Quebec students must denounce violence

As I write this, the Quebec student protests seem to be getting more and more violent. First, let me say I am incredibly impressed by the organisation, length and structure of the protests so far. Generally speaking, I am for free higher education, if many European countries and Mexico can offer it, why can’t we?

However, the way the student protests are going right now, I am not optimistic. As the protests turn violent, the mainstream population is removing their support and the students’ cause will be lost. Students must unequivocally condemn all violence by all students and all participants, even if peripheral, in the protests. No amount of violence by police forces justifies violence by students. Beyond the moral reasoning, there is a simple pragmatic truth; if the students start using violence, they will lose. The police have many more tear gas cannisters than the students.

Recently on Facebook, I saw a number of people endorsing the J.F.K quote, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” – that is a very big mistake, especially in the context of a democratic Québec and students’ modest demands for a tuition freeze.

Student union leaders should pay close attention to other non-violent mouvements. When protests for Indian independence turned violent in 1922, Gandhi did not hesitate to call the entire independence campaign off. And they were fighting for independance, not 1500$ a year in tuition fees!

“Non-cooperation” enjoyed widespread appeal and success, increasing excitement and participation from all strata of Indian society. Yet, just as the movement reached its apex, it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience.[57] This was the third time that Gandhi had called off a major campaign.[58]


Gandhi also fasted in an attempt to stop the violence in 1948 during the Pakistani-India separation. Anyone trained in non-violent protests should understand that the moment you go violent, you’ve lost.

During the anti-apartheid mouvement in South Africa, Mandela confronted the Indian Congress claiming that their non-violent tactics had failed and the African National Congress should resort to a violent revolution. The Indian Congress responded, “Non-violence has not failed us, we have failed non-violence”.

All students wanting to change the system should read Gene Sharp’s book on non-violent tactics, “From Dictatorship to Democracy“. In the past week, I am afraid the students have lost the public’s support; the vandalism of storefronts and the bricks on the metro are too much for a lot of working people. Students should not underestimate the value many people and business put on ‘stability’, see Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk.

Closer to home, when the FLQ went violent during the October Crisis, the widespread popular support for their cause evaporated overnight. The same thing is happening to the student mouvement as we speak. 

Published on April 20, 2012