Quebec groups demand inquiry into police behaviour during student protests

The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - A coalition of Quebec organizations is demanding a public inquiry into alleged police brutality during the province's recent student protests.

The group of 50 organizations says the springtime events constituted one of the greatest examples of police repression in Quebec history.

Led by the Quebec-based League of Rights and Freedoms, the coalition says the PQ government appeared receptive to an inquiry when it was in opposition and should now act.

The province's public safety minister, Stephane Bergeron, says he's surprised by the request. He says he's already indicated that he'll examine the possibility and says he'll have an answer soon.

A number of protesters were injured this spring. One student lost an eye. Hundreds were kettled, rounded up, and fined over municipal bylaw violations. Some officers were seen pepper-spraying crowds, including people who appeared to pose no physical threat.

The events took place during daily protests that, while remaining for the most part peaceful, regularly saw objects tossed at police and business windows smashed.

The anti-tuition protests drew international media attention and led to the cancellation of planned tuition hikes in the province.

Now the current PQ government must manage the competing demands of student groups — including one faction that would settled for a tuition freeze, and another that demands zero tuition.

It must also manage broader public opinion, which surveys suggest was mostly onside with the tuition increases.

The government is organizing an education summit to discuss the issue early next year. It's unclear whether the more hardline student faction will boycott the summit; some zero-tuition classroom walkouts are already planned this fall.

Quebec has the lowest university tuition in Canada and the previous government called tuition hikes the fairest way to increase post-secondary funding.

But protesters pointed outside Canada's borders. They noted that some jurisdictions offer tuition-free education and called the issue one of societal priorities.