Charest seeks to deter student protesters with threat of hefty fines

Quebec Premier Jean Charest has proposed legislation that will crack down on student protesters and the unions that support them.

He is seeking tough new measures that would bar demonstrations inside and within 50 metres of university buildings, the Globe and Mail reports. Additionally, any protester found guilty of causing the cancellation of classes could be fined between $1,000 and $5,000. If the same offence is committed by a leader of a student organization, the fine could be as much as $35,000. If a group or student federation stops others from attending class, it could be forced to pay up to $125,000. For protesting groups of  10 or more people, there will also be a requirement to inform police at least eight hours in advance of a demonstration.

The legislation, called Bill 78, is expected to pass through Quebec’s National Assembly on Friday, but it will expire on July 1, 2013, the Globe and Mail reports.

Stéphane Beaulac, a constitutional expert at the University of Montreal, told the CBC that the law is one of the most repressive he has ever seen, but that it doesn’t appear to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “On the face of it, it does not constitute in my view blatant infringement of freedom of association, freedom of expression,” he was quoted as saying.

Student groups, unsurprisingly, have rallied against the bill, setting up a website for people to sign an anti-Bill 78 petition. “This is actually a declaration of war against the student movement and not only against the student movement, but it restricted the liberty of speech, the liberty of association,” said Martine Desjardins of the university students’ federation, the FEUQ, quoted by the CBC.

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