Thursday, May 17, 2012

Québec premier attempts to smash student protests with tough new restrictions

Tonight, in a special session of the National Assembly (Québec's provincial legislature), Premier Jean Charest (pictured at right) enacted tough new restrictions on student protests:

-- Anyone planning a protest must inform police as to the route at least eight hours in advance. Anyone participating in the protest is responsible for ensuring that they do not deviate from the plan filed with police.

-- Protests on university campuses are forbidden. Protesters cannot come within 50 m of the campus perimeter.

Penalties for violating these laws will be extremely severe. Fines will start at $1,000 and go up to $5,000 for individuals. Individual organizers will face fines of $7,000-$35,000 per day. Organizations themselves will face fines which range from $25,000-$125,000 per day.

It is true that legal student protest has caused substantial social disruption in Montreal and across Québec. Still, this law seems unduly restrictive of civil liberties. If I want to march in a protest and the protest deviates from the planned route, or if I wish to protest without informing police, or if I want to protest peacefully on a university campus, why should I be punished so severely? These are legitimate means of expressing dissent in a democratic society.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not particularly freedom loving (take a look at Section 1 of it, for example), but I wonder whether a law like this is constitutional. I'm not the only one wondering about this, incidentally. The government's strategy is probably simply to enact it and hope that any court challenges will come too late to make a difference.

It's also worth mentioning that the Montreal police anti-corruption "Hammer Squad" (Escouade Marteau) made a lot of arrests today. Former number two man at Montreal city hall Frank Zampino, construction magnate Paulo Catania, and the Mayor's former director of fundraising, Bernard Trépanier (aka Mr. 3%), were all taken into custody. Québec may no longer have a major league baseball team, but it certainly has a major league corruption problem, and there have been strong indications over the last few years that this problem does not stop at the City of Montreal but also infects the provincial government itself. Although it would probably go too far to say that the student crisis has been good for the government, it has certainly served to distract voters from the endless series of corruption investigations.

At the end of the day, we can say that the Québec Liberal government is very tough on protest organizers but perhaps a little less tough on organized criminals. As I detailed in my last post, it's possible to hang out with the education minister if you're a generous member of the mafia, but such levels of bonhomie for students have been more elusive.


Ben said...

All Charest needs to do now is utter "Just watch me".


Captain said...

Let's not forget that Mister Catania recently bought an old convent from UdeM in a sweetheart deal.

The university had acquired the building for a song from the sisters, who essentially would have otherwise faced eminent domain to acquire the building. They then decided that they didn't need the building after all but they had an interested buyer, so they sold it for use as luxury condos despite a caveat that the building be used for educational purposes.

Another example of our institutions being infected. The public university is no stranger to corruption.
Heaven help us if it were to allow students to organise a rally on campus.