Issue 03, Volume 85
May 30, 2012
The right to protest is enshrined in the Charter, but what happens when government decides that continued dissent is no longer acceptable?
“Peaceful Protest,” is a slogan that resonated throughout the world last year as the global Occupy movement spread across the globe. A hallmark of democracies, the right to protest is embedded in our cultural consciousness and our democratic method. But when does protest evolve from a right to a nuisance? What happens when the groups that are upset are unwilling to relinquish their right to air their grievances? What happens when government decides that continued dissent is not
productive for a community?
In Montreal roughly 400,000 students, union members and leaders, activists others have taken to the streets to protest the government’s crackdown on the initial students’ right to protest post-secondary tuition increases.
Indeed, the protest initially found its roots at the fact that the government was going to raise tuition fees by 75 per cent. It is essential to note that Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in the country, and even with the proposed increase, the fees would have been comparable to those of the 1960s. Also, an entirely government subsidized plan for post-secondary education has resonated deep within the bowels of the socialistic mindset of Quebec since the 1960s.
Quebec students saw the government attempting to renege on a promise they believe embodied everything that was great about their socialistic province, while the government saw a student body that was unwilling to accept the fact that a global economic recession had to be dealt with austerity measures.
Quebec introduced Bill 78 on May 12, which severely limits the ability of protesters to protest legally. The draconian law – which has been labeled a “truncheon law” by its critics – was a desperate attempt by the Quebec government to quell the massive ongoing protests. It’s been heralded as the second most oppressive bill in Canadian history, just falling short of the War Measures Act, which declared martial law across the nation.
While the bill suspended the remainder of the semester, it also contained some radical provisions which arguably infringe upon the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
- It requires demonstrations with more than 50 people to provide the police with the time, location and duration of the protest at least eight hours in advance; the police have the ability to modify any of these variables at any time.
- Bans protests within 50 metres of any campus.
- Student associations who do not employ “appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are themselves guilty of violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
- Imposes strict fines ranging from up to $1,000 for individuals violating the law, to $125,000 for student associations; fines double for repeat offences.
A desperate play by the government to attempt to bring down their opposition, the legislation did just the opposite: it energized and galvanized those who believe in the pesky notion of rights and freedoms.
Protest is enshrined in the collective Canadian consciousness, and it is an essential hallmark of the democratic tradition. Attempting to limit opposition by introducing draconian legislation is not a means of regaining control of a situation; rather, it typically serves as the final mechanism to ensure one is removed from office.
Like the Arab Spring before it, the Maple Spring— dubbed by international media— is likely not to end until drastic change occurs.
What will that change be? It is hard to say. What can be known for sure is that as government attempts to limit the rights and freedoms of its own citizens, those very citizens resoundingly will stand up, defy legislation and take back their rights for themselves.
Jon Liedtke was the Features and Opinions Editor, Advertising Manager and Deficit Consultant at the UWindsor Lance.