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.

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Photo Credit: JustinLing


Abbe A.
Azaima A6 years ago

time to answer to a different kind of law

Myriam G.
Myriam G6 years ago

Dear Gertrud B,

yes, tuitions are lower in Quebec and will still be lower than Canadian average (and way lower than United States average) when the increase is in effect... but the point is not to compare ourselves with the rest of Canada or another country, the point is that people here want to keep higher education affordable for their kids. This increase will likely stop a whole group of people from even CONSIDERING going to university because of tuitions and fear of debt.

This protest is about the kind of society Quebecers want. And, it's not just the students, anymore, that are protesting. Every night, at 8 pm, in Montréal, Laval, Québec, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, and even in the smallest villages, streets are filled with people banging on pots and pans to protest the tuition increase and law 78. People of all ages, smiling, singing, sharing their views of the Québec we want to live in, talking about the kind of place we want our children to grow up in.

Catherine Bourassa
Kate B6 years ago

More innocent people have been violented by the police than the opposite, You sure have to know what You are talking about... Inform yourself. Free speach is the article number 2, regression is absurd.

Catherine Bourassa
Kate B6 years ago

This is big, it is not only about students, and thanks to them for standing up, this is for everybody here, now any manifestant can get arrested, there are already stories of people not even involved in the manifestation being violented or arrested, mistaken.. nuts! Now this is just a facade to put online their friken law 78, earlier, when doctors were out on the street, taking population in hostage by saying they could* refuse to do urgent surgeries etc. No law 78 for them, no law 78 for workers of Hydro-Québec.. why arrest 400 (yesterday's number) students mainly pacific and cry our prisons are too full? Why this ban? Wake up while that time monstruous tradings are going on under covers.. It's all about banning who ever now will oppose to their greedy projects. Charest is a pure shame.

G B6 years ago

Quebec students in Quebec pay the lowest fees in all of Canada and have for years - the proposed fee hikes are modest, spread over several years and will result in still the lowest fees in Canada - this is not a matter of free speech! The provincial government has tried to `talk reason' with the student leaders and gotten no where. Peaceful protest marches are being observed and the police have arrested people only after stones and other objects have been thrown at them or other physical damage has been done. Furthermore, a much larger portion of students are not involved and would like to continue with their studies, but are being prevented by the protestors

Gloria H.
Gloria H6 years ago

Sounds like the law is copy catting American ATTEMPTS at squelching protests. Fine the crap out of them and they will go away-? Where are the parents? They ought to be marching side by side with the students, because they will be the ones stuck with an unemployed 40 year old kid living on their couch.
When the young protest..there are a thousand reasons NOT to pay attention to what they are saying, but when adults ("voters") join....oooh! Maybe they need to be listened to!

Troy G.
Troy Grant6 years ago

In the end, progressives always beat the knuckle dragging conservatives. Otherwise we would still be burning people at the stake (now we drone them).

MEGAN N6 years ago

It isn't fair for these protesters to deny their fellow students an education. Perhaps the professors and students could arrange to meet at alternative locations to peruse their studies. That along with a lot of online communications, skype etc... and at least they could be getting something out of the tuition that they have paid for the semester.

I agree with the right to protest but more and more the protesters are affecting innocent people and they will soon find that all this will get them is ill will and less support fore their cause.

Susan T.
Susan T6 years ago

This is side by side with many new "protest" laws and military police policies here in the U.S., as a way to try to crush any protests.

While the tuition of Quebec's colleges may be a lot less than other parts of Canada, that tells me nothing about the costs of living in Quebec or the average income. An 80% increase, even spread over 5 years, is insane.

We, both in Canada and the U.S., should be highly concerned with enabling our young people to get an education without going into massive debt. Of course the corporate machine likes it better when young people are desperately in debt, because then they have fewer choices and they will do almost any job.

Leslea Herber
Leslea Herber6 years ago

The plus side... This bill will NOT survive a constitutional challenge. And frankly, anyone given these fines should be ignoring them anyway, as it's going to bite the Quebec government in the ass, as they're beyond outrageous & unrealistic. Oops, just graduated, got a half million in fines, guess I'm now bankrupt, suck it.

All they need to do is get in front of a sympathetic judge, who then issues a DNC order. Do Not Collect.

And if ANY judge deems the law unconstitutional, it'll go all the way to the top VERY quickly, where it's pretty much guaranteed to fail.

In the meantime, KEEP FIGHTING! This heavy handed tactic is proof you're getting to the bastards!