When The Masks Come Off (Journal de Montréal)

By: Josée Legault
Originally published on April 9, 2015
Original French text here: http://www.journaldemontreal.com/2015/04/09/quand-les-masques-tombent


The images were spectacular. Massive property damages. Masked students running rampant. A pavilion ransacked. Riot police called in for reinforcement by UQAM’s administration. The perfect recipe for creating a stir.

If it’s true that violence cannot be tolerated, it is also true that the anger bubbling up within this large university is no accident. It can be partially explained by the breach of trust evident between administrators and a growing portion of the university community.

And yet, this anger is also the product of the government itself radicalising in the face of any open questioning of its austerity politics. By rejecting any real social dialogue, the government breeds discontent among those who haven’t the slightest chance of being heard.

Above all, the crisis at UQAM brutally reflects the authoritarian climate that winds up killing public debate.

At a time when unbridled anti-intellectualism and populism are mounting, this simplistic polarisation of society into “good” vs. “evil” is easier than ever.

That’s why the footage of a few masked students and a ransacked pavilion on repeat are worth their weight in gold for the Couillard government. It’s the perfect opportunity to discredit the legitimate and peaceful grievances of numerous other students, professors and instructors.

 Deliberate Stalling

While the masks of a few students monopolise our attention, we ignore the more pernicious one worn by the government. Behind its misleading discourse about student “security” hides a much more insidious motive: denying students the right to strike, which stems from the right to assemble, a fundamental charter right.

Now, the new Minister of Education, Francois Blais, is revealing his true face. “We have made clear from the beginning,” he said yesterday, “that we do not recognize the right of certain individuals, even after a democratic process of some sort, to prevent other individuals from learning.”

The government thus refuses to recognise, de jure or de facto, the right of students to strike, even after “some sort” of democratic process. Isn’t it outrageous that such a denial of democracy no longer shocks anyone in Quebec?

The Real Problem

Last week, I put forth that we are in fact witnessing an all-out offensive against the very principle of students’ right to strike. And now here it is, out in the open.

Hence Minister Blais who recently admitted on Quebec airwaves that he was advising administrators to expel two to three students per day.

By encouraging strong-arm tactics, the government is slowly giving the impression of deliberate stalling. What could be more politically profitable than a deadlocked student conflict threatening to slide into much larger unrest? Remember that this is all occurring just months before unions start to mobilise against austerity.

Perhaps the real problem lies not so much with university administrations as with a government that encourages, for its own gain, police brutality and a standstill that seems to be working wonders for them.


Translated from the original French by Language and Dissent, a collectively-run blog supporting the anti-austerity struggle in Quebec. These are amateur translations written by volunteers; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may have their flaws. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us via email (languageanddissent [at] gmail [dot] com). Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.

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