Students challenge Quebec protest law in court
Published Friday, May 25, 2012 10:54PM EDT
Student groups in Quebec are asking the courts to suspend the law adopted last week that places restrictions on demonstrations as protests against tuition increases continue.
Lawyers representing the students, as well as major labour unions and several influential community groups, filed two motions in Superior Court Friday against Bill-78, saying it is unconstitutional and a violation of basic rights, including the right of assembly and association.
The emergency law requires protest organizers to give eight hours' notice for every demonstration, along with a full itinerary.
So far the law has only been used in Sherbrooke and Quebec City, CTV Montreal's Stephane Giroux reported.
"We are doing this because we are genuinely worried that basic important rights such as freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to hold peaceful demonstrations are being attacked," student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin told a news conference outside the courtroom.
Under the first motion filed in court Friday, portions of the law that deal with public demonstrations would be temporarily suspended. The second motion asks the court to strike down the special law.
The court is scheduled to hear the first motion next Wednesday. It could take longer to hear the second motion.
"We hope that we will obtain something, but, as you know, the judge will be the one to decide," said Giuseppe Sciortino, one of almost 500 lawyers working on the case on a voluntary basis.
Transport Minister Pierre Moreau downplayed the impact the large number of supporters would have on the case.
"I've pleaded (as a lawyer) long enough to know that what is important is not the number of applicants, it is the quality of arguments," Moreau said.
"The government took the time to prepare the law quickly. We have jurists and constitutional experts who think the law will stand."
Veronique Hivon of the Opposition Parti Quebecois seemed to have a different opinion.
"I won't speculate about their chances of success, but within 24 hours, the Quebec Bar talked about the law being unacceptable and 45 law professors signed a letter to that effect. So certainly, the violations of law are very serious," she said.
Meanwhile, students say they are still open to meeting with the government next week to try to come to an agreement over tuition fees.
"We will go and sit with the government if we have an invitation, but if the government really wants to prove its good faith and its honest intention of solving the conflict, the first thing it should do is suspend this law," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the student coalition CLASSE. "Because it's not sending a message to the student movement that it really wants to have a dialogue. It's sending the opposite message, the message that they want to repress the movement."
CLASSE continues to advocate defying the law as an act of civil disobedience, as part of a multi-pronged attack against the law, Giroux said.
On Friday night, the nightly demonstration began in Montreal as protesters marched, banging pots and pans.
Once again, police declared the demonstration illegal under a municipal bylaw because organizers didn't provide a route ahead of time. However, bad weather -- lightning and pouring rain -- seemed to deter some demonstrators.
With reports from The Canadian Press.