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National News

Liberals critical of 2012 student unrest report

QUEBEC - The Liberal government has dismissed a report into the 2012 Quebec student unrest, suggesting it was little more than a political tool by the preceding Parti Quebecois government.

The report looked at the province's so-called Maple Spring, when a dispute over proposed tuition hikes morphed into a student uprising that included several months of street protests.

Former PQ cabinet minister Serge Menard headed public hearings last year into the student protests and tabled the report.

The final product cost more than $800,000 and was critical of Jean Charest's Liberal government for avoiding mediation with the students. It blasted police for mass arrests and the treatment of protesters and pegged policing costs at $26 million.

Premier Philippe Couillard said Thursday his government will always have misgivings about the report.

"I would have liked (it) to be a little bit more balanced in terms of what responsibilities were on all sides," Couillard noted.

He said the report should be read and the recommendations studied, with perhaps some passed along to police. But the context of how it came about should always be remembered, he said.

"I will always repeat that this report was essentially a political game from the start," he said. "Everybody sees that."

Three-quarters of its 28 recommendations deal with police tactics.

For instance, the report suggests limited use of police equipment like batons, pepper spray and stun grenades when dealing with protests.

It also calls for the suspension of a controversial tactic: using a section of the provincial Highway Safety Code meant to deal with blockades.

Police have used the provision to round up large groups of people and give them hefty fines. The report suggests the use of the tactic should be suspended until the courts can decide if it is legal.

The report was received favourably by two major student unions representing junior college and university students.

Quebec provincial police did not want to comment without having a chance to properly digest the document.

Montreal's police union, which did not take part in the hearings, said it was clear the conclusions in the report had been determined before the hearings were conducted.

A union representing other municipal forces said the report had "no credibility" and that the conclusions were not impartial.

"The recommendations in this report are exclusively on police work whereas many other parties were involved in this crisis," said Denis Cote, president of the federation representing municipal police association. His group also did not take part.

The Liberals had already been heavily critical of the so-called Menard Commission since its inception. It was called by then-premier Pauline Marois, with a mandate to "identify the factors contributing to the deterioration of the social climate" in 2012.

Public Security Minister Lise Theriault said Thursday her government did not feel obliged to follow up on the conclusions.

Theriault, who is also deputy premier, let loose before attending a pre-session caucus meeting in Quebec City.

"It was clearly stated that they wanted to put the (Liberal) government on trial," Theriault said. "The report speaks for itself."

It was her office that released the 450-page report on Wednesday, about 15 minutes before the beginning of the Montreal Canadiens' Game 7 playoff tilt against the Boston Bruins.

A former student leader said he was disappointed the Liberals trashed the report just hours after it was published.

"When I look at the reaction of the public security minister (Theriault) and the government in general, I find it a little disappointing," said Leo Bureau-Blouin.

"They're attacking the messengers instead of looking at the message and it seems they won't take the time to fairly analyze the proposals in there."

- with files from Melanie Marquis in Montreal.

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