How Close to Anarchism has Loi 78 Taken Us?

Montreal student protesters send police a map of their march
Montreal student protesters send police a map of their march

It’s been over 100 days now since the student strike started and the pressure seems to finally be weighing on some of the stakeholders who were hoping they could just legislate it away. Charest just had to replace his chief of staff in hopes of finding a resolution before protestors run amok of festival season and the tourist dollars it brings in, and what other choice did he have?

Since enacting la loi spéciale, things have only gotten worse: there are choppers in the wire constantly, pedestrians have been pepper sprayed, there’s been over 1500 arrests (maybe more by the time this publishes), and flash mobs of pot-banging malcontents now roam the streets nightly.

It makes you wonder whether this city is slipping slowly into anarchy.

Rethinking Anarchy

When most people think of anarchy, they picture a post-apocalyptic dystopia where roaming bands of armed steam punks rape, pillage and plunder their way through radioactive wastelands. When a lot of Montrealers picture an anarchist, they think of unemployed artists and activists who belong to co-ops and show up at anti-police-brutality demonstrations to put-on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the truth of the matter is all that an anarchist really is, is someone who weighs the merits (moral and otherwise) of a law for themselves before deciding whether to obey it. For the most part, in fact, most anarchists obey most laws most of the time. They just tend to stand up and speak out against laws that they deem immoral and/or unlikely to yield their intended outcome.

In short: anarchists don’t necessarily want to abolish the state or the rule of law (some, admittedly, do); they just don’t accept a law as legal just because some government said so.

How Loi 78 Backfired

Okay, so there’s been plenty written and said about how la loi spéciale runs amok of justice and our democratic rights. But where it really backfired was in how it’s not only proven useless at preventing public uprisings, but also helped the student movement win some popular support that it was previously lacking.

Supporters of la loi spéciale contend that these are special measures, after all, intended to be applied in specific circumstances — such as when a groups of young rowdies with red squares start throwing rocks at the cops. But aside from how that’s not exactly how it’s been applied, it’s also been a reminder to many people just how stubborn a corrupt government with mafia ties can be when it wants a quick fix to a public problem of mass opposition.

For instance, la loi makes it illegal to wear a ski mask but not a niqab, or a little red square but not gang colours, and that kind of arbitrariness makes people nervous. It reminds us just how easily governments can legislate away our basic democratic freedoms (and democracy in the process) when it’s too lazy or stubborn to address them.

So while a lot of people don’t agree with the students (and are fed up with how far some have gone), many of them are starting to offer their support to students (by wearing the red square or banging on pots and pans). In other words, it caused a lot of people to reassess the legitimacy of the law based on both its moral merits and actual outcomes, and that kind of individual free-thinking is bringing Montreal (and Quebec) masses that much closer to anarchism than many of them probably realize or would like to admit.

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