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Were the Quebec student protests worth it?

MONTREAL – An inquiry into Quebec’s student protest movement launched Monday, in an effort to understand the movement that swept the Liberal’s from power and for months kept university education at a standstill.

READ MORE: Quebec inquiry into ‘Maple Spring’ kicks off Monday

Unlike the Charbonneau Commission into government construction contracts, the inquiry will not have strong investigative powers.

It doesn’t have an investigator and it can’t levy penal or civil penalties, it can’t subpoena witnesses and it doesn’t interrogate or cross-examine witnesses.

It’s mandate deals more with social aspects of what caused the often angry student protests and precipitated the police reaction that followed.

The inquiry, now known as the Ménard Commission after its chairman, Serge Ménard, will also concentrate on two major events during the so-called Maple Spring: a violent protest that erupted at the Palais de Congrès in April 2012, and another protest in Victoriaville the following month.

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In pictures: Quebec student protests
Victoriaville, Quebec protest
Demonstrators break though a barrier as Provincial police officers stand by outside the Quebec Liberal Party meeting on Friday, May 4, 2012 Victoriaville, Quebec. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Victoriaville, Quebec
Riot police stand in a cloud of teargas, protecting a perimeter from riioters as the Quebec Liberal Party is meeting Friday, May 4, 2012 Victoriaville, Quebec. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Demonstrators gather in front of a hotel as the Quebec Liberal Party is meeting Friday, May 4, 2012 Victoriaville, Quebec.
Demonstrators gather in front of a hotel as the Quebec Liberal Party is meeting Friday, May 4, 2012 Victoriaville, Quebec. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Victoriaville protest
Demonstrators outside the Quebec Liberal Party meeting on Saturday, May 5, 2012 Victoriaville, Quebec. Global News
Victoriaville
Welcome sign outside Victoriaville, Que., where demonstrators protested a Quebec Liberal Party meeting in May 2012. Global News
Anarchopanda, a regular at the Quebec student protests, arrives at the Montreal courthouse Tuesday, June 5, 2012 to protest a Montreal bylaw on the wearing of masks during demonstrations.
Anarchopanda, a regular at the Quebec student protests, arrives at the Montreal courthouse Tuesday, June 5, 2012 to protest a Montreal bylaw on the wearing of masks during demonstrations. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
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montreal demo 22 march 2013
The demonstration to mark a significant anniversary in Quebec’s protest movement ended quickly Friday evening as Montreal police arrested over 200 people on March 22, 2013. Marc-Alain Trudeau/Global News
Students in Quebec protest tuition fee increases.
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee increases demonstrate in Montreal, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Quebec student protest
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee increases demonstrate in Montreal, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Montreal, Wednesday, August 22, 2012.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Montreal, Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Global News
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal, Saturday, May 19, 2012.
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal, Saturday, May 19, 2012. The Canadian Press
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal.
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal. Global News
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Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal, Wednesday, August 22, 2012.
Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal, Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press

According to Ménard, between February and September of 2012 alone, there were 532 demonstrations involving 750,000 protesters and more than 34,000 police.

Mass arrests totalled more than 2,000.

The figures beg the question: did the protests accomplish its aims? Was it worth it?

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A resounding yes, says Antoine Genest Gregoire, the president of the union representing the province’s university students.

“We abolished the tuition hike. That should be the main thing that we remember as what that movement led to,” he said.

But according to McGill University Provost Anthony Masi, it led to a funding situation that puts all the province’s universities in a bind.

“At McGill the cuts that were announced amounted to $38 million, and the foregone tuition was another $18 million,” Masi noted.

“So we lost $56 million in revenues.”

The commission will continue to call witnesses this week.

Let us know what you think.

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