On Campus

Back-to-school bill "a declaration of war"

Intense debate in Quebec's National Assembly

Sweeping legislation to get students back to classes while restoring order to Montreal is being debated again today in the Quebec’s National Assembly after a marathon session last night.

If Bill 78 is made law, police could fine student groups, labour union officials, and individuals who prevent an enrolled student from attending classes at a university or CEGEP. Despite court injunctions, protesters have frequently blocked students from legally attending classes this year. On Wednesday, protesters stormed into UQAM where some stood on desks shouting “scabs.”

Demonstrations within 50 metres of a higher education institution would fall under the act.

The law would also require people organizing a demonstration of 50 or more to inform police eight hours in advance. They would also need to provide certain details of their plans.

Individuals who violate the law would be fined $1,000 to $5,000 per day. Student leaders would face fines of up to $35,000. Student and labour union employees could be charged up to $125,000.

The law would suspend the current term at the 14 CEGEPs and 11 universities where classes have been most disrupted by the tuition-fee dispute. Classes would resume by Aug. 17 at the latest, although they may resume as early as Aug. 1. The bill also opens the door to shortened semesters.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, leader of the student group CLASSE, called it a “declaration of war.” Martine Desjardins, of university group FEUC, concurred: “this is actually a declaration of war… not only against the student movement, but it restricted the liberty of speech, the liberty of association.”

Stéphane Beaulac, a constitutional expert at the University of Montreal, told CBC News that he thinks the law could withstand a constitutional challenge. “On the face of it, it does not constitute in my view blatant infringement of freedom of association, freedom of expression,” he said.

Perhaps most interesting to students who don’t support the protests is that they will no longer be required to make any financial contributions to student associations and a federation could lose all its funding, by order of the minister of education, if it has failed to comply with the new law.

Large protests on Thursday took place without the violence and arrests that have been common during the past 14 weeks of intense protest against a tuition hike of $1,778 over seven years. A big gathering is expected on Tuesday, which will mark the 100 days of intense demonstrations.