About 1,000 students marched to the Loto-Quebec building in Montreal Wednesday to protest rising tuition fees. Students blocked the entrance to the building on Sherbooke St. W., leading to what The Gazette calls an "ugly clash" with the police riot squad.
Police used tear gas and flash grenades against the protesters, and Montreal police Sgt. Ian Lafrenière confirms that several officers and protesters were injured during the chaos.
The Chronicle Herald describes a chaotic scene in which "clouds of tear gas wafted over downtown Montreal," "helmeted and shield-wielding police charged a line of students," and the "boom of volleys of tear gas echoed through the street."
Five people were arrested at various portions of the day's action.
“People were resisting and refusing to leave,” Lafrenière responded when asked why police resorted to physical force.“
A large number just left, which was amazing, but some decided to stay on the scene … throwing objects at us.”
The students said the police action was excessive.
“They came with flash bombs, panicking the crowd,” said UQAM grad student Frank Lévesque-Nicol, who was caught in the middle of the melee.
“They came with sticks and hit us very hard. I was surrounded by eight cops at one point … and I couldn’t see anything.”
Lévesque-Nicol, 25, maintained that the only projectiles protesters were throwing were snowballs.
“What kind of threat is a snowball to someone in full body armour?” he said.
Frank Levesque-Nicole told CTV he was hit by a baton in the base of the skull and blinded with blasts of pepper spray by a group of officers who surrounded him.
"I was only standing there blocking the door, but obviously the cops didn't see it that way," Levesque-Nicole said. "They … hit us very hard."I saw people with nosebleeds, which basically was uncalled for."
“They spend money on administration rather than on courses,” said Lévesque-Nicol, still rubbing his eyes after emerging from a cloud of tear gas.
“The financing for classes has been going down, while salaries of school directors have been going up … why can’t they find another source of funds?”
One of the protesters injured was 22-year-old Francis Grenier, a student at Cégep de Saint-Jérôme, who claims he was badly injured by the blast of a police stun grenade.
Grenier told CBC from his hospital bed that he doesn't know if he'll regain vision in his right eye. (Photo of Grenier posted on Facebook after he was injured).
Montreal police say they intend to investigate Grenier's allegations.
Previously, tuition feeds remained frozen in the province for 33 of the last 43 years with leaders either avoiding or abandoning plans for hikes.
Tens of thousands of students in Quebec recently called for the strike in opposition to tuition increases, and arrests of activists by police have become something of a regular event in Canada.
A few weeks ago, police arrested 37 people who were occupying a downtown college, and authorities used pepper spray to disperse a crowd blocking the Delta hotel during a demonstration.
This article was originally published by In These Times.