Student groups head to court to overthrow Bill 78
Published Friday, May 25, 2012 12:54PM EDT
MONTREAL - Protests against the Charest government are moving into the courtroom.
On Friday the largest student groups filed motions against Bill 78, the emergency legislation passed last week after protesters stormed classrooms at UQAM.
Lawyers say the law violates the Charter and basic human rights because of its restrictions on freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and changes made to the burden proof for those arrested.
The motions will be heard next Wednesday in Quebec Superior Court.
"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," said Leo Bureau-Blouin, the leader of the CEGEP federation FECQ.
Some of Quebec's largest labour groups, along with many community groups, are supporting student associations in their motion.
The motions are two-pronged. The first asks for a suspension of the law while the court challenge is taking place, and the second asks for the entire law to be thrown out as unconstitutional.
The provincial government has reached out to FECQ, FEUQ and CLASSE and negotiations are scheduled to begin next week.
All three student groups have agreed to participate in talks, and even though they would like to see Bill 78 rescinded, they have not made it a condition of participating.
"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 real intention, its honest intentions -- I think the first thing they should do is suspend the law because it's not sending a message to the movement that you want a dialogue," said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for CLASSE.
In the meantime CLASSE says it will not stop with its nightly protests in defiance of Bill 78.
Police in Montreal say that, to date, nobody has been detained for violating Bill 78, and that all arrests made have been for criminal acts, or for violations of a municipal bylaw passed last week.
Is a solution possible?
After 103 days of conflict and protest political observers don't think that any negotiation can succeed.
In fact it's evident that Bill 78, designed to create a cooling off period, had the complete opposite effect.
"Last night was a prime example it came from all over the city," said former MP Jean Lapierre, saying the 'casserole' protests where people bang pots and pans are now happening across Quebec including places like Granby "where students didn't even vote for the strike."
Gazette columnist Don Macpherson says every step it makes, the government has shown it's flying by the seat of its pants.
"Their plan 'A' was Bill 78 and they have no plan 'B' and that has become pretty clear... This appears to be a government in disarray," said Macpherson.
Lapierre does not have much hope for next week's talks between students and the government.
"The government can't [make concessions] but it's lost control," said Lapierre. "If the negotiations fail, and I think it's bound to fail in a way, then you say we have a moratorium and people will decide in the next election."
Don Macpherson thinks that any government which makes concessions will see every future conflict in Quebec be determined by the mob.
"The problem is now every concession that they make to the students or to anybody else would be a concession that is intended in response to the threat of disruptions and violence and intimidation," said Macpherson.
But he thinks even concessions like a moratorium would not be enough.
"Neither the government nor anybody else has any solution to this short of the resignation of Jean Charest. I think we've reached the point where it would take that in order to clear the streets."