Quebec Premier Jean Charest is dropping in the polls, but in the face of a fierce challenge by the Parti Quebecois, he is standing by Bill 78. The bill was enacted by the Liberal government to try to silence student protesters who have taken to the streets to fight tuition increases in the province.
The bill was passed in the National Assembly in late May. It places restrictions on how people are allowed to gather for demonstrations, and allows for students to be fined up to $125,000 for preventing someone from entering a school building – a reaction to those students who were filing injunctions to try and get back to their classes.
The Quebec Bar Association called the bill a breach to the fundamental constitutional rights of the protesters. Students who are opposed to the strike action spoke out against the restrictions in Bill 78. In July, a Quebec human rights commission ruled that the bill violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but limiting freedom of conscience, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful reunion. Despite all this, Charest says he will not repeal the bill if he wins the September 4 election. The Bill is set to expire in July of 2013.
It’s an odd move for Charest, who is very much at risk of losing government as long as students get out the vote. He appears to be betting on the anger of those Quebecers whose lives have been disrupted by protest actions. The students have blocked bridges and filled streets in their effort to be heard.
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois stands with the students, promising that her party would stop the tuition increases within 100 days of forming government. One of the protest organizers, Leo Bureau-Blouin, is actually running for the PQ in the election. Charest has accused Marois of supporting the violent acts of some student protesters.
Students have been skipping classes and disrupting traffic since February 2012 and the protests have been growing consistently. In fact, Bill 78 may well have spurred more people to join the pickets to protest the attack on free speech. Lawyers for the protesting student groups told the Montreal Gazette that they intend to fight the bill at the Supreme Court level sometime in the fall or winter.
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