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Josee Scalabrini, president of the Federation des syndicats de l'enseignement, speaks at a conference in Montreal on Aug. 24, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

A Quebec teachers strike was marred on Wednesday after a teacher picketing with her colleagues in Sherbrooke, Que., was struck by a car in what police described as a deliberate gesture.

Sherbrooke police spokesman Martin Carrier said the woman was participating in a strike outside her high school around 9:30 a.m. when she was struck by a driver who allegedly drove into the picket line.

Carrier said the woman escaped with minor injuries.

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The 54-year-old suspect left the scene but was later arrested at his home for assault with a weapon.

Carrier said witnesses indicated the suspect has a connection to the school and was possibly the father of a student, but said his identity had yet to be confirmed as of Wednesday afternoon.

The teachers union, called Centrale des syndicats du Quebec, wrote on its Facebook page that the incident was “unacceptable.”

Florent Tanlet, a spokesman for Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel, said the act, if deliberate, “has no place in a civil society.”

The victim was one of tens of thousands of Quebec teachers who held an early morning strike on Wednesday that began just after midnight and lasted until 9:30 a.m. The teachers have been without a contract since March 2020.

In Montreal, teachers could be seen grouped outside schools waving signs and demanding better working conditions as they protested the stalled talks.

Robert Pigas, who teaches grades 5 and 6 at St. Patrick Elementary in Pincourt, Que., west of Montreal, said in a phone interview that the strike is not just about salaries – even though he adds that Quebec teachers are “the lowest-paid in the country.”

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He said teachers are also fighting for better working conditions, smaller class sizes and more resources for special needs students, such as integration aides in the classroom who can offer extra help.

“We have more kids that require more time, and we’re still split up between all our students,” he said.

He said teachers have been encouraged by the support they’ve received from parents, some of whom he said joined them on the picket lines or kept their children out of online classes for the day out of solidarity.

He said he’d personally received emails from about 10 parents who expressed their support for the teachers and the work they’ve done in keeping students safe and in school during the pandemic – something he accused the government of failing to recognize.

The teachers union had said the timing of the strike was designed to put pressure on management without affecting students’ learning.

In an e-mail, LeBel’s spokesman said the offer the government has made to the public sector unions is a fair one. “We believe that there is everything on the table right now to reach agreements with the various unions,” Tanlet wrote.

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Several school boards announced classes would move online for the day because the strike affected school buses and early morning supervision.

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