I figure its about time I lay down my thoughts on the student protests/ public response going on in Montreal. Just as a preface, two cents might be about all my opinion is worth here. I am not a native of Quebec, I am not involved in the protests, and I'm not an avid follower of the news. However, because so many friends back home have asked about it, I figured what the hell, I might as well throw down my thoughts and impressions as a quasi "outside observer" to the whole thing.
First of all, I do not agree with the way the student protests started out. Crowding the streets during the day and banging pots and pans at night does nothing but inconvenience and piss off the taxpayers--who the students should be trying to get on-side, rather than annoy, if they want to keep tuition at least partially subsidized by the government. Also, the notion of "striking" from university seems about as effective as boycotting Walmart, which is to say, not very effective at all. (Yes, I did just compare McGill to Walmart -- here's your McEducation, would you like fries with that? But that's another rant in and of itself).
Secondly, I think the entire reason these protests are taking place (namely the dramatic hike in tuition fees and the increased student debt that will cause) is perhaps a poorly thought out cause. We live in a debt based economy, on a global scale, and no amount of shouting, waving signs, or pinning red squares onto our lapels is going to change that. The provincial government is able to do about as much to remedy this international situation as we ourselves are, and the feds can't do much more. It would take worldwide economic cooperation in order to erase the culture of debt in which we now live, and honestly, I think we'll be able to genetically engineer pigs that fly before international cooperation of that sort comes about.
So, that for that. The whole thing is an exercise in futility.
However, that is not to say that I agree with the ways in which the situation has been handled by the media, the police, and the government. For starts, the media has blown the whole thing out of proportion, making the protests into "riots", and generally giving the students a lot of bad press that they don't necessarily deserve. Its not like I have to walk the streets in fear of being firebombed and gang-raped by money-hungry students frothing at the mouth. The worst you can accuse this movement of is of choosing to fight a fight that no one has the power to win.
The police are likewise overreacting. I have seen a couple of these protests in action. While the noise can be overwhelming, the disruption to traffic patterns annoying, and the presence of human bodies nigh on awe-inspiring, its not exactly something that needs an entire police force armed with Tasers and pepper spray and batons and goddam horses to control.
And finally, perhaps the most drama-queen-ish of the entire lot is the provincial government itself. The passing of Bill 78, which you can read about here, was a completely overblown response to the unrest, and has, as most overblown responses do, just made things worse, actually turning the tide for the protesters, transforming them from annoyances into near-martyrs. National support for the movement has grown since the passing of Bill 78, as the plight of the Quebec students comes to symbolize a wider struggle for basic rights and freedoms across Canada. Which is a real shame, when there are so many other, more significant, and more damaging affronts to basic human rights and freedoms that occur just beyond our blinders every day in this country.