Students complain Montreal police trying to criminalize protest

MONTREAL — A student group complained Monday that Montreal police are turning student protesters into criminals with the recent arrests of four activists months after a demonstration against tuition fee hikes.

“This is an unprecedented wave of arrests,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for L’Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante (ASSE), which says four of its members — three of them on the executive — were arrested recently in connection with the occupation of Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s office on March 24 and a demonstration on March 31.

He said each student is facing between four and nine charges, including mischief, aggression and breaking and entering, and more arrests are expected.

“We are a legitimate organization that represents 45,000 students,” Nadeau-Dubois said Monday at a news conference. “There is nothing criminal in our intentions or actions.”

It was the second time in a week that a group has criticized the Montreal police force’s GAMMA project, which was created in January to deal with increasing vandalism and assaults on police officers during protests. Last week the Coalition Against Repression and Police Brutality accused the police of targeting people for their political beliefs. Both groups have filed complaints with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

Last winter, Quebec announced its plan to raise university tuition by $325 a year over a five-year period beginning in September 2012, which sparked several protests and Nadeau-Dubois said more are planned for this fall, including the possibility of a strike.

Montreal police spokesperson Ian Lafreniere said he was “embarrassed” by the students’ accusations of intimidation.

“When you occupy an office and someone gets a broken wrist and there’s a broken window, that’s not a peaceful demonstration,” he said. “I agree that people should be allowed to demonstrate. If you do nothing illegal, we won’t bother you.”

He said some students at the March 31 demonstration had Molotov cocktails and “criminal intentions.”

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