Recently I have paid more attention to the news from Quebec than I usually do.
Up to about two weeks ago I was aware primarily that university students have been demonstrating for some months on Quebec because of a proposed hike in their tuition fees. My reaction to the students’ demands for the elimination of these fee increases was, I think, typically partly a conservative mindset: those university students were spoiled, pampered and privileged; like all students who strive for the privilege of higher education they either have to take out loans or get part-time jobs.
More recently though, the Quebec government has passed legislation that put limits on demonstrations, demanding that demonstrations of more than 50 participants file an application before the event takes place, identifying what route the demonstration will follow. Failure to comply would result in hefty fines for groups and individuals.
Within a few days after this legislation was passed, demonstrations swelled to 300,000 or more people, according to reports I have read.
And then I happened on the website of one of the student groups.
The website called “arrest me somebody,” talks primarily of the new legislation not about the student tuition demands. The student website suggests, as do other reports, that a large number of older and more diverse group of protesters has joined the students to challenge what many consider an infringement of the basic democratic right to protest and express opinions freely.
There is, I believe, a social and a collective aspect to both the students’ tuition demands and the broader citizen involvement in the most recent demonstrations; a sense of connection whose underlying sentiments are that what affects one of us, affects everyone. For a society to invest in its younger generation as it does in primary and secondary schools benefits the whole society; why should these benefits to students and to the society end in the late teens? Similarly when a government imposes limits on demonstrations and free speech, intended to disempower the student movement, the whole society is limited in its right to demonstrate and to express opinions freely.
Language notwithstanding, it would be helpful and informative to pay more attention to Quebec. There are perhaps social and political events happening there that are significantly different from that of an individualistic, conservative-based environment like ours might tend to do.