A few weeks ago I wrote about the student strike in Quebec and its importance. Now it seems after months of ignoring student demands to rescind planned tuition hikes, the Charest Government has gone from keeping its ears closed to students to putting a zipper on the mouths of everyone.
Bill 78, the emergency law passed by the Liberal government of Quebec last Friday is one of the most anti-democratic laws I’ve seen pass at a provincial or federal level. It is only a step or two away from the declaration of martial law.
Part 16 of the new law puts in place strict regulations governing demonstrations of over 50 people. Protest organizers must now inform authorities eight hours in advance the start time, the location and the duration of the protest.
For some people this measure might not seem too extreme on the surface, however most media outlets are not reporting the subtext of the law. Upon receiving the information about the planned protest, authorities are allowed to require a change of venue as a matter of public security. Protest organizers must then resubmit their plans. There is nothing to prevent authorities from continually asking for a change of venue.
While this emergency measure can be seen as directed toward students, it can also be applied to unions and organizations of all stripes. Imagine striking manufacturing workers not allowed to protest in front of their place of work… or protest at all for that matter.
I don’t think people yet realize the implications of Bill 78, the anti-protest rules and the penalties they may incur should the rules be broken. Bypassing this law can lead up to a $5000 fine for individuals, up to $35 000 for senior officers or high rank representatives of organizations and up to $125 000 for the organizations themselves (such as unions).
Quebec Premier Jean Charest was clearly not in his right mind when he concocted this draconian anti-democratic bill. In a Democracy, when you take away the right to speak out, the voices get louder, they don’t grow quieter.
If Charest thought this law would simmer things down he got a rude wake up call the very night the law was passed. In fact, with this law being passed, Charest in effect upped the ante on his war with the students. Now the only way students can effectively fight back is through more civil disobedience, actions this new law was meant to quash.
Despite the harsh penalties, students are still coming out on a daily/nightly basis in the thousands and continue to draw support from across Quebec and beyond. Labour Unions are now poised to join the fight, Arcade Fire wore the now famous red squares on SNL, Michael Moore tweeted about the protests on Saturday night, etc.
Quebecers are already among the most taxed citizens on the continent while non-manufacturing corporations in the province are among those who pay the least, which in itself is worth protesting. Tuition is quite simply a tax on education paid by young people who are not yet in the work force, thus continues the Quebec tradition of taxing the ordinary man and not the corporate machine.
There should be more than just students on the streets.