For the past five days, it has begun each night at around eight p.m. Thousands of people across the City of Montreal step out of their homes, into the street, and start banging on pots and pans.
On Friday night in Saint-Henri, southwest of downtown, I watched a small crowd gather at the local metro station. The protest seemed to have no organizers—most had just followed the sound.
It was the same story on Sunday in the Plateau. People on balconies and staircases banged on pots and pans. At one intersection, a couple families marched around in a little circle.
For more than a month, there have been nightly protests in Montreal over Premier Jean Charest’s plan to raise tuition. Until last week, the protests were restricted to the area around UQAM and the Latin Quarter. Even more telling: until last week, most of the protesters were young Francophones.
This has changed. The casserole protesters are different. It’s no longer just French students and ardent leftists. It’s a cross-section of the community, with people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. Their constant clanging, along with the presence of older people and small children, gives these protests a festive air. People are angry, but they also happy to meet their neighbours on the street.
Bill 78—the special law that aimed to restrict the student protests by allowing for heavy fines for organizers who don’t provide police with an itinerary in advance—unites them.
Even at protests explicitly for students, there is little mention of the tuition hikes anymore. Many of those on the streets every night aren’t even opposed to the tuition hikes, but instead are against the heavy-handed way the provincial government and the police have handled the protesters.
In more than one neighbourhood the chant is the same: “ensemble câlisse la loi spéciale.” The phrase doesn’t translate easily to English, but make no mistake, they aren’t pleased with Law 78.
Many of the spontaneous pots and pans protests are, of course, illegal under Law 78 itself. But the police aren’t stopping them. In fact, the police seem to be taking a different approach in the past few days. On May 23, police arrested over 500 people. Very few have been arrested since.
On Sunday night, the riot squad was barely visible and a small number of police officers—wearing jackets instead of uniforms—walked with the protesters and chatted. It was a very different scene from less than a week earlier when protesters played cat and mouse with the riot squad and the smell of tear gas hung in the air. It seems the pots and pans protesters are changing the tune.
Jacob Serebrin is a Montreal freelance journalist who studied journalism at Concordia University.