Montreal students march for free education

Students across the province are on strike agitating for free tuition, paid internships and other student issues

Hundreds of students gathered at Place du Canada on March 22 to demand free education and paid internships. Photo by Caroline Marsh
Photo by Caroline Marsh
Photo by Caroline Marsh
Photo by Caroline Marsh

Hundreds of students and their supporters gathered at Place du Canada on March 22 to demand free education and paid internships.

Many donned red squares, a symbol that was worn by students 10 years ago in the historic student strikes that came to be known as the Maple Spring.

On March 22, 2012, 310,000 out of 400,000 students in Quebec went on strike. Back then, protestors succeeded in stopping the $325 yearly increase in tuition from 2012 to 2017 that was proposed in 2011 by then premier and Quebec Liberal Party leader, Jean Charest. 

However, tuition fees have continued to increase annually. Since 2017, the amount undergraduate students have had to pay has increased on average by $142 dollars each year. 

In commemoration of the past, student protestors demanded education to be free for students at all level, calling for student interns to be paid a reasonable salary for their work instead of paying for courses that necessitate free labour.

These internships are often degree requirements, but are inaccessible to many students due to their time requirements. This forces many to decide between doing paid work elsewhere or continuing their studies.

According to Gratuité scolaire, one of the organizers of the protest, 85,000 students across Quebec from 50 student groups are currently on strike in support of this cause. Many have been on strike since Monday and will continue until the end of the week.

Interns with the Un salaire pour toustes les stagiaires collective, a group that fights for paid internships, stated their grievances to the crowd of protestors.

“We are fed up with working for free, with our universities, our CEGEPs and our trade schools not supporting us. We are fed up with professional orders threatening to fail interns if they exercise their right to strike. We are fed up with being there, of being cheap labour of a government that does not respect us,” said one anonymous intern. 

For Nora Aube Simard, a CEGEP student, paying for her studies is a source of anxiety because it puts a considerable dent on her finances.

“I am in CEGEP and this is already a problem. I can’t imagine what it is like for university students,” she said. “I wonder why there are so many people that are against free tuition when it just means that they have to pay less and that others won’t have to be in financial difficulty.”

Pascale Thivierge, from Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, went to the protest because tuition fees are too high for them. According to Thivierge, the fact that the price of tuition has continued to increase even after the 2012 protests means something needs to be done.

Thivierge added that interns deserve to be paid for their work, and that the bursary offered by the provincial government to some qualifying interns is not enough.

This protest was part of a series of events and strikes happening this week to address student issues. On March 23, SPTS gathered in front of the Italian Consulate at 2:30 p.m. to demand paid internships. This was undertaken in solidarity with two Italian interns that died due to unsafe working conditions in recent months.

On Friday, March 25, student protestors will gather in front of the George-Étienne Cartier monument to demonstrate against global Climate injustice.