The Montreal subway system ground to a halt for the first time in nearly 16 years Thursday morning following co-ordinated smoke-bomb attacks.
Tens of thousands of commuters were left scrambling after the latest sign of social unrest, dubbed the Quebec Spring.
None of the province’s striking student groups took responsibility for the attacks at three key transfer stations along the subway system, known as the Metro.
Smoke drove commuters into the streets and police and firefighters were called to the scene.
A temporary bus service was set up to shuttle passengers, many of whom waited up to two hours at bus stops.
Other users decided to walk or share taxis to get to work. Still others took their cars, making the rush-hour drive tougher than usual.
Service wasn’t fully restored until almost noon — nearly four hours after the first attack.
The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal estimated the city’s economy lost $11 million for every hour the Metro was out of service.
There were clear signs that citizens are starting to tire of the daily sit-ins, bridge blockades and clashes with police that began with the start of the student strike on Feb. 14.
One caller to a local radio station urged Premier Jean Charest to call in the army, which last patrolled Montreal streets during the 1998 ice storm — the last time the Metro system was shut down.
Quebec’s political class spoke with one voice Thursday, immediately condemning the attacks and accusing the vandals of holding ordinary citizens hostage.
“My city should no longer be a target,” Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay told a news conference. “No cause can justify criminal activities that endanger public safety and social peace.”
The provincial legislature passed a motion Thursday morning that unanimously condemned the smoke bombings.
“It’s inexplicable,” Charest told reporters in Gatineau, Que. “I hope the culprits are found because disrupting people’s lives for reasons that we don’t understand, it makes no sense.”
Talks to end the student strike are stalled as one school after another rejects the government’s offer to soften the impact of the seven-year, $1,800 tuition hike.
Some student groups are hardening their positions and digging in for a summer of discontent.
Arts students at the University of Quebec at Montreal threatened to shut down the Canadian Grand Prix next month, an event that generates $80 million in economic spinoffs.
QMI political analyst Jean Lapierre said provincial and municipal officials must toughen the police response to maintain law and order.
“It’s anarchy in Montreal,” he said. “Things are happening every day. Montreal is no longer safe.”