Race Troubles?

No, not the human classification kind, but the Formula One Grand Prix (GP) Automobile kind. But I did capture your interest, didn’t I? The Canadian GP is scheduled for June 8, 9, and 10. The race, held on Montreal’s Isle Notre Dame, is supposed to have an economic impact of an estimated 1.6 million Canadian dollars in revenue to Montreal, and attracts more than 100,000 people.

Montreal city officials say that measures to ensure the race weekend will be peaceful, but students at the city’s four main universities earlier this month passed a resolution which promised to “organise a weekend of disruptions in order to cancel the Formula 1 Grand Prix and its jet-set events which represent sexist, anti-environmental, elitist and economic values that must be abolished”.

CLASSÉ is the motivating force behind the resolution. ASSÉ (pronounced ah-say, a play on “assez,” the French word for “enough”) is a very anti-capitalist organization. CLASSÉ is the “coalition large” of ASSÉ. CLASSÉ allows the members of the other organizations, such as Canadian student organizations, to affiliate with it as a way of strengthening student numbers and improving coordination of the strike that college students have called to protest tuition hikes. This allows ASSÉ to influence student politics, while at the same time keeping their separate organizational identity. CLASSÉ spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the group would use the GP as a forum to raise its grievances with Quebec, but it would not prevent people from going to the race.

Why is Montreal in such an uproar? First, college students are protesting a 10% increase in tuition, or about €2500 per year. In response to that proposal by Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government, students went on strike. They have been on strike for at least 17 weeks, and for the last month, nightly marches of thousands of students (and others) have taken place on Montreal’s main boulevards. The strike celebrated 100 days on May 22, 2012, with some 400,000 people marching through Montreal. Negotiations between student groups and the Charest government have broken down.

In response to student actions, the Charest government passed Law 78 which criminalizes the student strike by placing restrictions on the right to demonstrate over any issue, anywhere in the province of Quebec. Law 78 calls for fines of up to 35,000 Canadian dollars for individuals and up to 125,000 Canadian dollars for organizations. Law 78 outlines regulations governing demonstrations of over 50 people, including having to give eight hours’ notice for details such as the protest route, the duration and the time at which they are being held.

And the strike actions are now not limited to students. Mehmet Yayla, 40, an unemployed oceanographer (not a student), said, “I’m planning to go there [downtown Montreal] because I think the only strong opposition right now in Quebec is the students.” Regarding Law 78, Matthew Larose, a 32-year-old construction foreman (also not a student), said, “If they can do it in Quebec, they can do it everywhere else. It sets a bad precedent for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of everything … and it’s disgraceful.”

How has/will CLASSÉ actions affect the Canadian Grand Prix? Organisers have canceled the “Open Doors” event before the GP because it may be disrupted by student protests. Fans will not be able to walk around the pitlane or see how the cars are assembled. Believe me, that is a big deal. Canada GP President François Dumontier said, “Our ticket sales are down over the last month or so. People didn’t buy the ticket saying they are afraid to come to Montreal.” Hacktivist group Anonymous has called for a boycott of the Canadian GP. Anonymous released a statement warning people not to buy GP tickets or merchandise. The call for a boycott is working so far. The Canadian GP is not expected to be a sell out this year; several thousand tickets remain unsold ahead of the race as fans coming from abroad have decided to pass on this year’s event. A student protest is scheduled to take place in Montreal’s subway system on race day, as fans head towards the circuit. Presenting itself as an experiment “to see how many people can get on the metro”, a Facebook page has been set up to encourage students to take a trip on the Montreal subway system’s yellow line, the only one with a station on Isle Notre Dame, where the Canadian GP is located. And guess the time of the “experiment.” It is scheduled for 10:30 A.M., when tens of thousands of fans are heading for the race. CLASSÉ says it will not bother or try to stop race fans, but said that it intended to disrupt the Canadian GP.

So what? Well, there are three reasons. First, the actions of ASSÉ sound quite a bit like a certain US anti-capitalist political party of late. Second, how many events such as the Canadian GP does the US have? The MLB All-Star game (July 10) and many college and professional football games come to mind. Third, who do you think the MSM will sympathize with and give coverage to if similar demonstrations occur in this country? Does OWS ring a bell? And who do you think the MSM will feature as we get nearer to November?

But that’s just my opinion.

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