The event began peacefully at 5 p.m., with about 1,000 protesters turning up in the town to voice their discontent with various government plans, including the Plan Nord, shale gas exploration, and the impending tuition fee hike.
As protesters reached the conference centre, however, they started shaking the waist-high security fence. A group of masked men also began throwing rocks, projectiles and fireworks at the police and the building. One window was smashed, and moments later the protesters breached the fence and were a few feet from the doors.
About 200 Sûreté du Québec officers in riot gear responded with the chemical irritant know as CS gas, and the air quickly became nearly unbreathable.
What followed was two hours of violent confrontation that spilled into the parking lot behind the hotel and onto the properties of several residents of the town, who watched nervously from their living room windows. Projectiles flew, dozens of gas canisters were deployed and rubber bullets were fired as the protesters were slowly but surely pushed back toward the Wal Mart parking lot where the event began.
Three police officers and six protesters were injured seriously enough to be taken to a hospital during the melée, which began around 6:30 p.m. and lasted more than two hours in the pouring rain. One person, a protester, suffered what police are describing as “life-threatening” head injuries after being hit by a projectile.
It is still unclear if the object was a rock, a billiard ball or a rubber bullet launched by police. The unidentified protester’s condition was still being described as critical at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Aside from the injuries suffered, the riot resulted in some moderate damage to property. Several vehicles, including an SQ van, were vandalized and one of the convention centre’s windows was shattered, but there was little to no damage to nearby private homes and the protest was contained to the area immediately surrounding the convention centre.
Only four people were arrested during the demonstration itself. However, within minutes of leaving Victoriaville, three chartered buses filled with protesters were stopped along highways heading for Montreal and every person on board was arrested and identified. A total of 106 people were rounded up and brought to local stations for questioning overnight.