Sunday, May 20, 2012

Quebec's Demonstrations of Authority

Quebec is no stranger to authoritarianism. In 1970, the only peacetime declaration of martial law in Canadian history came as a result of Quebec's FLQ crisis. From 1937 to 1957, the province's Padlock Law allowed the government to close properties and incarcerate people found to be involved in the propagation of "Communism or Bolshevism" - concepts which weren't defined in the law - until it was struck down as unconstitutional. In the 1930s Adrien Arcand, one of Canada's most prominent fascists, operated out of Montreal.

So it wasn't particularly surprising when I heard that the National Assembly passed a bill that, in small but significant part, hews back to these traditions. Though Bill 78 is primarily concerned with things like preventing the forcible denial of peoples' access to educational institutions, there is one clause buried within it that goes rather broadly beyond the current student crisis. Because, you know, there ain't nothin' you can't justify if you first hitch it up to the maintenance of peace, order, and public security.



16. A person, a body or a group that is the organizer of a demonstration involving 10 people or more to take place in a venue accessible to the public must, not less than eight hours before the beginning of the demonstration, provide the following information in writing to the police force serving the territory where the demonstration is to take place:

(1) the date, time, duration and venue of the demonstration as well as its route, if applicable; and

(2) the means of transportation to be used for those purposes.

The police force serving the territory where the demonstration is to take place may, before the demonstration and to maintain peace, order and public security, order a change of venue or route; the organizer must comply with the change ordered and inform the participants.

Now there's a triumph of our democratic freedoms right there.

Not a demonstration - or maybe it is. How does one tell the difference?

Even though I don't live in Quebec, and these provisions will fall out of force on July 1, 2013, I have some big problems with this bill. The biggest one is this: who defines what a "demonstration" is? The bill comes with definitions for such arcane terms as "college," "employee," and "student association," but what they're talking about when they refer to demonstrations is left frustratingly vague. What's the difference between a simple gathered crowd and a demonstration? Who's responsible for making the call? What if a group doesn't believe they're a demonstration, but the police does?

The last thing a government needs is more legislated leeway to restrict personal rights. The vagueness of this law, its unwillingness to define just what qualifies as a demonstration, leaves it ripe for abuse.

The usual suspects, like the Globe and Mail, are already working to shore this up. On Friday, it published an editorial reminding us that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for "freedom of peaceful assembly." Yes, it does - but that doesn't make a difference. The Charter rights of people in Quebec are still being abridged by this bill, because it does not distinguish between peaceful and violent protests; it does not make reference to "a demonstration involving 10 people or more who plan to wreck shit."

Demonstrations have a place within a healthy democratic society - but when all demonstrations are clamped down upon to restrain the violent ones, that health is diminished.


  1. If you plan well for an activity if any kind, having an aware police force can be a huge benefit, if, some element outside the planning nucleus does in fact start to stray from your mandate. By going even further and being openly transparent, even perhaps introducing yourself personally, citing troubleshooting, or doing pre polling - can garner huge successes and community coups and benefit the outcome of whatever type of non destructive event is being developed and help its timeline navigate smoothly. It also allows a feedback pathwayafter the fact o the people can even do it again maybe bigger and better, because officials are "on their side" and of like mind that it is an ok idea to have such circumstances happen within their community. Knee-jerk fear and hostility are two super huge barriers blocking humans who feel "on a side" to come together about things they just might, otherwise. I appkaud you finding and posting the specific jargon of this bill - that info can be buried and hard to find at times, and yes - must always be examined - but this seems reasonable to me as a good point of definition. dem·on·stra·tion/ˌdemənˈstrāSHən/

    The action or process of showing the existence or truth of something by giving proof or evidence.
    Something that proves or makes evident: "the letter was a demonstration of good faith".

    A group of ten people is a mass that can block a sidewalk, turn heads in a park, spill into traffic, and if mobile, require a block of parking that may have handicap or transit issues.

    Technically, it is noticeable, proof of something. What, who knows... it is the polce's duty to look after our safety, therefore their attention should be alerted to things like this by nature in the course of their every day job requirements.

    By making it standard that PRO test type people - by nature socially conscientious people who care about the welfare of the world, acknowledge this as just a good practice if they truly do want successful community impact - those pro's could hopefully then grow to have more relaxed freedoms to engage in more inclusive, extravagant, and engaging events embraced by the publuc at large.

    I do not see a bad thing here.

  2. I will be blunt, then - this law is in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which explicitly guarantees freedom of association as a fundamental freedom. It is not "freedom of association of fewer than ten people at one time." Sure, if you're planning an event, some kind of protest or demonstration, and you want to keep the local police informed so that things can go smoothly, that's your prerogative - but constitutionally, it is not our responsibility.

    To me, the fact that Bill 78 does not define a "demonstration" is one of the most obvious weak points and opportunities for abuse. Who decides what a demonstration is, in this circumstance? What if you go to the police all proper to give eight hours' notice of your event, and they decide that they don't agree with you? Blocking a sidewalk or a street is an inconvenience - the exercise of fundamental rights trump inconveniences.

    With Bill 78, the Quebec government has handed itself a hammer it can use to smash disagreement or dissent at its discretion, in contravention of the freedoms Canada stands for. No government deserves that kind of power.

  3. I am 57, a woman, and was present at the march of the 22nd and at several nightly marches. On the 22nd I contravened the law. I followed the crowd in front of me not knowing that they had deviated from the path given to police. That left me subject to a fine of 5,000 dollars had the police decided to arrest me.

    I have also attended a couple of night marches which were entirely peaceful and included children and even babies in strollers. The so-called "violence" was wildly exaggerated in the hopes of turning public opinion against demonstrators. Now the finance minister Bachand has described the protests as festive because they aren't stopping. He is afraid of the impact on the tourist season so the truth has become more attractive.