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Anti-austerity march draws estimated 75,000 protesters

Tens of thousands of participants marched in a protest against provincial austerity measures on April 2. The protest was organized by student federation Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ). According to the organizers, around 75,000 people participated in the march, which convened at Square Victoria at 1 p.m. and continued for more than two hours through the streets, ending at Place Émile-Gamelin. The march was deemed illegal from its onset by the police because organizers failed to provide an itinerary of the route beforehand, but it nontheless remained peaceful. 

McGill students and union members were present at the march, including members of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) and  the McGill Law Students’ Society (MLSS). The MLSS had voted on April 1 to hold a one day strike on April 2— the vote passed by 61 per cent. Jacob Schweda, a Law student, explained that students in his faculty were concerned about the impact of austerity on the public sector. 

“I think people are particularly concerned about the effect austerity cuts will have on groups that we will serve in the future as lawyers. For example, freezes to legal aid ability, cuts to social assistance, [and] cuts to women’s groups, which really undermines equality,” Schweda said. “So there’s a danger of creating different classes of people and excluding people from society—and as future lawyers, we have an obligation to speak out against that.”

Andrea Palmer, a student in the McGill School of Social Work, said that although the social work student association had not officially gone on strike, students within the school were aware of and affected by the austerity movement. 

“As social work students, I think […] we are more aware than most people because we are directly affected working in the social, community, [and] health sectors,” she said. “For example, a lot of us work with marginalized groups and communities and we know that women and those who are more vulnerable in our society, like the lower socialeconomic status, are disproportionately affected by these cuts. We’re working every day and seeing these cuts affect the individuals we’re working with.”

 In addition to the large student presence, many families and social groups attended the march. Post-secondary students from CÉGEPs, such as Vanier College, and university institutions also decided to strike on April 2.

President of the Confédération des Associations D’étudiants et Étudiantes de L’université Laval (CADEUL) Thierry Bouchard-Vincent explained that around 20,000 students from Université Laval were on strike for April 2. 

“Most of our associations have a position on the [cuts to public services], but of course, what we [have] seen [for] months [are] the cuts in universities,” Bouchard-Vincent said. “Many have heard negotiations of how these cuts will affect the teachings and the number of classes and the offering of different courses.” 

He also stated that the society’s member associations had voted to take a unified stance. 

“All our associations took a position on a qualified majority on a caucus against the cuts in the public systems,” Bouchard-Vincent said. “We stay informed on the other activities of the other associations; we try to inform [students] of the effects of the cuts, especially on other universities, and inform and help other associations who want to take further actions.”

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