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Vandals target government offices in Montreal

MONTREAL - Vandals targeted Quebec government offices on Monday, smashing windows and using what police said appeared to be Molotov cocktails.

The actions were quickly condemned by Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

"When you intimidate people by planting Molotov cocktails, when you wreck offices, that's unacceptable and in Quebec, no elected members should accept that," he told reporters near Montreal.

"The day that we start tolerating violence, justifying it, is the day where we lose sight of what our basic values are in our society."

The vandalism took place in the wee hours Monday and targeted offices of various Charest cabinet ministers.

Gabriel Retta, the manager of the office of Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors, says he went to the office after receiving a phone call from an alarm-system company.

"When we arrived, there were already police here and we went in by the back door and when we went in the office, we smelled a strange odour and the police decided to call the firefighters," he said in an interview.

Retta would only say that a substance was found inside the office.

"They said it's a bottle, so maybe it's a Molotov cocktail," he said.

Retta added the whole building was evacuated for safety reasons.

Montreal police said windows were smashed and incendiary devices were also found in an office belonging to Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier.

No arrests were made in the incidents.

Along with the vandalism, graffiti in the form of a red square was also painted on the sidewalks outside Blais' office.

The red square has become the symbol of students who have been staging protests against the Quebec government's plan to hike tuition fees over the next five years.

Montreal police also say that at least one subway station on each of the city's four main lines was targeted by individuals.

"They activated the emergency brakes and also threw objects onto the rails and obviously this caused an important interruption in service," police spokesman Anthony Cantelmi said.

Service was restored after about 15 minutes. Several media reported that the objects were bricks which were inside backpacks.

It was not known whether the mischief was linked to the student protests, which have seen thousands of students staging walkouts and blocking entrances to classrooms over the last several weeks.

A number of students have gone to court and succeeded in gaining access to their classes.

"Students who want to study have the right to study," Charest said.

"They have the right to live in an environment without being intimidated and they have strictest the right to freely circulate."

Charest said there is no question of his government backing down on implementing the tuition hikes.

"We've debated this issue of tuition fees for about 20 years, we've made a decision that we know is right and is balanced and equitable and we're going continue to continue to implement this new policy," he said.

At least three people were arrested in two separate incidents Monday morning.

Two 19-year-old men were charged with breaking and entering the Cegep du Vieux Montreal, a downtown junior college.

Another 19-year-old was arrested for mischief and vandalism.

Seven people were arrested Friday shortly after a group broke into and vandalized Education Minister Line Beauchamp's office in Montreal.

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