Canadian GP scraps open day due to protest fears

Jenson Button wins the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal last year....

Jenson Button wins the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal last year. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

GIUSEPPE VALIANTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

MONTREAL - The disruption of the Montreal festival season has begun.

The Canadian Grand Prix's promoter on Sunday cancelled the race's open house, two days after the Quebec premier pleaded with student groups, upset over planned tuition increases, to avoid disrupting the race.

Moreover, the French side of one of the world's largest comedy festivals reported Saturday a 50% drop in ticket sales compared with last year.

Canadian Grand Prix president Francois Dumontier told QMI Agency Sunday that he cancelled Thursday's event due to "overall threats."

Some threats against the event were vague, while others were more direct.

The largest student federation representing striking students said Saturday that it was planning to be "visible" during the Grand Prix.

While a group calling itself the "Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles," announced in May it was going to take part "in a week of economic disruption" around the Grand Prix weekend.

Many activist groups in the city oppose the Grand Prix, claiming it promotes the objectification of women and car culture. Moreover, activists say that the weekend encourages the exploitation of women as pimps bring prostitutes into Montreal from around North America for big events such as the Grand Prix.

Online hackers targeted the Grand Prix's website at the end of May, publishing the private information of more than 100 ticket holders. The Grand Prix brings in tens of millions of dollars to the city's economy.

Dumontier said that he decided to cancel the open house "to protect the integrity of the weekend," which starts Friday.

Thursday's free-of-charge event would have allowed F1 racing fans to visit the pit lane, see the cars up close and get autographs from drivers. Dumontier said there was too much of a security risk to allow people that kind of access.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesman for the largest student federation, CLASSE, said Sunday that he "doesn't understand" why the open house was cancelled.

He said his federation was not planning on jeopardizing the security of people attending the Grand Prix.

"I think that tourists would have appreciated to be informed of the situation," he said. "When there is a social crisis, it should be obvious... We're not going to stop protesting because there is car race in Montreal."

About 150,000 students are on strike against the provincial government's plan to raise tuition. There are nightly protests in downtown Montreal that are usually attended by thousands of people denouncing the tuition hikes and the province's emergency law.

The law bans spontaneous protests across the province and has been denounced domestically and internationally for unduly limiting charter rights. The government said the law was necessary to quell the social unrest that has rocked the province.

Gilbert Rozon, the head of Just For Laughs, one of the city's biggest festivals, told QMI Agency Saturday that "the economic impact for Montreal is terrible right now."

He said the French component of the comedy festival is selling 50% fewer tickets. The comedy festival starts at the end of June.

Rozon added that he already cancelled eight shows for security reasons.

He said he will meet with student leaders in the coming days to talk about the economic consequences of the student strike to the city.

"Foreign artists are asking us about the social climate," Rozon said. "And the horrible story of the dismemberer adds another level of concern for European tourists," he said, referring to suspected killer Luka Magnotta. Magnotta allegedly killed and dismembered a 33-year-old man in a Montreal apartment last week and mailed body parts to political parties. The gruesome killing made international headlines.

"Festivals are Montreal's jewels," he said. "We have to protect them."


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