Quebec's bill 78 infringes on right to protest and freedom of expression

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Honourable Jean Charest, Premier of Québec
Édifice Honoré-Mercier, 3e étage
835, boul. René-Lévesque Est
Québec, Québec
G1A 1B4

Dear Premier:

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE strongly opposes Bill 78, the emergency law quickly passed by Québec’s National Assembly on Friday, May 18, 2012. Introduced as a means to control the growing protests in opposition to the proposed tuition hike in Québec, the bill is a serious infringement on citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The right to express oppositional views through public demonstrations is fundamental. When that right is constrained, you are constraining that critical means of expression. And while public safety must be protected as well as the rights of non-protesting students to attend school, this legislation serves to curtail the rights and freedoms of all. Although not everyone may agree with the opinions of protestors, their right to protest must be protected—because it is our right, as well.

Of the numerous problematic elements of this bill, one of the most concerning is Article 16, the requirement that police must be notified at least eight hours in advance of any public demonstration of over 50 people. Additionally, this requires each demonstration to have an explicit organizer, and along with Article 17, requires each individual participating to be aware of decisions made by police and organizers that they may have no way of knowing. Restricting the freedom of individuals to gather spontaneously, as well as placing this authority in the hands of police, is both unworkable and a fundamental infringement of Canadians’ rights.

These laws restricting citizens’ right to protest are disturbingly similar to the laws instituted in some of the most undemocratic regimes around the world. Instituting new limitations on the ways in which individuals are able to express themselves is a slippery slope, and opens the doors for abuse of power. The bill provides excessive authority to the police, and silences oppositional voices.

CJFE does not condone the violent acts that have taken place over the course of the protests. However, the acts of a select few should not be used to justify taking away the rights of the collective. Acts of vandalism and violence are already punishable under the current legal system, and should not be used as a rationale for outlawing the lawful protest by hundreds of thousands of students and supporters standing in support of their beliefs.

We ask you to stop infringing the rights of Québec citizens as a result of the actions of a few. CJFE calls upon the National Assembly to immediately revoke bill 78.

Yours sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE president

CC: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Michelle Courchesne, Québec Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports