QC Premier Has No Regrets After Cutting Free Speech

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.

Related Stories:

Quebec Headed To Polls: Charest Calls It For September 4

Quebec Attempts To Quash Students Free Speech With New Law

Tuition Protests In Quebec: Entitlement Mentality or Legitimate Outrage

Photo Credit: shahk


Stanley B.
Stanley Balgobin5 years ago

Canada used to be a wonderful country, before the Harper right wing scum turned it into a Corporate US imitation society.

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian5 years ago

For the tuition, there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue:

Even after the tuition-hike, Quebec students would still have it better than those anywhere else in Canada. The numbers are very much not on their side, and a close look actually paints a worse picture for their case than a quick glance. Despite the extremely high subsidies, students at Quebec universities tend to come even more disproportionately from wealth families than do those elsewhere.

On the other hand, conservatives have been saying for ages that we are building massive debts and leaving the next generation to repay them. This is exactly what is happening with the tuition. It was over-subsidized for far too long, and now the government is out of money and the schools are all in the red. This is why I am seriously looking at sending a gift of a little over $3,000 to McGill, where I did my undergrad, to account for the extra tuition I should have paid and inflation since then.

Regarding the free speech issue, while everybody should ideally have a right to peaceful assembly and speech, there was so much violent and disruptive activity that gatherings of students could no longer be trusted to remain peaceful. That is the point at which the right to peaceful assembly is forfeit. I don't like it and, as Mary points out, with subtleties lost in the passing it sets a dangerous precedent, but at some point things had to be stopped.

Michael O.
Michael O5 years ago

I agree with Stephen B. on this one. While I am usually a supporter of the Québec Liberal Party, this current government has been in power for far too long and reeks of corruption. We need a change, but I cannot bring myself to vote for the separatist Parti Québecois. I will vote for one of the other parties on September 4, for nothing more than to send a message to the Liberals that voters on the island of Montreal will not be taken for granted.

Juliet Defarge
judith sanders5 years ago

Good for the students. They understand that pig-headed isolationism and reactionary politics is not the way to preserve Quebecois culture, and certainly not the way to give them a bright future.

Angel Campbell
Angel Campbell5 years ago


David Harrison
David Harrison5 years ago

@ Michael K. Mary L. (above you) is quite right to say "Silence one group and then silence more". The reason it's important that individual rights to free speech are protected is that the same law which is used against people you disagree with, in this case students, can be used against you on an issue you feel strongly about.

Rights are not cut in one hefty blow, it would be too obvious and everyone could see what's happening. Instead they are salami sliced. Each slice is so apparantly insignificant that it either passes under the radar or people actually support it because those it is initially targetted against (and their actions) are not popular. And, one day, you turn around and find that the right you once had in practice is now only a right only in theory.

Linda Rust
Past Member 5 years ago

I can't believe that anyone on this site would support the suppression of the right to free speech, and the right for citizens to congregate in a peaceful manner in order to express their opinions. Student protest is a very strong force for change, young people have a lot to lose when they look at their lives, which are just beginning, and see obstacles which prevent them from having even a chance to create a positive life for themselves. Shame on everyone here who expresses support for fascist government measures to silence the opposition to their policies.
Don't any of you remember the anti-war movement of the 60's? It was the young people, with their true and idealistic view of human justice, who brought about the end of that useless and inhumane slaughter of many lives, both American and South-east Asian. People in a democracy should always be allowed to speak. A true patriot strives to make their government true to the values of the people they are supposed to represent. Sometimes, that can't be achieved through silence or acceptance. The very essence of any democracy depends on the citizens' right to free speech.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

Silence one group and then silence more. Sounds familiar. Totalitarianism is on the rise.

Michael Kirkby
.5 years ago

I have no regrets in expressing my lack of empathy for these students who live in the most socialist province subsidized by the rest of the provinces; who also pay the lowest tuitions across Canada and who are quick to criticize the rest of us. Boo hoo, hoo you spoiled little jerks. Even with the increase their tuition costs would still be the lowest in Canada. Try paying what American students pay. I'm no fan but merci beaucoup Mr. Charest.

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian5 years ago

The trouble in Quebec is the same as it has been for the last 30 years. With the Liberals and the PQ dominating the votes, whether with their bases or with people voting to keep the other out of office, the only issue of the election is sovereignty. People don't even look at the economy, state of healthcare, or anything else. That is why I support one of the federalist minor third parties. I don't expect it to actually beat the Liberals, but it may force them to actually govern effectively in order to keep winning.