MONTREAL - Following months of unrest, the Quebec government passed emergency legislation aimed at putting an end to the student conflict.

Bill 78 was tabled Thursday evening and debated through the night. It passed by a vote of 68 to 48 late Friday afternoon.

The legislation is based on three main pillars: it pauses the current school year at institutions affected by strikes; imposes steep fines for anyone who tries blocking access to a school; and limits where, how, and for how long people can protest in Quebec.

Critics argue the bill goes too far, infringing on basic rights, while proponents say it was a necessary step to restore order in the province.

The bill provides for fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution. Penalties climb to between $7,000 and $35,000 for a student leader and to between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations.

The new legislation lays out strict regulations governing demonstrations, including having to give eight hours' notice for details such as the itinerary, the duration and the time at which they are being held.

Legislation slammed by PQ

PQ leader Pauline Marois called the law's passing one of the darkest moments in Quebec history.

"The darkest moment always comes before the light,'' Marois said in the moments before the vote.

"It will be time to change the government soon."

There was also criticism from Quebec's legal community. One law professor even compared the controversial Bill 78 to the now-defunct War Measures Act.

Lucie Lemonde, a professor at Universite du Quebec a Montreal, said it's the strictest law of its kind she's seen since the notorious legislation imposed in Quebec during the 1970 FLQ crisis.

Lemonde said it attacks an individual's rights to freedom of expression, association and conscience.

"We knew something was coming, but I didn't think they would use it to change the rules of the game in terms of the rights to demonstrate," he said.

The Quebec Bar also expressed concerns about the legislation. Battonier Louis Masson said it infringes on basic rights.

"These limitations can't be justified by the government's goals," he said.

There are, however, some grumblings from within the bar association that some lawyers aren't entirely opposed to the law. The head of Montreal's board of trade said he welcomes the bill as a way to calm daily student demonstrations that have hurt businesses in the city.

Students denounce move

Student leaders have also come out against the legislation.

"The government is exploiting a crisis it created to criminalize social movements, to turn a state with a tradition of openness into a police state," FECQ President Léo Bureau-Blouin said Thursday.

He described the legislation as "an excessive limitation on the right to protest," and said that its aim was to kill student associations.

Martine Desjardins of the FEUQ also slammed the bill.

"They just told young people that everything that they built over 14 weeks is a crime," she said. "The government has truly declared war on the student movement.

CAQ leader Francois Legault expressed some doubt about certain elements of the legislation, notably that it would give CEGEPs considerable flexibility to choose the date to restart the semester.

In the end, though, the Charest Liberals made some changes to the bill that led the CAQ to vote for the bill.

Courses must resume by August 17, except for at CEGEP Maisonneuve where it will return August 22 and CEGEP Ahuntsic, where classes will resume 30 August.

Those schools can make alternate agreements with their unions to come up with other dates, however.

With files from The Canadian Press.