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Police arrest a demonstrator trying to disrupt the opening gala at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on Thursday, June 7, 2012. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Police arrest a demonstrator trying to disrupt the opening gala at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on Thursday, June 7, 2012. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Big weekend, big disruption plans: Protesters take on Grand Prix Add to ...

“Nightly protests will disrupt this crass elite at play in (the west part of) downtown every night,” the CLAC group said on its website.

Grand Prix officials have already cancelled one event, an open house that is held during every Grand Prix that allows the public to visit the pit area to see the cars and chat with some of the drivers and mechanics.

But many tourists have been completely unaffected by the protests.

Scores of them could be seen strolling peacefully in old Montreal earlier Thursday afternoon, snapping pictures of its colonial buildings, large public bicycle stands and horse-drawn carriages.

A chiropractor from Saskatoon, in town for the race, said she was enjoying a pleasant visit and sounded puzzled by all the fuss.

“(The protests are) kind of comical — coming from where we come from our tuition is much higher,” said Chantal Serack. “I went to school in the United States where I paid $80,000 for my tuition over three and a half years so, in my mind, if you want to go to school, you pay what you need to pay and deal with it.”

Another tourist, in town for his son’s graduation at McGill University, agreed Quebec students have it relatively good. As he strolled in Montreal on Thursday afternoon, he said he hadn’t really noticed any protests yet.

“We heard there are going to be, but I’ve been here for several days and I’ve seen no protesters, no signs and no disruptions,” said David Miller, a physician from Florida. He suggested the dispute might have been blown out of proportion.

“There’s an awful lot of students in Montreal so I suspect it’s probably a very big issue here. On the grand scale of things, at least from what I see here, it’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot.”

Montreal police, who have maintained a heavy presence during more than a month of nighttime demonstrations, swooped in for a series of raids early Thursday, arresting a number of people they allege were involved in disruptions at recent protests.

Among those arrested was Yalda Machouf-Khadir, the 19-year-old daughter of Amir Khadir, the sole member of the left-leaning Quebec solidaire party in the legislature. It was unclear what charges she might face.

Premier Jean Charest made an appeal for calm in Quebec City on Thursday that seemed to carry a hint of warning.

“When you attack the Grand Prix, you’re not attacking the Government of Quebec but all Quebecers,” he said.

The four-day event is considered the city’s most lucrative by the Montreal business community, bringing a regular windfall of $75 million to $90 million during the week.

Drivers at a pre-race news conference on Thursday extolled the virtues of the Montreal Grand Prix and said they hoped things would go smoothly.

They said they were disappointed that the open house had been shelved.

“Some of the students are not happy about certain things,” said Mark Webber, an Australian driver with the Red Bull Racing team. “I’m not saying it’s a minority but, sometimes, when there’s a little bit of tension other people may lose out, like some fans who wanted to come and see the track today so that’s really unfortunate.

“I’m sure the weekend will go well.”

Felipe Massa, a Brazilian driving for Ferrari, said he’d like to see the students at the race, but as fans.

“We want to see all the fans, all the young people, the students,” he said. “We want to see them here with us, enjoying the sport.”

Montreal’s business community has been increasingly nervous about disruptions during the Grand Prix.

Appeals have been made by Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and the heads of some of the city’s summer festivals to the students to not perturb the events — but some student protesters have been firm in saying that they will keep demonstrating until a resolution is reached in the tuition dispute.

Aside from the tuition hikes, a main issue for the demonstrators is Bill 78, which placed restrictions on demonstrations.

Negotiations to resolve the tuition fee dispute have stalled. The Charest government has insisted it would not back down on a plan to hike tuition fees about 80 per cent — or $254 a year over seven years.

That would eventually boost the fees to about $3,800 a year.

The government later offered to spread the total hikes over seven years to $1,778, compensated with cuts to other fees. That would work out to an increase of about $254 a year.

While the proposed hikes would still leave Quebec with some of the lowest rates in the country, the issue has flared into a clash of ideologies. The students have called for a tuition freeze but the government has flatly rejected any idea of that.

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