STUDENT STRIKE!!! Understanding what’s happening in Quebec and Montreal for US anglophones*

Want to know some context and the super-short version of what is happening in Quebec? Read this for some media, history, and special artist appearances — and if you’re in NYC, attend the Quebec in Revolt: Film Night at Interference Archive in Brooklyn on Thursday 6/7 at 7:30pm.

I want to thank my dear Laurence C-B [lcb] for the breakdown of events and all the video links***, and Andrea Joy for fact-checking and added history and resources. lcb is a special kind of francophone, an Acadian, which means their French people were displaced in the 18th century by the English, creating small communities in New Brunswick and New Orleans. Think Evangeline, and Creole. We’ll come back to les acadiennes in a bit…

Quebec Coat of Arms

The province [big state] of Quebec is made up of primarily working-class people who speak a kind of French descended from the 17th/18th centuries during early colonization [called Quebecois French, which also refers to the people], and many also speak English out of necessity. Quebecois Canadians are different enough from the rest of Canada that they almost succeeded in a secession in 1995 by a margin of 48%/52%.

Canada is a colonizer/colony of Britain and France, getting nation-statehood in 1867 and it’s first Charter of Rights and Freedoms [Bill of Rights] in the 1980s. This is actually good as compared to the US, since Canadian rights are not mired in centuries of constitutional racism and oppression, just a few decades of it.

Canada, while a Western Imperial Empire who is leaning into the austerity and neocolonialism that the US has championed since WWII is also a place where people have limited free, national health insurance, a parliament which creates a semi-representative democracy, and a viable three-party system with a few random extra parties in there. It’s far from utopia — yet it’s a much better existence than many people in the US can hope for. You’ll be taken care of while sick and you’ll have a hope in hell of voting in someone who cares about you. Cars stop at crosswalks, folks protest the Olympics because they take place on Aboriginal lands,¬† and people get REALLY angry about tuition hikes. All this, because they have not been crushed into sickly submission or wooed by mythologies of capitalist success like so often happens in the US.

Quebec also has other critical differences that make it a place in Canada where a populist uprising is more likely to take root than other provinces. Andrea Joy, an emigrant to Quebec from a western province says, “The longer I live here (going on 10 years) and the more I observe the strike unfold the more confident I am that Canada and Quebec differ not just in cultural (language and food) ways but also world view and values that affect economic and social spending priorities. So just as lefties in the US look upon Canada and see something of a paradise, lefties across Canada look upon Quebec and see the same thing. I think this context is important when looking at the fight for free tuition and the erection of Law 78. This movement really couldn’t have happened anywhere else in Canada.”

In March 2012, students in Quebec went on strike to protest tuition hikes which were to raise annual tuition from about $2900 to $4200 over a few years. That’s the tuition per year, not per class — I know this is very hard for my US friends to grasp. Across Canada, you can go to really good schools for a few thousand dollars a year. AND — that few thousand dollars is a LOT of money, especially if you have NO money. Therefore, people are protesting since it’s making school, and therefore decent jobs, less accessible.

I’m going to drive this point home: EXCELLENT EDUCATION IS NOT EQUIVALENT TO MASSIVE STUDENT DEBT. Amazing educators can be paid decent wages while students pay little tuition, if the State decides so**. Here, we call it CUNY [fuck yeah but pay your adjuncts more!] and in Canada, they call it normal.

In March 300,000+ people protested in the streets across Quebec, 170,000 of whom were students. All of Quebec is a province with a population of 7.5 million [smaller than NYC], meaning that about 5% of the population joined in and were documented in doing so — so, popular support is likely much higher than the rate of documented participation.

Well after two months of increasing protests, the Quebec government responded moronically by passing Loi [Bill] 78 on May 18 — a law which prohibits freedom of assembly from groups of over 50 people. No schools, churches, family reunions, dance parties, or marches can take place without a report at least 8 hours in advance to the government of where the gathering is happening and how people are getting there, hence the middle-finger maps you’ve maybe seen on Facebook. And since permission is required, the government can, like a bad dad, say No. While this is a clear infringement of Charter rights and won’t withstand parliamentary review in a few months, it also caused all hell to break loose in Quebec [and serves to remind us that laws are bullshit rules set up by petty patriarchs].

The first night after Loi 78 [also called Fuck 78] was passed, a few hundred people went into the streets of cities across Quebec, banging on pots and pans and marching. You’ve perhaps seen this inspirational black-n-white music video of the pot banging, the one I suggest you watch if you can’t watch anything else: [lcb called it The Video You Show Your Mom].

The following night, a few more hundred people showed up banging pots and the next night, it was a few thousand banging in the streets. Like this:

On May 22, 250,000 people participated in an act of civil disobediance, by marching in the streets in Montreal, which is the largest act of its kind in Canada.

Within a week, snake marches of thousands [like, 60 thousand+!] were marching through Montreal, starting with small gatherings on street corners in various neighborhoods across the city. These marches, unplanned and gathering WAY more than 50 people, can not be controlled by police, like THIS huge, half a MILLION person march:

You might notice signs in the videos saying j’disobeit [I disobey], which is a slogan used by moms, aunts, grandpas, kids–anyone who thinks Loi78 is a shitshow against civil rights and the all-Canadian activity of hanging out and drinking with 50+ of your friends. Basically, Quebec’s government pushed a legitimate student strike into an all-out populist uprising against their laws, and people are not having it.

But what IS this banging about? Called “casserole” in Montreal due to the banging on casserole and other large cooking pots [read: shit that working class people have lying around], comes partially from the tradition of tintamarre — an Acadian tradition. According to lcb it was started by “some guy” about 100 years afterwards, on the eve of the dispersal of Acadian people as a reminder and wild culture party, and now happens annually in places like Moncton, New Brunswick [another smaller province] where many Acadians live.

There’s also other roots to the activity. My second Montrealer source Johnny N. states, “pots and pans have a diverse set of influences, including the Spanish civil war, and the Argentinian bankruptcy crisis of recent times. I’ve heard protesters cite both as major inspirations.” Surprise!

And now, for the bizzare part: the weird protest Furries.

Anarcho Panda is, well, an anarchist dressed as a panda who shows up at Montreal protests and marches, has almost 13,000 “likes” on Facebook, and apparently also teaches philosophy at one of the CEGEPS [francophone high school where they used to have 13 years of (free) high school and one less year of (paid) college, but no longer].

This creature has NOTHING on Rebel Banana [pictured], however, who has been at government protests in smaller cities, like the one in Victoriaville.

Concurrent with the rise of cassarole marches, there was a gathering of the provincial liberal party in small-town Victoriaville, Quebec. This gathering  was moved from the capital city of Montreal due to all the power of the people, so several thousand protestors showed up and pushed through police barricades, enduring rubber bullets and more from an overwhelmed police force. Someone lost an eye, people.

I’m being a little facetious, but I would not be surprised to find out that at least one of these people has a grant from the Canadian or Quebec Arts Council and I really hope I am right. Unlike with our NEA and funder-based arts monies, the Canadian government still pays artists, even when they take part in counterinsurgent cultural production. Why? Because developing multiple cultural expressions and voices of the people is worth money. Tax money. Though, the austerity and neocon/biopower that Canadian funding structures demonstrate is rapidly coming to mimic the US, which is a tragedy. Andrea suggests this article or this one for more info on this.

You can tune into community media of course! Montreal’s Concordia University produces a daily, live show of the casserole protests starting at 8pm here:

What else? Red squares are in solidarity with the students/strikers and they plan to keep the protests up through the summer, so anything you can do in solidarity or support is worthwhile.

Andrea suggests this resource:, known as Translating the Printemps Erable (Maple Spring).

*Anglophone: english-speaking or featuring and centering English language communications
Francophone: french-spkeaing, or featuring and centering French language communications

**or if we participate in peer-led, non-accredited, or community based education programs. Just saying, until the revolution, perhaps you still want to learn things. I know I do.

***They were fixing to send shit to their MOM and I — and now you — benefit from their video research.