It’s been over a year since student protests in Quebec paralyzed the province’s post-secondary education system. Obviously, this student movement is nothing that can be swept aside and is likely the only Canadian student movement in decades with the chance to directly affect government policy toward post-secondary education.
Indeed, some Quebec students celebrated when the provincial Liberals lost their place in power and were replaced by the Parti Québécois in the province’s recent election. However, much has changed in Canada’s only francophone province since the conclusion of major student demonstrations.
Marc-Antoine Dumas seems like an unassuming name. Dumas is the recent benefactor by an order from Quebec’s small-claims court. The court, in a July 26 ruling, decided that Université Laval history student association must repay $1,220 to Dumas for lost tuition and gas money. Dumas attempted to go to class throughout the protests and claims he was repeatedly blocked by protesters at the door to his class room, and as a result lost credits that he otherwise would most likely have earned.
So who holds the moral high ground in this case and what does this mean for the future of any mass student movement in Canada? And as the Université Laval history association argued, does a student union have the same rights granted to trade unions in Canada’s constitution?
I was pleased to see the protests in Quebec at the conclusion of my second year at Mount Allison. I had just finished putting a large part of a degree’s cost onto a line of credit and could empathize with my fellow students in Quebec. It is irrelevant that these students already had some of Canada’s lowest tuition costs and the claims that these students were somehow spoiled by the degree to which the provincial government funded the cost of their education are misguided and miss the point. These protests attempted to be proactive in address student concerns rather than silently waiting while their tuition slowly crept ever higher. Perhaps the rest of Canada would be paying Quebec rates for post-secondary education if these protests had of occurred nationwide years ago, prior to tuition rising to its close to unaffordable levels we now face.
Ultimately though, I do agree with the controversial ruling that will forever damage the ability of student unions to organize and stage mass protests. The thing about any mass social movement and what makes them tricky to effectively organize is that everyone that participates must buy into them. Dumas was unfairly denied access to his classes by those that blocked him from attending lectures. And unfortunately, since it is almost impossible to determine the individual(s) that directly caused Dumas’ loss of credits, his student union, which had a hand in organizing the protests at Université Laval, should reimburse him.
The Quebec student protests were about the practicality of being able to afford an education in a time when the cost for everything else seems to be rising, and the wages for any job seem to be staying where they are or even falling. If Dumas judged for himself that he simply could not afford to participate in the protests and be delayed in receiving a degree that he needs then he should have had the option to attend lectures freely and with as much frequency as he desired.
A large part of these protests were a boycott on attending classes and Dumas was de facto forced into participating in this boycott. This only weakened the strength of a movement which had the potential to make real change in how post-secondary education is conducted in Canada. When students began trying to force other students on board with their protest movement, it only served to weaken the movement as a whole. Students need to be united behind anything they do if it is to be successful. Simply put, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Months later the positive impact of the Quebec student protest has been dulled by actions like those that cost Dumas over $1200. Yes, we are talking about how the new provincial government halted the tuition increase, but we are all also discussing court cases and the loss of credits for students and other negative, rather than positive, aspects of this protest. The unfortunate part of all this is that what happened to Dumas takes away attention from the message of the Quebec student protests that a post-secondary education should be affordable for all.