Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quebec adopts emergency law to end student protests

Students march through the streets of Montreal protesting against tuition fee hikes on May 17, 2012.

Source: Press TV

Quebec's provincial government has voted in favor of an emergency law aimed at ending the 14-week rallies and protests against tuition fee hikes.

Following a 21-hour debate overnight Thursday, the National Assembly members approved the legislation, voting 68-48.

The controversial emergency legislation outlined strict regulations governing protests and includes conditions for heavy fines for students and their federations.

Under the new legislation, any individual who prevents students from entering an educational institution or disrupt classes will be fined between CAD 1,000 and CAD 5,000.

The punishments will rise to between CAD 7,000 and CAD 35,000 for a student leader and to between CAD 25,000 and CAD 125,000 for student federations or unions.

The law also forces regulations to govern student protests, requiring protesters to inform police of their demonstration plans including eight hours notice for details such as the itinerary, the duration and the exact time of the action.

Critics, however, considered the law as an affront to individual’s rights to freedom of expression, association and conscience, and believed that the legislature of the French speaking province has showed ill-considered improvisation in dealing with student strike actions.

Lucie Lemonde, a law professor who teaches at University of Quebec in Montreal, even compared the law with the notorious War Measures Act imposed in Quebec during the 1970 FLQ crisis.

"It's the worst law that I've ever seen, except for the War Measures Act. 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.

Thousands of people descended to the streets in Montreal and Quebec City late Friday night to voice their opposition to the controversial law.

Quebec students have been holding almost daily demonstrations over the past weeks in an attempt to voice their outrage at the proposed tuition fee rises.

Under the provisional agreement, university fees would increase CAD 1,780 over seven years, or about CAD 254 a year, bringing the total to CAD 4,000 per year. The plan is scheduled to be effective from 2012-13 until 2016-2017 academic years.

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