The Quebec government has passed new legislation aimed at clamping down on militant protests and the ongoing student strike in that province. Bill 78 sets out strict rules for protest organizers, bans protests near schools & universities, and imposes heavy fines on those who violate the law.
Lawyers compare Quebec’s controversial protest bill to War Measures Act
The Canadian Press May 18, 2012
MONTREAL — There are warnings from Quebec’s legal community that the government’s strict legislation aimed at ending the student crisis goes too far.
One law professor even compared the controversial Bill 78 to the now-defunct War Measures Act.
The emergency legislation lays out stern regulations governing demonstrations and contains provisions for heavy fines for students and their federations.
Professor Lucie Lemonde of Universite du Quebec a Montreal says it’s the strictest law of its kind she’s seen since the notorious War Measures Act, imposed in Quebec during the 1970 FLQ crisis.
Lemonde says it attacks an individual’s rights to freedom of expression, association and conscience.
The head of the provincial bar association also says the bill violates constitutional rights. However, there are some grumblings from within the group that some Quebec lawyers are not quite that opposed to the law.
The head of Montreal’s board of trade says he welcomes the bill as a way to calm daily student demonstrations that have hurt businesses in the city.
Members of Quebec’s national assembly began debating the bill last night, and will continue until tonight’s expected vote.
Bill 78 is expected to pass because the governing Liberals hold a slim majority in the provincial legislature.
The legislation provides for fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution.
Penalties climb to between $7,000 and $35,000 for a student leader and to between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations.
Bill 78 also lays out strict regulations governing student demonstrations, including having to give eight hours notice for details such as the itinerary, the duration and the time at which they are being held.
A portion of the bill was amended today to increase the number of people allowed to participate in an organized gathering from 10 to 25.
At the heart of the crisis is the government’s plan to hike tuition fees over several years.
One student leader warned the special legislation will make it difficult to control increasingly frustrated demonstrators.
“I believe my anger is quite representative of the way students are feeling, and I am convinced that will be expressed in the streets….over the next few days and the next few weeks,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, considered one of the more radical student leaders.
“It’s a declaration of war, not only against students but also against anyone who clings in any way to democracy, against anyone who clings to what Quebec was before this legislation was tabled.”
Nadeau-Dubois predicted Quebecers would “rise up against such an unacceptable document.”
Meanwhile, a bylaw banning protesters from wearing masks during demonstrations in Montreal “without a valid excuse” has been passed at city hall.
Mayor Gerald Tremblay says the measure gives police the tools they have lacked until now to intervene and arrest troublemakers before violence and vandalism occur.
Tremblay made the announcement this afternoon.
The ban goes into effect tomorrow in a city that has seen hundreds of arrests and witnessed violent protests in the last few months.