The Battle of Victoriaville

The climate of social crisis reached a climax on May 4th. A coalition of community groups, environmentalists, and labor unions bussed in protesters from across the province to Victoriaville, a small, quiet town east of Montreal, where the ruling Liberal party was holding its annual convention. Upon reaching the hotel hosting the convention, the crowd of about 3000-strong quickly overwhelmed the small barriers intended to keep everyone clear of the hotel grounds. As people approached the windows and entrances, tensions flared and riot police moved in to push the protest back using massive amounts of tear gas and plastic bullets. This continued for hours in the area around the hotel, with a number of protesters attempting to slow down the advance of police lines by throwing back rocks and tear gas canisters. Students and their allies suffered some of the worst injuries of the entire student strike during this confrontation, mainly owing to the provincial police’s extensive and dangerous use of plastic bullets, also known as “plastic baton rounds”. Several buses on the return trip were also intercepted by law enforcement and searched.

Although the news of chaos and confrontation were not welcomed in the media or the general public, the government was widely regarded as the party responsible for these events. The prime minister appeared inept to deal with the conflict.

The next day, a new round of negotiations were announced. This time, labor leaders were brought in as mediators, to “facilitate” the discussions between the government and student negotiators. Meetings went on uninterrupted for nearly 24 hours, leaving little time for students to rest and the CLASSE negotiations committee to confer. Labor leaders, for their part, with their paternalistic attitude towards students and their urging them to get along and sign an agreement, did not show themselves to be allies of the movement.

Finally, a tentative agreement was signed. Irrespective of the settlement terms it offered, it proved highly controversial among CLASSE activists: the document contained provisions that the negotiations committee had no authority to accept, such as a commitment not to organize any demonstration linked to the agreement. The CLASSE negotiations committee cited the role of labor leaders, the dynamics of the meetings, and exhaustion as reasons for the error and an apology was made.

Nonetheless, the government, confident the exercise would signal the end of the strike, declared the conflict over.