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Hundreds at Vancouver rally to support Quebec students

Over 200 people stood in solidarity--and in the rain--with Quebec students at a rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery today. A mix of old and young, students and non-students, it was one of four protests taking place across the country, which one organizer dubbed "the largest civil disobedience ever in Canada."

Marking the 100th day of student protests against proposed tuition hikes in Quebec, hundred of thousands of protestors took to the streets in Montreal, while smaller groups gathered in New York City, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Paris to show solidarity.

In addition to a proposed tuition increase of 75 per cent over five years, protestors decried the introduction of Bill 78, which would make it illegal to protest in Quebec without prior police approval.

But although the rally and subsequent march in downtown Vancouver were based on showing support for their francophone counterparts, the speeches focused mainly on what's happening on the home front.

"Here the cost of post-secondary education has doubled in the past 10 years and it is continuing to rise," Jannel Robertson, a member of the University of British Columbia's Social Justice Centre, told the crowd.

"The cost of education is a class conflict. For many, academia is a very difficult thing to access as it's becoming more and more unaffordable and unattainable due to tuition fees."

Speakers also pledged their solidarity to labour unions currently in negotiations--or stalled negotiations--for contracts with the B.C. government. Zachary Crispin, chairperson of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students' made special mention of the BC Teachers' Federation and the BC Government and Service Employees Union.

"And the other unions that are currently facing a fight with the BC Liberal government to defend the quality of public services, to defend public education, to defend public healthcare, and to defend working conditions in British Columbia," he added.

Former student activists were in attendance, too, including Ellen Woodsworth, who more recently served on Vancouver city council. Woodsworth, who was involved in the students' movement during the 1960s, told The Tyee B.C. need to examine new ideas for funding education--including fully subsidizing education through taxes.

"I think that we should seriously discuss that as one possibility. I certainly think that when you look at the cost of books alone, let alone tuition, young people are really facing an obstacle in accessing that education that we say that we want young people to have," she says.

"We need to have good bursaries and loans, and abilities for students who don't have much money but have the desire, have the skills to be able to go onto university to do so. And those who have the ability to pay more and don’t need that support system in place, they could pay a little of it more."

Milagro Badano, an Argentinean student studying English in Vancouver, came to the protest to learn more about student politics in Canada. Student protests are a common event in Argentina, she told The Tyee, where students show support for underpaid teachers and administrative workers.

"The history of Argentina, we take a lot of marches. They finish bad with a lot of dead people, so I know what it is for you," she said. "Students must be listened (to)."

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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