MONTREAL — Only a day after becoming law, protesters were finding creative ways around Quebec’s controversial legislation aimed at restoring order in the province.
In an attempt to avoid hefty fines, one prominent student group took down its web page Saturday that listed all upcoming protests. Another anonymous web page with listings quickly popped up in its place — with a note discouraging people from attending.
The disclaimer is meant to evade new rules applying to protest organizers, who must provide an itinerary for demonstrations and could be held responsible for any violence.
The website also accepts submissions for future protests and suggests using a software that blocks a sender’s digital trail.
Meanwhile, Montreal police were trying to figure out how to use the legislation without heightening tensions during the city’s nightly marches through the city.
Spokesman Ian Lafreniere said the force was still considering its options.
“I’ve got a lot of people working on it now,” Lafreniere said in an interview. “We don’t want to cause a commotion, we want to prevent one.”
Lafreniere said police would likely set up a website or email address where organizers could submit planned protest routes.
Bill 78 lays out strict regulations governing demonstrations of over 50 people, including having to give eight hours’ notice for details such as the protest route, the duration and the time at which they are being held.
Failure to comply could bring stiff penalties for the organizers, but the law could be difficult to enforce.
A late night protest has started in the same downtown square at 8:30 p.m. every night for nearly a month. There’s no clear organizer for the march, and the route is determined by the marchers on a street by street basis.
Still, the law says that student associations who don’t encourage their members to comply with the law could face punishment. Fines range between $7,000 and $35,000 for student leaders and between $25,000 and $125,000 for student unions or student federations.
Bill 78 isn’t the only new legislation available to police.
The City of Montreal adopted a new bylaw Friday giving stiff fines to protesters wearing masks. Lafreniere said the legislation, which came into effect Saturday, gives police “another tool” when dealing with the demonstrations.
After facing heavy criticism from legal experts and civil liberties groups, the Quebec government took steps Saturday to defend controversial legislation by taking out full page ads in the local newspapers.
The headline read, “For the sake of democracy and citizenship.”
An opinion poll released Saturday suggested the majority of Quebecers supported the new measures. The survey was taken, however, before the specifics of the legislation were known.
Meanwhile, the website for the province’s Education Ministry was down Saturday in an apparent cyber attack.
While no one claimed responsibility, the hacker group Anonymous has taken an interest in the provincial legislation. The group wrote on Twitter that Bill 78 “must die.”