons into the air, the 100-plus participants left the park by bus for safety reasons. Provided by the organizers and the police, three buses left unnoticed in the opposite direction to where the counter-demonstrators were. They took passengers to the offices of Coming Out, as well as to several faraway metro stations.

However, at about the same time, two other buses — which happened to be carrying Central Asian migrant workers — were driving past the site, and a group of about 60 young men and women ran after them shouting anti-gay insults, throwing stones and at least one smoke bomb at them until most of the windows were broken.

Apparently they did not realize who was inside until they caught up with them as the buses slowed down on the bridge over the Zhdanovka River. Discovering that the passengers were not LGBT activists, however, did not cause them to end their attack.

As the second bus stopped, having apparently mounted the curb, the attackers started to climb through the broken windows in the rear of the bus and punch those inside while at least one delivered several blows through a side window.

As the attack continued, the bus passengers started to jump out from one of the front side windows and run away. The bus then managed to drive off as the attackers dispersed in the neighborhood.

The police watched from a distance and did not intervene.

According to LGBT activist Maria Yefremenkova, a young man and woman who were late for the rally were attacked by the same people afterwards as they were walking toward Petrovsky Park wearing rainbow paraphernalia.

On Friday, the police spokesman said that the police had failed to find any of the victims of the attacks on the buses.

“The bus is owned by one of the city’s enterprises, it was carrying the enterprise’s workers,” Interfax quoted him as saying.

“The owner declined to file a report due to the insignificance of the damages.”

The attacks went unreported on the police’s web site, where the May 17 bulletin included incidents such as a pickpocket being caught on a tram and two attempts to sell alcohol without a license.

A probe has however been ordered by the St. Petersburg police chief to investigate the actions of the police during the event, the police spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

The man who discharged the pistol firing irritant fluid has reportedly been charged with hooliganism and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

There has been no reaction from the city authorities, although the city’s new ombudsman, Alexander Shishlov, released a statement Friday urging the police to find the organizers and participants of the attacks and instigate criminal proceedings against them.

The demo was supposed to be the first authorized LGBT rights event since the St. Petersburg law banning “the promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism to minors” came into force in March.

Photos courtesy of Sergey Chernov and Ridus.ru.

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Filed under feminism, gay rights, immigration, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

Update! Leftist Activist Andrei Bitkov Press-Ganged into Russian Army for Supporting Striking Auto Workers in Kaluga

anticapitalist.ru

Andrei Bitkov, who was kidnapped on the morning of May 22, has been sent from the Kaluga military enlistment office to a military unit, said Dmitry Kozhnev, Kaluga coordinator of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA/MPRA). The recent harassment of Bitkov and other Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) activists by law enforcement authorities was provoked by their involvement in the trade union struggle; in particular, they supported workers at the Benteler Automotive plant during a strike in March 2011.

According to Kozhnev, Bitkov was kept all day [May 22] at the military assembly point [in Kaluga]. “The draft board wanted to send him for an additional medical examination, but the FSB made a deal with the commander of the conscription center. On the part of the FSB, this was all organized by the very same Andrei who put pressure on Daniil Pyatov [another RSD activist],” Kozhnev said. Bitkov has already been dispatched to Military Unit No. 49345, in the Moscow region town of Shcherbinka.

“The actions of the security services and the military enlistment office are deliberate and blatantly illegal. A court hearing was scheduled f0r May 29 to decide whether Andrei Bitkov could be exempted from enlistment due to health reasons. In fact, Kaluga authorities are taking revenge on a active member of the labor and leftist movements,” said a an RSD spokesperson.

RSD and ITUA activists fear for Bitkov’s health and safety. The military unit where he has been sent is notorious for its cruel treatment of conscripts. In addition, there is every reason to believe that law enforcement agencies will soon carry out other provocations against leftist and trade union activists in Kaluga.

For more information, contact Dmitry Kozhnev, ITUA Kaluga coordinator, at +7 (903) 800-3696.

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Filed under leftist movements, political repression, trade unions