#7 Update May 21, 2012 – The Politics of Civil Disobedience – Bill 78

After 14 weeks of student unrest, boycotts, demonstrations and strikes, it is reasonable for citizens of Quebec to wish for the conflict to come to a just and fair resolution. To arrive at closure, you need to demonstrate good faith in negotiating with the student federations. The Minister of Education, Line Beauchamp waited and only made this attempt in the 13th week of the student protest. Nothing substantial to address the issues with the privatisation of education was offered. Students rejected what was meant to be a beginning of negotiations. Minister Beauchamp then resigned.

The conflict worsened with continued confrontations with police agencies. Even with injunctions in hand, Executive Directors for many of the Quebec colleges, refused to permit the continuation of classes. Given safety issues, how would an injunction resolve the protests being moved from the street and into classrooms and school hallways? Injunctions, legally procured, have not brought any closure. They did not work.

The Charest government’s response with the passage of Bill 78 will not bring an end to conflict either. Worse, as the past few nights of demonstrations have shown, the government’s action appears to have only aggravated the already tense situation. What has gone wrong?

To begin with, Bill 78 has been judged by many to be a repressive and ill-conceived law, one that sidesteps nearly all the issues that brought about the student action in favour of draconian measures designed to shut them down. Under the guise of a “time out” the government has presented not just the students, but all Quebec citizens with a law that strips away our fundamental freedoms: freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process. Critics of the law are many.

From The Globe & Mail:

“This Bill infringes many of the fundamental rights of our citizens. The basis of a democracy is the rule of law. We must respect the law. We must also respect fundamental freedoms, like the freedom to protest peacefully, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association,” Quebec Bar Association President and Bâtonnier Louis Masson, said in an interview. (May 20, 2012, Globe and Mail).

Lucie Lemonde, a law professor at Université du Québec à Montréal, said Friday that she was stunned by how far the Bill reaches, including a requirement to report to police in advance of any public demonstration that will take place that involves over 50 people (up from 10, as the Bill initially required).

“It’s the worst law that I’ve ever seen, except for the War Measures Act,” said Prof. Lemonde, referring to the notorious federal law imposed in Quebec in 1970 after the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped and killed political figures and ordinary citizens. (May 20, 2012, Globe and Mail)

“If we are no longer able to protest in our society, it becomes a totalitarian society,” said Louis Roy, head of the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN), which represents most university and college teachers in the province. “We are telling our members to defend their fundamental right, the right to demonstrate,” he added.

One of the spokespeople for the organization representing the majority of the 155,000 students on strike said they may participate in civil disobedience to challenge the law. “[We] are not excluding the possibility of disobeying this special law,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson with the Enlarged Coalition of the Association for a Solidarity Among Student Unions (CLASSE).

Even those who support the law, such as the Conseil du Patronat du Québec, have expressed concerns that is does not actually lead Quebec out of the tuition fee impasse. On CBC Radio Montreal on Friday, May 18, 2012, the head of the business Council said that “the government still has not presented a solution to actually end the student strike”. We agree.

From Le Devoir:

A Léger Marketing poll published May 11 reported that 71 per cent of those interviewed think the government has “mismanaged” the conflict. Another Léger poll found that Francophones (more than 80 per cent of the province’s population) and those under 55 years of age tended to hold the government and not the student associations responsible for the failure to settle the crisis. (Le Devoir, May 12, 2012)

The portrayal of the students’ struggle as a self-serving attempt to avoid paying “their fair share” of education expenses is falling flat on its face. As Michel David columnist for the Le Devoir  concluded “If so many young people are prepared to sacrifice their session, it is manifestly because they feel they are defending a cause that goes beyond their individual interests.” (Le Devoir, May 12, 2012)

This Tuesday, May 22nd, the one hundredth day of the strike, another very large demonstration is planned.  Quebec labour associations have expressed their support for the May 22 action and for challenging the regulations contained in Bill 78. The protests are now moving further and further away from dialogue, discussion, and negotiations and moving into the politics of civil disobedience.  By participating in the very large demonstration, to avoid potential fines we advise you, for the sole purpose of our legal obligations, not to cancel classes in order to attend the demonstration and not get involved in any actions that would hinder students from attending their classes or prevent the normal operations of an educational institution.

What does this mean for us as faculty?

If you would like to read Bill 78, the French/English texts are on the following sites.


Petition to Rescind Bill 78

If you are opposed to Bill 78 and would like it rescinded, you can sign the following petition. The legal clinic JuriPop has been mandated by FECQ to request an annulment of this law because of its unconstitutional basis. If you want to add your name to the request please go fill the form here

Faculty Town Hall Meeting – Friday, June 1, 2012 at 12 noon

The Association is organizing another Faculty Town Hall to take place on Friday, June 1, 2012 at 12 noon so that full and part-time faculty can discuss Bill 78 and it’s implications for us as faculty members.

If you are interested in attending please communicate with CUPFA (cupfa@alcor.concordia.ca).

David Douglas, Chair of Communications, CUPFA Executive