“Education for Liberation”: student protesters occupy Concordia

Ten years after the Maple Spring uprising, students are still fighting for democracy on campus

Protestors have camped out in the Hall Building since March 22. Photo by Caroline Marsh

Right in the middle of the Hall building’s mezzanine, student protester Chloe unzips the door to her tent. Bags packed beside her, she’s ready to set up her living space for the next few days. 

To commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Maple Spring protests, Concordia students, enraged with their administration’s tuition hikes and other blunders, are occupying their campus. Organizers have set up tents, refreshments, and medical supplies: the protesters say they’re here to stay.

What has come to be known as the Maple Spring, or Printemps Érable in French, was a series of demonstrations that rocked Montreal’s student community in 2012. Riots broke out in the streets, clashes between protesters and police officers ensued, and promises for tuition reform were made by politicians. As momentum slowly faded, tuition rates continued spiking.

“There is a need for student mobilization—for students to come together and remember how powerful we can be when we’re united,” said Chloe, who would not disclose her last name for security reasons. “We want to foster a space where people can create their own vision for their university… that is a means for social good and collective care,” she said.

The occupation began on Tuesday, March 22 and will, according to protesters, most likely conclude on Friday, March 25. Several students said they will stay put for as long as they deem fit. The event’s organization took place over social media group chats, where the university’s most outspoken voices assembled in honour of the anniversary. 

Payton Mitchell, mobilization coordinator for the Arts and Science Faculty of Associations, has been involved in organization efforts for days. “This [movement] is in solidarity with McGill, UdeM, and UQAM, who are also going on strike. It’s an homage to 2012. We’re not organized by one single group, we’re from everywhere. We want to start conversations,” she said.

Tuition is still the biggest issue on the minds of students, said demonstrators in the Hall building. Many specified they are worried about rumours of potential price hikes.

“I’ve heard they’re planning on raising tuition next year because they say they’re in a deficit,” Mitchell claimed. “Concordia has a bunch of investments that they’re not using to help students.”

Banners were placed by protestors throughout the atrium of the Hall Building. Photo by Caroline Marsh

Occupation organizers have stated that tuition rates escalated by over $100 a semester since the Maple Spring.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, around three dozen students gathered for their first general assembly. During the meeting, participants laid out their grievances with the university. The range of topics was far-reaching: tuition rates, divestment accountability, accessibility, unpaid internships, campus food issues, and student healthcare were discussed.

The following morning, despite the cold, hard floor beneath them, students retained a committed presence. At the request of organizers, campus security dimmed the lights at 11 p.m. At around 5 a.m., construction on the building’s fourth floor woke up several protesters. They enjoyed a feast of instant oatmeal, sesame seed bagels, and McIntosh apples for breakfast.

Concordia Deputy Spokesperson Fiona Downey stated that security guards met with group members on March 22, resulting in a “collaborative exchange to establish some ground rules around fire safety and after-hours access.”

Several dozen tents housed occupiers. Photo by Caroline Marsh

Organizers have provided participants with KN95 masks and are making sure COVID-19 safety measures are being followed. Students were told to sleep in their own tents or share one with people in their close circle. Rapid tests have been made available as well.

According to one of the group’s security liaisons, a student named Errico, the sit-in serves both as a tribute to the 2012 strikes and as a call to action.

“We’re here in solidarity—McGill was occupied for the last two weeks, so we’re continuing the work that’s happening,” he said.

The occupation is one of multiple forms of student action taking place across Montreal. A protest for tuition-free education took place on March 22 and on March 25, a protest will take place at the George-Étienne Cartier monument as a part of the Global Strike for Climate Justice.

Concordia students are not alone, Errico said. “UQAM just voted to strike this week, UdeM voted to strike this week, Cégep du Vieux-Montréal voted to strike this week. We’re trying to add snow to that snowball.”

This article has been updated to correct an error regarding Concordia University's current divestments from fossil fuels. The Link regrets this error.