10 years after the ‘Maple Spring’: Legacies, strikes, and movements for change in the education system and beyond

Blog
May 18, 2022
Author(s):
Lisa Semchuk, Acting Policy Lead, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Ten years ago on May 18, 2012, Bill 78 was passed in Quebec in response to the Maple Spring (le Printemps érable) student strikes. This was an attempt to force students back to classes and limit their ability to protest, after months of strikes. To reflect on this movement, the Canadian Sociological Association, in collaboration with the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education and the Canadian Association for Work and Labour Studies, hosted a panel of scholars and activists in dialogue at Congress 2022.  This event, 10 years after the ‘Maple Spring’: Legacies, strikes, and movements for change in the education system and beyond, featured many individuals who were active organizers of and participants in the Maple Spring strikes. 

Marie Aurélie Thériault (Professeure agrégée, Faculté des sciences de l'éducation - Département de psychopédagogie et d'andragogie à l’Université de Montréal) demonstrated the long tradition of student strikes in Quebec dating back to 1957. There have been major student strikes against the provincial government in 1968, 1974, 1978, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1996 and 2005, with student demands typically focused on educational opportunity, tuition fees, and the loans and grants system. What made the Maple Spring different amidst this long tradition was the amplitude of participation (approximately 310,000 students joined from across the province) and its influence on the future — it is still the longest student strike in Quebec and Canadian history.

For Audrey Dahl (Professeure, Département d'éducation et formation spécialisées à l’Université du Québec à Montréal) and Renee Jackson (Assistant Professor, Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University), this was an opportunity to reflect on their writings and work from ten years ago. They noted the uphill struggle they felt when trying to inspire action and solidarity from colleagues at their department. For Dahl and Jackson, being on strike meant sacrificing something and working together on a cause — the strikes became bigger than a class, in the absence of classes. Several students weren’t happy with the disturbances on campus by student strikers, and it was a concerted effort by Dahl and Jackson to convince others of the importance of collective interests over individual liberties. But as Dahl said, “There would be something wrong if emotions weren’t running high.”

Rushdia Mehreen (PhD student, Université du Québec à Montréal) was a student ten years ago and took part in the strikes at Concordia University. Mehreen cited the people, structures, and culture as necessary blocks to build the strike from the ground up. No single element was sufficient; a core of activists, organizers, and mobilizers was needed to start this movement. But there was also a need for structures that opened up space for connection, which led to the creation of department-level student associations. There also needed to be a culture of shared meaning and beliefs to ensure the strike was effective, and not merely symbolic. These new student associations have since lived on at Concordia, and continue to provide space for students to engage.

Molly Swain (PhD student, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta) was an undergraduate student involved in the student anarchist movement at McGill University in 2012. The goal of student anarchists in the Maple Spring was to move beyond transforming education, to transforming society more broadly. For Swain, building and maintaining good relationships was central, not only from her background as a Métis woman, but also as a necessity for political action. Participating in the strikes was a way for Swain to connect to her Métis heritage; as she stated, “Louis Riel went to Montreal for schooling and used that to fight the state; 150 years later I did the same thing.” Reflecting on the strikes, Swain noted that not being afraid to step into an antagonist role was a way for her to carry on Métis tradition, build and strengthen relationships, and learn with each new crisis that unfolded. 

Myriam Zaidi (PhD Student, Faculty of Education, McGill University) was a student activist for a big part of her life. As the Quebec student movement was building, she co-founded the Students of Colour Montreal collective. For Zaidi, it was important to create safer spaces for racialized student activists within the Quebec student movement due to the differential impacts that would arise from increased tuition rates, and their unique risks of police repression when protesting. These spaces were needed, if even imperfect, as it can be an isolating experience for people of colour involved in social movements. For Zaidi, it wasn’t just about bringing together people who were racialized in their identity; it was crucial to bring together people who were anti-racist in their ideology. People had to be willing to make the struggle against racism something they fought for at every opportunity. 


This interdisciplinary session at Congress 2022 provided a poignant moment to reflect on a movement with people who were there at the heart of it. Ten years later, the Maple Spring remains a major point in a long tradition of Quebec student strikes, which may inspire many more movements to come. 

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