Quebec’s Bill 78 Shifts the Struggle to a Battle for Democracy and the Right to Dissent

Rebel Youth Montreal Bureau

Last night the Charest Liberal government tabled its repressive Duplessis-style legislation while thousands of protesters marched well past mid-night in the streets of Quebec City and Montreal, waving flags, chanting and even burning a draft of the repressive law.

Bill 78 passed this afternoon with the right-wing CAQ party voting in favour, propping-up the precarous posistion of the Charest Liberals who are currently holding onto a majority of only one vote (following the resignation of the Minister of Education last week).  Links to the law in English are below.

The vote passed 68-48 at about 5:30 p.m.

The Montreal city council also passed a bylaw today banning masked demonstrators.

In this update RY magazine presents some highlights of the law, the critical analysis of the Quebec Bar association and today`s commentary about the legislation from students, labour leaders and the Employers Association of Quebec, which has stated its support of the legislation.

The student associations have said they plan to fight the law in court. It is unclear when the law will be signed into effect.

You can add your name to a petition against the law, endorsed by the major labour unions of Quebec by clicking here.  The petition is in French. An internet translation is available here.

The government this week also suspended classes in 14 of the province’s 48 colleges where strikes were still continuing as well in certain departments and faculties in 11 of the province’s 18 universities.

Highlights of Bill 78

The legislation is already scheduled to last a year, expiring in June 2013. This means the law will apply for the election, and, if the next government wishes, it could also extend the law. While the most glaring points are summarized below, the entire law is flawed in our view and must be withdrawn.

Read a graphic summary in French here.

Section 16 says that the police have to be informed eight hours in advance and in writing about any demonstration with the duration and route of the protests, for actions larger than 50 or more people (the Liberals increased the number from the original proposal of eight people). Section 17 says that organizers, or even a student association taking part in the march without being its organizer, must make sure that the event complies with the parameters handed to police.

The law does not only apply to students. Every waged person on campus are subject to the provisions. This is particularly aimed at the university teachers. The teachers have played a noble role in this battle, supporting the students, honoring their strike by refusing to give class, joining their picket lines, and even being arrested — at demonstrations and but also being scooped by police from within the campus. Charest has accused the teachers of being the real organization behind the strike (a ludicrous idea).

Section 13 and 14 say that no one can “directly or indirectly contribute” to delaying classes or denying access to them. Section 15 says student associations must employ “appropriate means” to induce their members to not directly or indirectly disrupt classes.  Offering encouragement for someone to protest at a school, either tacitly or otherwise, is subject to punishment.

Article 29 had stated that whoever by act or “omission”, “help […] or induces another person to commit an offense” commits the offense itself.  The term omission was withdrawn after an amendment however.

There are increased powers granted to the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport. The Minister may order an educational institution, notwithstanding any contrary provision, to stop collecting student association fees.

If there is a demonstration that is unauthorized, the fine will be:

  • $1,000-$5,000 for individual protesters;
  • $7,000-$35,000 for organizers;
  • $25,000-$125,000 for student associations;
  • If the ‘offence’ is repeated, the fines will double for each ‘offence’;
  • If one class is lost in a university because of a demonstration, or any action, the student association will loose the equivalent of a semester of student fees as well as its office space.
  • Police can break up `un-authorized` assemblies of larger than 50 students/people
  • Fines also apply to the labour movement if it actively supports the students

The bill also removes the legal requirement for colleges to deliver 82 days of classes to complete a session, giving colleges the power to change their schedule.

You can download the law in here in French and here in English.

Analysis by the Quebec Bar Association

Several sections of the bill clearly limit the right to peaceful protest and, the Bar Association fears, violates our basic rights. The law:

  • Limits freedom of expression by making spontaneous protests very difficult;
  • Provisions apply to any person, organization or group and even provides that persons participating in a demonstration without having organized it, must ensure that the event is consistent with information provided to police.
  • The severe financial penalties imposed on associations will also limit the freedom of association and could affect the survival of the student bodies.

The reverse onus of proof makes student associations and unions responsible for acts committed by others and they have no connection to:

  • With this arrangement, the government departs from the rules of the Civil Code .
  • Student associations and unions are not the employers of their members and have no enforcement power over them.
  • It is therefore contrary to the basic principles of civil liability to make them responsible for the actions of others that we have not proven their effective participation in wrongdoing
The Powers in this law that exceed those of the National Assembly:
  • The bill provides, as the Minister may by decree, bypassing the National Assembly, excluding the application of laws or regulations
  • Severe penal provisions against young people will have the effect, in particular, to discourage young people to join and participate in peaceful protest or organize.
  • These provisions, like that going beyond the Code of Civil Procedure to facilitate class actions, will result in excessively judicialize discussions
  • Several provisions in the bill violate the principle of the rule of law, which requires that, in an effort that the two legal systems of common law and civil law in Quebec be proportional, the common law in the presence of a convincing justification.

What People Are Saying

Enraged students burn a copy of Bill 78 at a midnight demo, yesterday, in Montreal

“By going ahead with this law, Jean Charest adds fuel to the fire. To resolve the situation, he must have a discussion with the elected representatives of students. We can not impose the dictates of a party (on) the youth of a nation. The government (has) made a declaration of war in the student movement! It’s worse than the rise in tuition.” -Martine Desjardins, president of the FEUQ.

“The protests will continue and we are not excluding the possibility of disobeying the law. Sometimes when you are facing this kind of action, that is the only response,” -Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the leader of CLASSE.

“This legislation aims to eventually kill the student associations, but also to silence the expression of a people,” he said. “The Quebec government is using a crisis, that they (actually) caused, to turn every social movement of civic expression into a crime. It transforms a state that has a tradition of being open into police state.” -Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of the FECQ

“I believe this bill, if passed, constitutes a violation of the constitutional and fundamental rights of citizens. The extent of these limitations to fundamental freedoms is not justified to achieve the objectives of the government. Who will still dare to protest?” -Louis Masson, E. of the Quebec Bar Association. 

“Taking away the right to political expression is an affront to democracy.  This law must be defeated both in the courts and in the streets. Students across Canada are giving their full support to the movement in Québec in their continued struggle for accessible education.” -Roxanne Dubois, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.

“It is very clear, since the filing of this special bill yesterday, that the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, is neither the Prime Minister of the youth nor of negotiation, but rather that he is using all the bearings of repression… (They) is so virulently attack the teachers, teachers, es-loaded courses and support staff of colleges and universities, treating them as nothing more than bandits and designed as if they were off work. (…) “We feel that by his bill, the government goes far beyond the issue of the students. Once passed, the legislation could apply to any event, even those involving conflicts in the private sector or those with social characters. But, more importantly, this project gives us the wrong impression that it seeks to protect, above all, is the absence of spontaneous demonstration at the next election.” -joint statement by the Quebec Federation of Labour/FTQ, Confederation of National Trade Unions/CSN, and the Quebec House of Labour/CSQ.

“This law is worthy of a banana republic.” -Réjean Parent, the president of the Centrale des syndicats du Quebec.

“It’s the worst law that I’ve ever seen, except for the War Measures Act,” -Prof. Lucie Lemonde, a law professor at UQAM

“What if we won the Stanley Cup and poured out onto the streets to celebrate? Illegal, under this law.” –Sue Montgomery, Montreal Gazette

“Just days after a stinging indictment of the widespread repression that took place in Toronto during the G20 (summit), the Charest government in Quebec seems intent on outdoing the largest violation of civil liberties in Canadian history with its introduction of Bill 78.” -Council of Canadians

And from the Class Opponent….

“Certainly, with the (students) non-compliance with the instructions the recieved last week, the bill must include measures strong enough to generate disincentives. Especially since, beyond the good intentions of potential stakeholders, (the law) will splinter groups whose strategy is to create and maintain chaos and intimidation,” -Employers Association of Quebec/CPQ.

“They speak of freedom of association; they were silent on the right to education.” –Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier

“Canada has no “freedom of assembly” in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has a “freedom of peaceful assembly.” … The Quebec government of Jean Charest has a duty to bring the province under control, and the law it has proposed would, with some tweaking, be a fair and constitutionally permissible means of doing so.  … The proposed law to keep protesters 50 metres away from any campus building is not much different from court orders that protect the safe access of patients and doctors to abortion clinics.” -Globe Editorial Board, Globe and Mail newspaper
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