Quebec Attempts to Quash Students’ Free Speech with New Law
New legislation designed to discourage student activists from protesting failed to stop tens of thousands of college students and their allies donned in red from taking to the streets of Montreal on Tuesday, reports ABC News. The march marked 100 days of an ongoing student strike against an 80% tuition increase in Quebec.
After months of unrest, the Quebec legislature passed Bill 78 this past Friday in the hope of “restor[ing] order” to the province. Although the law has an expiration date of July 2013, its “temporary” effects are substantial, according to The Media Co-op. Not only does it place serious restrictions on how people are permitted to picket and heightened consequences for those who do, but it also “suspends” the semester for schools affected by the strike.
More specifically, students can be fined up to $125,000 for preventing people from entering a school and demonstrators must give police advanced notice of all gatherings of 10 people or more with thorough event details “in order to keep the peace and maintain order and public security.”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of striking students, said, “The bill… is authoritarian, repressive, and breaks the students’ right to strike… This is a government that prefers to… ridicule its youth rather than listen to them.” Agreeing, the Quebec Bar Association said that Bill 78 is a “limit on free speech” and “a breach to the fundamental, constitutional rights of the citizens.” Since the new law limits federally protected rights to assemble and voice dissent, it will almost certainly be contested in court.
Although the law was designed to discourage further protesting, if anything, it seemed to inspire more people to join the students in their cause. For many, this fight was no longer just about a tuition increase, but protecting their freedom of speech. Initially, Tuesday’s large march was technically legal as it was registered with the police in advance and therefore complied with Bill 78. Hoards of marchers diverted from the planned route, however, thus making the march “illegal” and the participants civilly disobedient.
Not all college students in Quebec are participating in the strike; in fact, some are actively opposing it. Some students wanting to return to class have filed legal injunctions to force their schools to reopen. Following the injunctions’ orders, police have then used batons, pepper spray, and tear gas to take down protesters’ picket lines that prevent schools from operating. Obviously, these actions have served to aggravate the situation further. Yet even Laurent Proulx, a leader of a student group that opposes the strike, voiced his disapproval of legislation banning protests, preferring that both sides reach a compromise rather than laws that attempt to kill the conversation.
For the record, Quebec’s tuition rates are the lowest in the country. In fact, they are so low that even with the massive percentage increase, tuition would still be less than all other Canadian provinces and certainly way less than educational costs in the United States.
Since the protests started 100 days ago, Canadian police have arrested around 1,000 protesters. Though representatives from both sides have met, thus far a compromise has yet to be reached.
Photo Credit: JustinLing