Quebec to table bill Thursday against anti-vax protests, but one MNA may nix quick passage
QUEBEC CITY --
THE LATEST ON THIS STORY: Anti-vaxxers in Quebec could be fined for protesting near schools, hospitals
Quebec Premier François Legault says he plans to table a bill Thursday to slap anti-vaccine protesters in front of schools and hospital with stiff fines, saying he's "fed up."
But the bill's fate is unclear after a single MNA said she remains unsure.
All major parties support the proposed bill, but now-Conservative MNA Claire Samson, who crossed the floor from the CAQ a few months ago, may stall its passage for days or even weeks, saying she's concerned about how it limits protesters' rights.
On Wednesday, the province's three main opposition parties -- the Liberals, Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire -- all argued it is unacceptable for demonstrators to aggressively approach children to try to dissuade them from respecting health measures.
They say they are ready to work with the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government to urgently adopt an exceptional measure, be it a special law, decree or an application for an injunction.
Since the start of the school year, there have been five demonstrations around elementary and secondary schools in Montreal, with protesters seen shouting and filming children.
Earlier this week, Legault said his government is evaluating all its options and will come up with a measure to curb the anti-vaccine protests.
The measure to be proposed could resemble a previous law that, since 2016, has banned demonstrations within 50 meters of abortion clinics, he said.
That law requires protesters to stay that distance away and not to interfere with another person's health decisions or face fines of up to $1,250.
Another existing law bans restricting access to schools and comes with fines up to $10,000.
SINGLE CONSERVATIVE MNA NOT CONVINCED
However, the bill's passage may not be as simple as it seemed on Wednesday morning. The CAQ said it plans to both present and pass the bill on Thursday, but it would need unanimous support to move that fast.
While the three main opposition parties said they will vote in favour, the Quebec Conservative Party may not, which would stall it.
Conservative Party leader Éric Duhaime isn't an elected member of the National Assembly and therefore cannot vote. But he wrote about his opposition to the bill on his social media pages, saying it restricts the right to protest.
His party does have one sitting MNA: Samson, who represents Iberville and was kicked out of the CAQ caucus earlier this year for donating $100 to the Conservatives.
She then joined the rival party, becoming its first-ever MNA.
Samson said Wednesday that she agrees something needs to be done about the anti-vaccine protests, but that she worries it could inadvertendly restrict other demonstrations, such as nurses' unions' actions.
"You should have a right to express your opinion, and that's why I say... nobody here has read the law... what is it going to say?" Samson said.
"That they can only come protest here at the National Assembly?"
Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said that if Samson decides to vote against the bill, she'll have to answer to Quebecers.
OTHER LEADERS POST SUPPORT ONLINE
On Thursday, some other political leaders posted messages of support for the bill and explained their reasoning, including Liberal leader Dominique Anglade, who said children need to be "left in peace."
Québec Solidaire parliamentary leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois wrote on Twitter that "Seeing conspirators attacking children is intolerable" and that temporary measures are needed.
"Anti-vaxxers have the right to exist, to express themselves and even to demonstrate," he wrote. "But to protect children and teachers, society has the right to ask them to demonstrate across the street."
--With files from The Canadian Press