A weekend that brought Montreal's social unrest to the international stage ended Sunday with police clamping down on an attempt to disrupt the city's Grand Prix Formula One race.
Anti-capitalists and students upset about tuition fee increases held demonstrations throughout the four-day event, considered the world's premier auto racing series. The protests gave visitors a taste of the dramatic scenes â sometimes joyful, sometimes violent â that locals have been witness to for months.
Many of those scenes played out just steps away from a huge party on Crescent Street for the festivities, considered the biggest annual tourist event in Canada.
Every night, a coalition of students and anti-capitalists descended on the popular night-club strip to protest against the event. On several occasions there were violent clashes between protesters and riot police, with tourists caught in the middle.
âIt's been a tough one this year,â Grand Prix promoter Francois Dumontier told reporters following the race.
âI think we had a good weekend overall here; we weren't perturbed despite all threats, people had no trouble getting onto the site, and the warm temperature helped our attendance.â
Mr. Dumontier admitted ticket sales to the race, which pumps about $100 million into the local economy, were down by five or six per cent.
There were no major incidents on Sunday despite much-discussed plans by an anti-capitalist group to disrupt the subway line, which shuttled thousands of fans to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
Leading up to the race officers were posted at stations throughout the subway system, with sniffer dogs and lines of police at the station near the track. Police said 34 people were arrested and 40 more were forced from the off-shore island, Ile Ste-Helene, where the race was held.
As the tumultuous Grand Prix weekend wrapped up, Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand hinted â not for the first time â that the students' dispute would soon be settled at the ballot box.
âI think the people of Quebec want to settle this issue and they want to talk, they're scared to talk,â said Mr. Bachand, the architect behind Quebec's increasing reliance on the user-fee model and the author of the student tuition fees written into the 2011 budget.
âBut in a democracy, you have one major right you can do silently â you can vote.â
Those comments renewed speculation Premier Jean Charest could call an early fall election, but Mr. Bachand wouldn't speculate on a date. The premier didn't attend the Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, Montreal police were criticized for searches and arrests that the force called âa preventive measure.â
Several people, many of them wearing red squares, the emblem of the student movement, were seen being forcibly escorted away from the race grounds and back onto the subway by police.
One young woman in tears said she was planning to get her ticket when she met up with a friend in front of the track. The woman, who had dyed red hair, accused the police of âprofiling.â A Canadian Press reporter who didn't have a Grand Prix ticket was also forced back on the subway.
âSome of those arrested were people police recognized from earlier student demonstrations that had been deemed illegal,â said Montreal police district commander Alain Simoneau.
âIn the interest of public safety, we decided to detain these people.â
Masks, rocks and knives were among the objects seized by those arrested. Most of those arrested will be released without charge, while others arrested in neighbouring suburbs could be charged, Cdr. Simoneau said.
An Ottawa man headed to the race said he felt the police had an obligation to ensure the event went off smoothly. While he supports the right to protest, Ali Fadelalla said disrupting the transit system was out of line.
âIt should be a peaceful event,â Mr. Fadelalla said.
âLots of tourists come from all over the world. If people start to disrupt the race it's not good for the country or the province.â
The anti-capitalist group organizing Sunday's protest had suggested packing the subway with as many people as possible, making it difficult for fans to get to the race.
âWe're all going to the Grand Prix ... AT THE SAME TIME!â said a posting on the group's website.
The subway protest was also promoted on a website calendar of the province's largest student group, CLASSE.
âDon't get aboard the trains until you receive the signal,â the post says.
That signal appears to have been a fire alarm set off on the subway line Sunday morning. Several people were removed from the metro following that incident.
The subway system has been a target before. A group is facing charges for setting off smoke bombs in the subway last month.
A taxi driver could be among those facing charges after Saturday night's clashes. Police said he got out of his cab to argue with a crowd of protesters and his vehicle rolled down a hill, injuring three people before the 22-year-old driver fled the scene.