At the beginning of April, with the strike going strong for a seventh week, a right-wing minority opposing the strike started organizing and making itself heard. Without much surprise, we learned early on that some of these students had links with the Liberal party.
Because they knew they couldn’t convince general assemblies to end the strike, they turned to the courts to obtain injunctions allowing them to resume their classes. Though CLASSE fought them on legal grounds, judges granted them one after the other, mainly on the grounds that a student strike had no legal basis and that the continued picketing of campuses would bring these students immediate and irreparable harm. Since these injunctions were only granted on an individual basis, it took a lot of time, money and effort for opponents of the strike to obtain them. Nonetheless, a month later, over 100 injunctions were in effect across the province.
The first injunction had a shockwave effect across the movement. To all intents and purposes, it meant that a minority of (mainly wealthy, well-connected) students could get a court order to circumvent the student union’s democratic decision-making, effectively transposing an eminently political issue into a legal one. Obviously, this angered a huge number of students, including those who were opposed to the strike but considered the general assemblies’ decisions legitimate. The movement’s internal legitimacy was so strong that it easily superseded the legitimacy of the justice system which had revealed its conservative and reactionary nature.
Despite the threat of arrest and imprisonment1, the injunctions were met with massive challenges on all campuses where they came into effect. In the case of the very first individual who had obtained one, students formed a huge “corridor of shame” leading to the anthropology class where the teacher waited to give an open-door lecture on “conflict management”! Other campuses were picketed by large groups of masked students prepared to face security guards and police and in yet other instances, classes resumed by such court orders were disrupted by groups of students.
Administrations responded by appealing for calm and pleading for the injunctions to be respected. Yet in most places, when faced with students determined to enforce their strike, they backed down. There was no way classes could resume in normal conditions short of triggering big confrontations on their campuses and having dozens, even hundreds of their own students arrested. Teachers, who were numerous to support the strike, were also scandalised by the injunctions and resisted demands to resume classes.
Unfortunately, some administrations did decide to test the students’ resistance by ordering security guards and/or law enforcement to clear out picket lines. Where these attempts weren’t quickly abandoned, situations degenerated in all-out confrontation. In a cegep north of Montreal, provincial police fired tear gas on campus to clear out picket lines which included parents and teachers. At Université de Montréal, when students learned that administrators were ordering faculty to lecture empty classes, a huge protest of nearly a thousand students rampaged on campus towards the administration building, sabotaging classroom furniture on their way. After a serious attempt to force the principal’s office door using a battering ram, they too backed down.