Thousands of students marched once again in downtown Montreal Tuesday night, in the eighth straight night of protests against planned tuition fee hikes.
Police said there were at least two arrests, including one for assaulting an officer.
The rally began in Émilie-Gamelin Park in downtown Montreal, just as police were trying to disperse anti-capitalist protesters who had staged an angry and violent demonstration in the same area earlier in the evening.
The marchers took their protest to Old Montreal and elsewhere downtown. A small group entered the Ville-Marie tunnel that runs under the downtown core, but police headed them off quickly.
Throughout Tuesday, there were a smattering of protests across the province.
Just before 1 p.m. ET, more than 100 students and professors gathered to plant a red maple tree at the corner of McGill College and Sherbrooke streets in Montreal, as a "sign of a new beginning."
They hung their demands, scrawled on red paper, for the government to halt the tuition fee hike on the tree's branches.
Also on Tuesday evening, students gathered at Molson Park in Montreal's Rosemont district, where they joined union leaders in a peaceful march to mark May Day.
Léo Bureau-Blouin, the president of FECQ, the federation representing college students, addressed the crowd, saying the coming days will be decisive in the 12-week-old student action.
Earlier in the day, Bureau-Blouin, along with the university students federation president Martine Desjardins, had called for a two-year moratorium — not just on tuition fee increases but on all new university spending — while all avenues of financing higher education are explored.
Education minister puzzled by students' counter-offer
Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp said Tuesday she was perplexed and disappointed by that proposal, which the two student groups described as a "counter-offer" aimed at ending a 12-week boycott of classes over planned university tuition hikes.
The student federations' proposal includes the creation of a committee to oversee the management of universities and a plan to analyze the relationship between universities and private enterprise. It also calls for a five-year moratorium on the construction of a new campus for the University of Montreal.
Freeze on spending would hurt students, minister says
Beauchamp said that was not a counter-offer, but a "justification for defending their position that tuition fees be frozen."
She said the Charest government has invested massively in higher education because the universities said they were "starved" for funds.
She said a freeze now would hurt the very people the student federations are representing.
The government plan, announced last Friday, includes a proposal to spread the tuition free increase over seven years instead of five, a promise to add $39 million to student bursaries and a commitment to link the repayment of loans to income after graduation.
The most militant of the student groups, CLASSE, rejected that offer.
Associations belonging to the other federations were to vote on the offer later this week, but FEUQ president Martine Desjardins said Monday that its rejection appeared inevitable.
Students call for 'estates-general'
Instead, Desjardins and Bureau-Blouin proposed the moratorium until an 'estates-general' on university spending and financing can be held.
Desjardins compared universities to "a sock with a hole in it." She said dumping more money on them won't help improve education.
An estimated 180,000 students remain on strike.