MONTREAL — Don't count Canadian racing legend Jacques Villeneuve among the fans of the Quebec student movement.
The 41-year-old Formula One champ has a message for fellow Quebecers who have taken to the streets for the past four months to protest a tuition hike: Go back to school.
Villeneuve unleashed a five-minute diatribe to reporters at the Grand Prix red-carpet event Thursday evening while police clashed with protesters outside the building and arrested 37 people.
He suggested the student movement has become narrow-minded and damaging to Quebec society.
"They're expressing their freedom but what they don't take into account is that they're taking (freedom) away from lots of people," he said of the blockades and sit-ins at bridges and public buildings.
"It's time for people to wake up and stop loafing about. We heard them. We listened to them. They should stop. It's costing the city a fortune. It makes no sense."
Villeneuve didn't stop there, tearing a strip off an entire generation of Quebec kids who he said "grew up without ever hearing their parents ever tell them, 'No.'"
"So that's what you see in the streets now," Villeneuve said. "People (are) spending their time complaining. It's becoming a little bit ridiculous. They spoke, we heard, and now it's time to go back to school."
But supporters of the student movement fired back, suggesting the Quebec-born driver is out of touch because he spent much of his childhood in Monaco. The critics also launched personal attacks, mocking Villeneuve's new bald pate and even his intelligence.
"Jacques Villeneuve knows s--- about politics," one man posted on Twitter. "He panders to the elite with a silver spoon in his mouth he is a Monaco Baby."
Another Twitter critic wrote: "Villeneuve new spokesman for the silent majority, who grew up in Monaco and don't give a damn about Quebec. #bravo."
The Grand Prix has become a top target for a coalition of radical students and anti-capitalists.
The website of the hardline CLASSE association calls on followers to oppose the "capitalist elite" at the Grand Prix, an event they dismiss as "sexist, non-environmental and economic."
Villeneuve said any attempts to disrupt the Grand Prix only hurt the poor, pointing out that Thursday's red-carpet event was a charity fundraiser.
"Soirees like this...raise money for charities so it helps everyone," he said. "It can help hospitals, it can help in lots of places. So it's too bad to block all this. I wasn't educated like that. I was raised to work. We can't just think that we can sit around and that money will fall from the sky."
Some of the protesters at Thursday's event wore black and sported masks emblematic of the Black Bloc anarchist group that has caused mayhem in Montreal during the four-month student strike.
Police surrounded demonstrators who had pushed down a barricade prior to the start of the red-carpet event on the southern edge of downtown around 5:30 p.m.
Officers also made preventative arrests of protesters who were concealing projectiles in their knapsacks.
The event went off without a hitch.
Around 7 p.m. about 200 people, including some who wore masks, gathered further to the north on the main St. Catherine St. strip where Grand Prix revellers were enjoying drinks in area bars and restaurants.
A line of riot police blocked protesters from occupying the street, prompting some of the hooligans to pelt officers with rocks and other projectiles.
Police rushed the vandals, arrested dozens of them and dispersed others.