Quebec Government Tries To Squash Student Protests With Draconian Criminal Law

Students in Quebec have been protesting tuition hikes (sound familiar?) en masse lately, facing, as this open letter puts it, "beatings, tear gas, rubber bullets, and arrest." (Sound doubly familiar?) In part, the government wants students to pay fees up-front, whereas students find this prohibitive and wish instead to pay them through taxes over their lifetime, when they are actually employed. This makes logical sense, but the Quebec government isn't having it—and they've made moves to totally squash all protest with legislation that experts say curbs fundamental rights. The Globe and Mail:

Bill 78, which lawmakers debated during an all-night session after Premier Jean Charest’s government tabled it Thursday evening, sets multiple requirements on public demonstrations and threatens stiff penalties to people who disrupt college and university classes.

The legislation, which passed by a vote of 68-48, has a time limit, expiring on July 1, 2013. It wasn’t clear when the law would be signed into force by the lieutenant-governor.

While all of Quebec was debating the province’s emergency legislation, Montreal city council quietly passed a bylaw banning masks during protests.

Despite the laws' intended effects, however, students and supporters have vowed to continue protesting, doubly fueled by the original tuition protests and the unjust rule. (There will be a protest in solidarity in New York this Tuesday at 2 PM ET, more info here.) And its implications are farther reaching than just criminalizing protest, as Aaron Bady argues:

In a way, it’s actually a lot worse than explicitly making protest illegal, because that would at least be a law that could be consistently applied. If you want to argue that society must be defended, do so. Because then, at least, the principle of legality would still exist. What this is, and should be seen as, is an expressed commitment on the part of the Québec government to put into place whatever legal mechanisms are necessary to stop a specific set of protest. If you want to argue that a specific law is necessitated by some kind of universal principle, you cannot then change basic principles to match the perceived needs of the moment without admitting, pretty clearly, that principles are irrelevant, window dressing, the lipstick you put on the pig when it’s not being slaughtered.

Here's a more detailed piece about the law. Showing solidarity with the Quebecois is both a matter of principle, and of necessity. 


AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at May 22, 2012, 6:12am

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