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2012 Quebec student protests

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2012 Quebec student protests
July 22 (left), May 22 (up) and April 15 (centre) demonstrations and Victoriaville riots (down).
DateFebruary 13, 2012 – September 7, 2012
Quebec, Canada
GoalsTuition freeze & free education
Lead figures

Jean Charest, Premier of Quebec
Line Beauchamp, Minister of Education (until May 14, 2012)
Michelle Courchesne, Minister of Education (May 14-September 4)


The 2012 Quebec student protests (movement) were a series of student protests led by students individually such as the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec against a proposal by the Quebec Cabinet, headed by Liberal Premier Jean Charest, to raise university tuition from $2,168 to $3,793 between 2012 and 2018.[1] As part of the protest movement, a series of widespread student strikes were organized, involving half of Quebec's student population by April 2012.[2] A third of Québécois students continued to participate in the strike by its 100th day,[3] while a quarter million had participated during its peak.[4] Other students continued to attend their courses.[5]

Left-wing groups endorsed the student protests, which evolved into generalized demonstrations against the provincial government. Opposition parties (Parti Québécois, Québec solidaire, Option nationale), workers unions (Confédération des syndicats nationaux, Canadian Union of Public Employees) and many groups demonstrated alongside the students in April and May 2012.[6]

On May 18, the Government passed Bill 78, an emergency law forbidding picketing or protest near university grounds, and requiring police approval for large public protests anywhere in Quebec. The law was mainly repealed by the Marois government in September 2012[7] and expired in 2013.[8][9][10]

In the Fall of 2012, the Parti Québécois was elected as minority government and halted any tuition increases in line with its campaign promises and, with a new school term beginning, student participation in the strikes and demonstrations dwindled. [11]

These protests are sometimes named Maple Spring,[12] from the French: Printemps érable, which alludes to French: Printemps arabe (Arab spring) as well as the maple leaf that symbolizes Quebec and Canada.[13]

Historical context[edit]

Higher education in Quebec[edit]

In the 1960s, the provincial government took over responsibility for higher education. Changes included the creation of a separate pre-university college level, a publicly funded college system, and providing universities enough funding so that it would be affordable to anyone who wanted to attend.[14] These changes in education access gave birth to a Quebec middle class and transformed the possibility of upward mobility in the province.[15]

As a result of the Quiet Revolution, university tuition fees in Quebec were frozen at C$540 per year from 1968 to 1990. In 1994, annual tuition rose to C$1668, after which it was frozen until 2007, when it grew by C$100 per year until 2012, making it C$2168. Overall, tuition increased an average of C$37 per year or 300% between 1968 and 2012, not including other fees that are paid to universities (e.g. administration fees, student service fees, etc.).[16] The overall cost living inflation (as measured by an aggregate inflation index commonly used by Canadian economists) rose 557% from 1968 to 2012,[17] meaning that C$540 in 1968 was roughly equivalent to about C$3,545 in 2012. At the time, Quebec maintained the lowest tuition fees in Canada.[18][19]

Student protests in Quebec[edit]

The province's student associations have a mandatory membership and dues structure. These associations depend on the size and level of the institution.[20]

In smaller colleges and universities, strikes will be campus wide, but at larger schools they usually happen by department so the entire campus is rarely shut down. For example, if engineering students voted to strike, the picket lines would focus only on engineering students.[20]

Student associations usually call for strikes over local issues and set a limited time period. The student strike movement persists in Quebec because it is one of the only places where student associations hold regular general assemblies.[20]

Most student strikes in Quebec won at least a partial victory.[20] These previous student strikes demanded free tuition, democratic administration of the universities, the expansion of French instruction and facilities, elimination of more stringent aptitude tests, and an increase in bursaries.[21]


One of the many night protests in the streets of Montreal, 27 May 2012.

March 2011[edit]

In March 2011, Quebec decided to pursue planned five year tuition increases, prompting protests from student groups, and the occupation of the office of the Finance minister.[2]

Summer 2011[edit]

In July, student leaders accused police of brutality and repression against protesters, whose numbers swelled to 30,000 by November, leading to the occupation of McGill University's administrative building.[2]

December 2011[edit]

CLASSED (Coalition large de l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, or “broad coalition of the Association for Student Union Solidarity”) was founded, and announced the intention to strike. A few weeks later, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) and the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) stated they would also strike.[22]

February 2012[edit]

The strike officially began on February 13, 2012, with students at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and University Laval voting massively in opposition to augmentation of university tuition fees.[23] Beginning late February 2012, nine per cent of Quebec students, or 36,000 students, went on strike, using a square red flag for protest.[2]

On February 23, students were pepper-sprayed by police after occupying Montreal's Jaques Cartier bridge.

March 2012[edit]

On March 7, 2012, during a sit-in demonstration blocking front of the Loto-Québec (lottery) head office, police deployed tear gas and flash-bang grenades against over 1,000 protesters.[2] One student named Francis Grenier had his eye seriously wounded by what he and other demonstrators stated was a flash-bang grenade launched by police.[24] According to the student's father, police investigators sought to demonstrate the wound was caused by a snowball.[24] Students begin to wear patches over their left eyes in solidarity with Grenier.

During the morning rush hour on March 20, 150 student demonstrators blocked the Montreal-bound entrance ramp to the Champlain Bridge in Brossard using concrete blocks.[25] Upon the arrival of Sûreté du Québec police officers, the protesters fled through the streets of Brossard to coaches waiting for them at Terminus Panama. When officers arrived at the Terminus, they surrounded the buses and arrested around 100 demonstrators. Each was identified and fined C$494.[25]

On March 22, an estimated 200,000 people came together for a massive peaceful protest in downtown Montreal.[2] At its peak, the parade stretched up to 50 blocks. While there was no violence, the police confiscated sticks carried by some participants.[26] By this time, over 310 000 students (out of 400 000 in the province) were on strike.[22]

On March 27, protesters block access to the Quebec Liquor Board offices as students begin to target economic symbols.

April 2012[edit]

On April 2, the outside of Line Beauchamp's office is painted red. This building becomes a popular rallying point at marches.

On April 18–19, more than 300 people are arrested in Gatineau, Quebec during confrontations between the police and protesters at Universite du Quebec's Outaouais campus.

May 2012[edit]

In April and early May, 185,000 Quebec students went on strike, with an additional 90,000 students threatening to strike. Quebec education minister Line Beauchamp called on students to negotiate while refusing to negotiate with CLASSE, which she accused of instigating violence. Students demanded that university administrative costs be reduced by $189 million, to pay for teaching and research.[2]

On May 5, after a marathon negotiating session, student groups and government reach deal to delay increases in cost of education for a few months pending a study by a new body. Student assemblies massively reject the offer, while some student faculties vote to end walkout and return to school.

On May 6, 2012, a demonstration took place in Victoriaville, which eventually turned into a riot when vandals started throwing projectiles at the crowd. At least ten people were injured, including some police officers who were attacked by protesters.[27] Two protesters were very seriously injured. The first one lost an eye. The second one sustained head trauma and a skull fracture.[28]

On May 14, 2012 Line Beauchamp announced that she would resign from her position as Quebec Education Minister and Deputy Premier. Beauchamp stated that she "lost confidence in the student leaders' will to end this conflict." Later that same day, Premier Charest announced that Michelle Courchesne would replace Beauchamp as Education Minister and Deputy Premier.[29]

On May 18, 2012, Bill 78 passed in the National Assembly of Quebec during the early hours of the morning and the municipality of Montreal passed a law prohibiting mask-wearing during any organization or demonstration. The nightly protest being held in downtown Montreal ended in violence and 69 arrests. There were reports of projectiles being launched by protesters, as well as molotov cocktails, and police responded by firing rubber bullets and using tear gas and noise bombs against the protesters. Police declared the protest to be illegal.[30][31][32]

On May 19, 2012, Montreal-based band Arcade Fire wore the "red square" solidarity symbol during a performance with Mick Jagger on the season finale of Saturday Night Live.[33]

On May 20, 2012, during an evening protest that turned violent, a protester was seriously injured by police officers in riot gear.[34] Upon attacking an officer, the victim was beaten by five officers with their clubs and forcibly neutralized.

On May 22, 2012, in response to the passage of Bill 78 and in commemoration of 100 days since the beginning of the student strike, another march took place, with tens of thousands of marchers and approximately 1,000 arrests[35] Organizers spun this event as "The single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history."[12][36]

By May 24, 2012, the "Casseroles" series of nightly protests had rapidly expanded to most Montreal residential neighbourhoods outside of the usual protest routes. These protests, in which people stood on their own balconies banging pots and pans, emerged as a way of subverting the ban on unannounced street protests.[37][38] Inspired by the cacerolazos of Chile in 1971, these involved residents banging on pots and pans from their windows or taking to the streets with their kitchenware at 8 o'clock. A viral amateur video[citation needed] of one such protest in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood further fuelled this phenomenon.

On May 31, the Quebec government stated that it was pulling out of talks meant to end the protest after four days of negotiations with student leaders, without having reached a stable consensus. By that day, more than 150,000 students were estimated to be on strike.[39]

June 2012[edit]

Strikes continued as thousands more joined the movement to directly protest Bill 78. Since this bill affected all Quebec citizens, groups including trade unions, teachers and professor unions, the Quebec Bar Association, jurists, and hundreds of others joined the protests. Police were then arresting dozens of people each night. During the Canadian Grand Prix weekend (June 9–10, 2012), Montreal police carried out mass preventative arrests.[15]

August 2012[edit]

Bill 78 was repealed in August 2012.[22] After the announcement by ministerial decree of tuition freeze on September 5, 2012, the remaining student associations on strike voted to return to class.

Bill 78[edit]

On May 16, soon after the appointment of Michelle Courchesne, she and Premier Charest announced their plan to introduce Bill 78. The bill was titled "An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend," and restricted freedom of assembly, protest, or picketing on or near university grounds, and anywhere in Quebec without prior police approval. The bill also placed restrictions upon the right of education employees to strike. After 20 hours of debate, the National Assembly passed Bill 78 on May 18, 2012.

This bill was criticized by the United Nations, with the UN High Commissioner stating that: "In the context of student protests, I am disappointed by the new legislation passed in Quebec that restricts their rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly".[40] The bill was also denounced by opposition parties.


Red square[edit]

The red square, symbol of the Quebec student protest against tuition fee increases.
  The red square is a symbol of the protest against the raise in university fees. It is the primary symbol that was used in the student protests of 2005 and 2012. The square first appeared in October 2004 when the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté (Collective for a Quebec without Poverty) used it in a campaign against Bill 57. Throughout the 2012 student protest, red squares made of felt, worn by students opposed to tuition increases and their supporters, can also be seen on many monuments, and in the windows of educational institutions, businesses and residences.[41] A giant red square was briefly suspended from the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and the Mount Royal Cross by students from the Université de Montréal during a protest.[42]

Other squares[edit]

After the red square became a well-known symbol in Quebec, other groups decided to use squares of varying colours to promote their own viewpoints.

  •   The blue square is worn by people who are opposed to the tuition fee increases and opposed to the student strikes.[43]
  •   The green square is worn by those in favour of raising tuition fees.[44]
  •   The yellow square, recommended by commentator Richard Martineau but not widely adopted, would be worn by those who support delaying the tuition increases over a greater period of time.[45]
  •   The black square is worn by people who oppose Bill 78 and/or generally oppose police brutality and civil rights abuses.[46]
  •   The white square is worn by parents of students in the protest who would like the students and the government to reach an agreement and/or to show opposition to any form of violence.[47]


On April 18, 2012, a group of 300 protesters broke windows, ransacked rooms and injured a security guard at the Université de Montréal. Six protestors, including the daughter of Quebec solidaire's Amir Khadir, were sued by the university for C$100,000 in damages.[48] The students were later sentenced to probation and community service.[49]

On May 23, 2012, at around 23h45, about 500 civilians suspected to be protesters were arrested by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal at the intersections of Sherbrooke Street and Saint-Denis in Montréal. They were not informed as to why they were arrested, with police claiming the protest had been declared illegal, but the victims argued that at no occasion had they been informed that the protest was illegal or that they could disperse. The 500 suspected protesters were detained inside buses for 3 to 8 hours. Documents used in court against the city describe people suffering hypothermia and hypoglycemia and being barred from using bathrooms for up to 8 hours. The police would ask people to urinate at the back of the buses because they said the number of officers was insufficient to safely bring everyone to the bathroom one by one. In the end, no one in those buses would receive any tickets or charges.[50]

On June 12, 2012, some protesters were referring to local police authorities as SS and anti-police pamphlets using the swastika were distributed. The use of the Nazi symbolism was quickly decried in the Montreal Gazette by several Jewish organizations. Although it is said that protesters were using these symbols to condemn the recent tactics use by the local police, the CLASSE has implored its members to stop using these symbols.[51]


The protests inspired directors Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie to make the 2016 film Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves. Denis and Lavoie said they often wondered what happened to these students in later years.[52] Lavoie was particularly influenced by mug shots of four young people who placed smoke bombs on the Montreal Metro during the protests.[53]

The protests also served partial inspiration for the play When There's Nothing Left to Burn by Montreal-born playwright Sean Devine.[54][55]

The protests were profiled in Rodrigue Jean and Arnaud Valade's 2022 documentary film 2012/Through the Heart (2012/Dans le cœur).[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "La grève étudiante sur le web". Radio-Canada. April 2, 2012. Archived from the original on April 20, 2012. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Curran, Peggy (May 22, 2012). "Anatomy of a crisis after 100 days of protest". Montreal Gazette.
  3. ^ Lemghalef, Leila (May 22, 2012). "Big Montreal march marks 100 days of student anger". Reuters. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  4. ^ Marquis, Eric, "Quebec government escalates campaign to break student strike," World Socialist Web Site, 1 March 2012.
  5. ^ Courvette, Phil. "Emergency law considered in Quebec student protest". Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 15, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  6. ^ "Droits de scolarité au Québec : un débat de société". src.ca. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  7. ^ Gouvernement du Québec, « Décret 924-2012 », September 21, 2012, Gazette officielle, vol. 144, #41, p. 4865.
  8. ^ Elizabeth II 2012, II.14
  9. ^ Elizabeth II 2012, III.16
  10. ^ Elizabeth II (2012). "An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend" (PDF). II.13. Quebec City: Quebec Official Publisher (published May 18, 2012). Retrieved July 18, 2012. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Michael, Lindsay. "Quebec's student tuition protest: Who really won the dispute?". CBC. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Amy Goodman (May 25, 2012). "Maple Spring: Nearly 1,000 Arrested as Mass Quebec Student Strike Passes 100th Day". Democracy Now. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  13. ^ (in French)Printemps érable : cinq choses à savoir sur le conflit des étudiants au Québec Archived August 18, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Sophie Malherbe, L'Express, 23 May 2012
  14. ^ Mathieu Pigeon. "Education in Québec, before and after the Parent reform". McCord Museum. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  15. ^ a b "Quebec Spring: The Roots of Resistance". www.transform-network.net. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  16. ^ Ouimet, Michèle. "La belle vie". La Presse. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  17. ^ Bank of Canada. "Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator". Bankofcanada.ca.
  18. ^ "National – The Globe and Mail". M.theglobeandmail.com. Archived from the original on May 23, 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  19. ^ "How much will it cost you?". Government of Quebec. Archived from the original on July 31, 2012. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
  20. ^ a b c d "Keeping the Student Strike Alive". jacobinmag.com. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  21. ^ "Austerity and Resistance: Lessons from the 2012 Quebec Student Strike | Insurgent Notes". Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  22. ^ a b c "2012 Québec Student Strike | The Canadian Encyclopedia". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  23. ^ Raynauld, Vincent; Lalancette, Mireille; Tourigny-Koné, Sofia (April 2016). "Political protest 2.0: Social media and the 2012 student strike in the province of Quebec, Canada". French Politics. 14 (1): 1–29. doi:10.1057/fp.2015.22. ISSN 1476-3419. S2CID 141655409.
  24. ^ a b "Un étudiant risque de perdre l'usage d'un oeil". La Presse. lapresse.ca. March 8, 2012. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  25. ^ a b Santerre, David (March 20, 2012). "David Santerre, Pont Champlain bloqué : plusieurs étudiants arrêtés". La Presse, March 20, 2012.
  26. ^ "March stretched more than 50 city blocks at its peak". CBC News. March 22, 2012. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  27. ^ "Victoriaville: une dizaine de blessés, une centaine d'arrestations". La Presse. lapresse.ca. May 4, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2012.
  28. ^ "Blessés à Victoriaville: enquête indépendante demandée". La Presse. lapresse.ca. May 6, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  29. ^ Séguin, Rhéal (May 15, 2012). "Education minister's exit leaves Charest holding the bag". Globe and Mail. Canada. Archived from the original on May 16, 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  30. ^ Canada. "Molotov cocktails launched in Montreal protests following legal crackdown". Globe and Mail. Canada. Archived from the original on May 20, 2012.
  31. ^ "Conservative MP Blake Richards' proposed crackdown on masked protesters goes too far". Toronto Star. May 9, 2012.
  32. ^ TU THANH HA; Les Perreaux (May 5, 2012). "Anti-protest legislation passes in Quebec". Globe and Mail. Canada. Archived from the original on October 22, 2016. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  33. ^ "Mick Jagger and Arcade Fire — The Last Time". Saturday Night Live. NBC.com. Archived from the original on May 23, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  34. ^ Gabrielle Duchaine (May 20, 2012). "27e manif nocturne: plus de 300 arrestations". La Presse. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  35. ^ Myles Dolphin (May 22, 2012). "Massive Montreal rally marks 100 days of student protests". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  36. ^ James Mennie (May 23, 2012). "Peaceful day march, heated night demo". The Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on May 25, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  37. ^ "Casserole Pan-Demonium in Quebec". Interactive Graphic. CBC News Canada. Retrieved May 27, 2012.
  38. ^ "Casserole Protests Ring Out Across Quebec". CTV News Montreal. May 25, 2012. Retrieved May 27, 2012.
  39. ^ "Quebec student talks collapse and more protests loom". Cbc.ca. June 1, 2012. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  40. ^ "Quebec protesters cheered by UN criticism of Bill 78 | CTV News". montreal.ctvnews.ca. June 19, 2012. Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  41. ^ Gaudreau, Valérie (March 31, 2012). "Le tour du carré rouge (French)". Le Soleil. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  42. ^ "Un carré rouge flottant sur le pont Jacques-Cartier". TVA Nouvelles. April 6, 2012. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
  43. ^ Marc Allard (March 8, 2012). "Grève étudiante : vifs débats dans les cégeps". Le Soleil. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  44. ^ "Le carré vert nouveau symbole". Le Quotidien. February 23, 2012. p. 6.
  45. ^ Julie Marcoux,« Carré jaune », TVA Nouvelles, 27 March 2012.
  46. ^ Ian Bussières,« Les manifs ne s'essoufflent pas », Le Soleil, 27 May 2012.
  47. ^ Marie-Pier Duplessis,Conflit étudiant : place au carré blanc de l'armistice », Le Soleil, 10 May 2012.
  48. ^ "Amir Khadir's daughter named in student protest lawsuit". The Globe and Mail. June 6, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  49. ^ "Saccages pendant la grève étudiante: Yalda Machouf-Khadir plaide coupable – CHRISTIANE DESJARDINS – Procès". lapresse.ca. May 21, 2014.
  50. ^ "Conflit étudiant : un recours collectif autorisé en lien avec une arrestation massive". ici.radio-canada.ca.
  51. ^ Sidhartha Banerjee (June 12, 2012). "Bill 78 – Jewish groups decry Nazi salutes at Quebec student protests". The Gazette. Archived from the original on August 18, 2012. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  52. ^ Gladel, Cécile (August 11, 2016). "5 ans plus tard, le destin imaginé de quatre carrés rouges". Radio-Canada. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  53. ^ Dunlevy, T'cha (January 27, 2017). "Vive la révolution! No half measures in Quebec duo's TIFF-winning film". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  54. ^ Fominoff, Lara (November 1, 2017). ""When There's Nothing Left To Burn" portrays lives of those caught in violent political conflict". Lethbridge News Now. Retrieved August 8, 2022.
  55. ^ Kiriakopoulos, Rebecca (April 14, 2018). "The Gladstone set to stage Ottawa playwright's dark political drama". Centretown News. Retrieved August 8, 2022.
  56. ^ Justine Smith, "2012/Dans le cœur views the student strikes and police tyranny from the inside". Cult MTL, April 3, 2023.

External links[edit]