Quebec’s legislature, shaken by the province’s ongoing student strike, is now debating passage of an emergency anti-protest law that the chair of the Quebec bar association calls “a breach to the fundamental, constitutional rights” of its citizens.

The legislation, known as Bill 78, would mandate an end to the strike, impose extraordinary restrictions on demonstrations and impel local student associations to prevent their members from engaging in illegal protest. It would impose harsh fines for violations of provisions one legal experts say “are written so vaguely they’re impossible to respect,” while threatening student activists with the dissolution of their student unions in the case of non-compliance.

Key provisions of the bill as presented to the legislature:

  • All classes at campuses currently participating in the student strike will be immediately suspended, with the remainder of the spring semester delayed until August.
  • It would become a crime for an individual or organization to “directly or indirectly contribute” to the blocking of a campus, with those terms left undefined in the bill. Organizations would be held responsible for the actions of their members in this regard, whether those members were acting with organizational sanction or not.
  • Student associations and federations would be required to “employ appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law.
  • Student associations and regional federations that violated the law would have their funding and use of campus facilities cut for one semester for each day of campus closure.
  • Campuses whose student associations were shuttered under this provision would not be permitted to establish interim associations while the suspensions were in place.
  • “Any form of gathering that could result” in an interference with the functioning of a college would be banned at all campuses, and for a 50-meter radius surrounding them.
  • Organizers of any demonstration larger than ten people would be required to submit the time, location, duration, and other information to the police eight hours in advance. The police would have the authority to amend any of the proposed parameters.
  • Organizers of such demonstrations would be held criminally liable if the demonstrators deviated from police-approved parameters, as would associations participating in such demonstrations, even if they were not the organizers.
  • Students who violated the act could be fined as much as $5,000. Representatives of student groups that did so could face personal fines of as much as $35,000. Organizations violating the act could face fines of up to $125,000.All such fines would be doubled for subsequent offenses.


3:20 pm update | The president of Quebec’s largest faculty union says the implementation of Bill 78 would make the province “a totalitarian society.”

3:40 pm | An open letter from a group of prominent Quebecois historians says Bill 78 “calls into question the principle of the rule of law.” (Link in French, Google translation here.)

3:45 pm | According to activist Kevin Harding, Quebec’s education minister was asked this afternoon whether wearing the red square fabric swatches that have been adopted by activists as a symbol of the student strike would constitute a violation of Bill 78. Her reply? “I trust our prosecutors and judges.”

That’s not a no. That’s quite pointedly not a no.

5:20 pm | Multiple reports on Twitter say the law has passed, and that it wasn’t even close — 68-48. Fasten your seat belts.

6:20 pm | It’s not immediately clear when the law will go into effect, but if it’s anytime in the near future, I expect large-scale mass defiance of the demonstration-notice provisions in the first day. In other news, tweets from @GadflyQuebec indicate that there were some amendments to the bill prior to the vote, but that the core provisions remain intact. More when I get it.

6:55 pm | According to this, ten amendments were made before the bill’s passage, including one that raised the threshold at which a demonstration needs to be cleared with the police from ten participants to fifty. (Link in French, Google translation here.)

Saturday | According to the website of the Quebec legislature, Bill 78 was put into effect yesterday night. It’s still not completely clear what the final text of the law is, though, because as of now the formal public version of the bill includes nine pages of hand-written amendments, some of which are considerably less legible than others. As I noted in a follow-up post, this is an embarrassment.