To me, one of the most disturbing provisions of Bill 78, Quebec’s new law criminalizing participation in the province’s ongoing student strike, is one that has received virtually no attention in the media. Here’s an excerpt from the English-language version of Section 18:
“If the [Education] Minister notes that [a college or university] is unable to deliver instructional services as a result of a failure by a student association to comply with an obligation imposed by this Act, the Minister may … order the institution to cease collecting the assessment established by the student association or any successor student association and to cease providing premises, furniture, notice boards, and display stands to the student association or any successor student association free of charge.
“The cessation is effective for a period equal to one term per day or part of a day during which the institution was unable to provide instructional services as a result of the failure to comply.”
What does this mean? It means that if Quebec’s education minister concludes that a campus student association contributed to a disruption of classes, he or she will have the power to cut that student association’s funding, at a rate of one semester’s funding for every day (or part of a day) disrupted.
So let’s say that at four o’clock one afternoon the provincial government announces a new tuition hike, and the student association calls a rally that evening. Because Bill 78 requires organizers of any protest to provide police with eight hours notice, the rally — even if it’s peaceful and non-disruptive — represents “a failure by a student association to comply with an obligation imposed by” the law.
And let’s say that as the rally is breaking up, a group of students decide, on their own, to march off campus. They take over a street, causing a traffic jam. A professor gets caught in that traffic jam and can’t make it to class. That professor is thus rendered “unable to to deliver instructional services.”
According to the text of the law, that student association could have its student activity fee funds withheld for an entire semester. All funds, for all the association’s activities, gone.
And note how quickly the length of the suspensions mount. If, say, a student association officer calls for a blockade that drags on for two weeks, and the Education Minister finds the student association liable, that student association would see its funds withheld for seven years.
For the next seven years, that campus would — because of the actions of one officer — have no student association funding whatsoever. No money for officer stipends, or support staff, or printing. No office space, no speakers or concerts or other programming. And any clubs funded through the association would be similarly cut off — the women’s center, the cultural unions, the chess club. All gone.
And under the law the students of the campus would be prohibited from establishing another student association to replace the one they’ve lost. If a group of students, years later, after everyone involved in the original incident had long since graduated, wanted to set up a new student association, and the students of the campus voted overwhelmingly to fund the new group through their fees, they wouldn’t be allowed to.
Like so much in this law, it’s really quite astonishing.