Quebec swiftly passes new bill to prohibit anti-vaccine protests near schools, hospitals
MONTREAL -- After just a few hours of debate, Quebec's National Assembly voted unanimously Thursday evening to pass a new bill that would prohibit anti-vaccine protesters from demonstrating near schools, daycares, hospitals, as well as COVID-19 testing and vaccine sites -- an offence punishable by a fine of up to $12,000.
Bill 105 was only tabled Thursday morning by the province's public safety minister, Geneviève Guilbault, but it took little time for MNAs to debate the new bill that will give police new powers to fine people for protesting within 50 metres of those places, depending on their behaviour.
Fines of $1,000 to $6,000 would apply to anyone protesting too close to those places over COVID-19 health rules or vaccination. That includes mobile clinics.
Fines from $2,000 to $12,000 could be slapped on anyone who intimidates or threatens people coming or leaving from those sites, or trying to access services there.
Fines could be doubled for repeat offenders.
The bill also bans organizing or inciting people to hold such protests. Bill 105 resembles a similar law passed in Quebec in 2016, which banned protests within 50 metres of abortion clinics.
Quebec leaders said the new measure would be temporary and is designed that way. At the request of the Conservatives, the measures in the bill will expire in 30 days, but allow for the government to extend them for an additional 30 days.
Following a recommendation from Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy, the bill will also cover adult education centres as well as CEGEPs.
The bill now clarifies that it will not apply to workers, who, for example, want to protest for better working conditions outside their hospital.
On the other hand, parents who want to hold a protest for better ventilation outside their child's school will be prohibited from doing so, since it is related to COVID-19, Guilbault said. They will have to do so outside the 50-metre perimeter.
Shortly after Bill 105 was adopted, the public safety minister tweeted, "We must protect Quebecers, and we still do so today. Thank you to the oppositions for their collaboration."
CONCERNS OVER THE BILL'S REACH
Legault said this week that the government had lost patience with anti-vax protests of this kind, after several instances of picketing outside Montreal-area schools and at least one outside a hospital.
Independent MNA Claire Samson, who joined the PCQ, cautioned, though, that she thought the government was trying to "limit the freedom of expression of some citizens."
"This is not a small matter," she said. "Are we going to have a special bill every week to target a group of protesters?"
Despite her misgivings, Samson gave her consent to the government at all stages of the process, but not without questioning the government's motives.
“As a legislator, it’s our responsibility to ask questions," she said Thursday.
'THIS IS A RUSHED BILL'
Samson isn't the only one who has reservations about the bill. Legal experts also wonder if the bill covers too much ground.
Pearl Eliadis, a human rights lawyer based in Montreal, said while she appreciates the intent of the bill, she said she believes it casts too wide of a net, partly because of how many institutions are impacted by it.
“This is a rushed bill, it’s coming in really quickly,” she told CTV News before the bill had been passed.
“I hope the opposition will, on the one hand, respect our collective will to protect children and to make sure people can access education and health-care facilities without harassment, without intimidation .... but at the same time, make sure you’re not capturing other forms of legitimate, democratic public protest.”
During Thursday's press conference, the premier defended the bill and told reporters "it's the right time" to bring in this special measure.
He says limiting people’s ability to protest isn’t something the government takes lightly.
“It’s never easy to say, ‘You cannot protest, you cannot go on the street,’” he said. “We wanted to do it correctly.”
--With files from CTV's Matt Grillo and The Canadian Press
An earlier version of this article stated the upper limit for a fine was $10,000, but it is $12,000. The article has been corrected.