The man and three women allegedly behind the smoke-bomb attacks that paralyzed Montreal's subway system last Thursday morning are set to appear in court Monday.
The rush-hour attacks at three stations forced authorities to evacuate the subway and resulted in a three-hour shutdown of the system, stranding about 125,000 commuters and costing the economy several million dollars in lost productivity, according to merchants and a conservative think tank.
The incidents were the latest in a string of sometimes violent confrontations between students, radical-left agitators and police over the issue of tuition-fee hikes, with a student-led strike over the increases now entering its 14th week.
The bombing suspects – François-Vivier Gagnon, Geneviève Vaillancourt, Vanessa L'Écuyer and Roxanne Bélisle, all in their early twenties – are charged not only with conspiracy and mischief over $5,000 but also with the seldom-invoked charge of inciting fear of terrorism. A high-profile Quebec legal expert says the terrorist-related charge appears to be overkill given the nature of the attacks.
"From my point of view, this is not terrorism or inciting fear of terrorism. This part of the criminal code should only be used in very special cases," said lawyer Gilles Ouimet, former head of the Quebec Bar Association. The law clearly states that events such as strikes and political demonstrations should be excluded from the inciting-fear-of-terrorism clause, he added.
Meanwhile, concerns are mounting over the potential chaos to be unleashed if the winter-spring semester at several community colleges is cancelled because of the students' strike. Cancelling the semester would result in a headache of massive proportions, according to Jean Trudelle, head of the Fédération nationale des enseignants et enseignantes du Québec, the teachers' union that backs the students' demand for a tuition freeze.
"There could be serious consequences if the semester is cancelled," he told Radio-Canada on Sunday.
Students who were to get their diploma this year, for example, would not be able to enter university in the fall, he said. Not to mention the administrative mess that would result from having two cohorts overlapping at the same time in the colleges: those making up for their lost semester and those starting the fall session. Other educators have warned that many students will simply give up and drop out of school for good if the entire semester is wiped out.
At one Montreal institution, Collège de Rosemont, the administration is urging students to return to classes Monday, indicating that's the point of no return for avoiding outright cancellation of the semester.