Saturday, May 19, 2012

Multiple injuries,109 arrests at Victoriaville tuition riot

Sat May. 05 2012

MONTREAL — A protester is fighting for his life after suffering head
injuries, one of several injuries that occurred after events got out of
hand at a tuition protest in Victoriaville at around 6:45 p.m. Friday.

Demonstrators stormed past barriers, tossing rocks and other projectiles
while police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, in a series of
skirmishes that ended with 109 arrests.

Three SQ police officers were hurt, two seriously, and six demonstrators
were also injured in the clashes.

Along with the protester clinging to life, another two suffered serious
injuries, one a man with an injury to the head and the other a woman
coping with a blow to the face.

At least two police vehicles were vandalized.

The protesters had been transported in about 30 buses to make their voices
heard at the Quebec Liberal Party annual convention, taking place this

The demonstrators dismantled the barriers, which had been placed far from
the convention centre and advanced towards the hotel, tossing projectiles
in the form of billiard balls, chunks of cement and rocks.

Police helicopters hovered low atop a cloud of tear gas, as visibility was
diminished. Many on the ground, including CTV Montreal reporter Laura
Casella were caught in the crossfire and choked by the gaseous fumes (see
video at right).

Police representative Jean Finet later confirmed that rubber bullets and
other impact weapons had been employed in an effort to push the more
aggressive demonstrators back.

The scuffles lasted about two hours and included an exchange in which a
police officer was attacked and beaten by some of the estimated 2,500
demonstrators after a police car advanced towards the crowd, presumably to
help the other officer. A police official later reported that the officer
did not suffer serious injuries.

Protesters were eventually forced to withdraw but tensions remained high
after the initial skirmish

Some demonstrators who had hoped to protest peacefully reportedly fought
with other of their more aggressive brethren over the direction that the
protest had taken.

The situation eventually calmed down after rain started falling and many
of the aggressive troublemakers were rounded up.

Eventually people were allowed in and out of the hotel after several hours
of all doors being locked.

Provincial police were not immediately able to supply details concerning
arrests but busloads of rounded-up demonstrators were apparently being
brought for police processing late Friday.

According to several text entries on Twitter, some buses transporting
protesters out of Victoriaville after the protests Friday were stopped by
police attempting to round up more suspects.

During the riots several student leaders attending a meeting with
government officials in Quebec City came out to talk to media and
denounced the violence in Victoriaville and urged cooler heads to prevail.

Earlier Friday afternoon, Premier Jean Charest appeared relaxed and
reassured at the kickoff of the Quebec Liberal Party annual meeting in
Victoriaville, in spite of the specter of massive student protests.

The party's annual general meeting is being held at a convention centre
adjoining the Hotel Le Victorin.

Prior to the meeting, the convention centre was surrounded by fences and
police officers, in an effort to avoid possible disruption by protesters.

Charest was scheduled to speak at 7:20 p.m. to about 500 party members on
a topic entitled, "Together for a Greater Quebec."

Charest, in his speech, said that the tuition hikes are just and
equitable. "It's high time the student boycotters return to class," he

He also spoke harshly about PQ leader Pauline Marois, who he argued does
not possess leadership qualities.

Marois, in turn, denounced what she describe as Charest's "authoritarian"
approach to the tuition dispute at the PQ annual general meeting in Quebec
City Saturday morning, a meeting attended by about 400 party delegates.

Prior to the clashes, Victoriaville demonstrators appeared pleased by news
that student leaders were convening in Quebec City with government

"We are really happy because it's a good moment to talk and find a
solution to this crisis but we never know how it's going to end," she

Another young woman who had come with her mother sought to demonstrate
that many of the protesters were everyday people.

"There's a lot of protesters who look perfectly normal like me and my my
mom but there's a lot of police but for nothing," she said.

A luncheon meeting was scheduled for Saturday and to be presided over by
Education Minister Line Beauchamp and Finance Minister Raymond Bachand,
who were to address the tuition issue. Beauchamp later backed out of that
meeting, citing the ongoing discussions in Quebec City.

Victoriaville had been on a war footing for several days and Mayor Alain
Rayes outlined the preventative measures the city would be taking, for
example, a car dealership near the hotel had removed the vehicles from its
lot to prevent damage.

And the CEGEP de Victoriaville, which declined to take part in the school
boycott, closed its doors for two days to prevent possible damage.

On the upside, every hotel room in the city was booked for the weekend
with the influx of visitors.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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