The demonstrations, first against tuition prices and now against anti-assembly limits, have more in common with other protest movements than you might think.
When the Quebec student protests began in February over a proposed tuition hike, it didn't look much like, say, Occupy Wall Street, or especially not like the Arab Spring. It still mostly doesn't -- no one thinks Canadian tanks will be flooding the streets anytime soon -- but it has taken an unusual turn since the Quebec National Assembly passed an emergency law in May to limit public assembly. Bill 78 sparked more and much larger protests, with the issues now bigger than just the price of education. So, put aside for a moment the myriad and important differences between Quebec's protest movement and Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring, and consider these thematic similarities in the events:
- The government oversteps with an abusive action or announcement of an offensive policy.
- Young people begin protesting to decry the injustice and start a larger debate about the legitimacy of the government, and its habit of doing favors for the rich and established at the expense of the young and poor.
- The government cracks down on protestors, spurring criticisms of illegally crushing free speech.
- Instead of quelling the dissent, the attempts to shut down protests helps expand them, contributing to a nationwide conversation about people's shared distrust of failing institutions.
This is Le Printemps Erable, or the Maple Spring as some call it, one of the largest social movements to hit Quebec in decades. But, in the most general terms, this pattern could describe many popular movements of the past three years: the Green Revolution of Iran, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street. (Though on wildly different scales -- Canada, of course, enjoys a stable democracy rather than a military dictatorship or a theocracy, and its relatively modest finance sector has suffered no Lehman-style disasters.) Every time we think a protest movement has dissipated, something like it reappears in another section of the world, spurred by similar themes and resulting in a similar dance between authority figures and masses of people disenchanted with their leadership.