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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2012 > June 2012 > Bill 78 and a Brief Sketch of the Quebec Student Movement

Bill 78 and a Brief Sketch of the Quebec Student Movement

Friday 1 June 2012, by Jacob Dobias

On June 9, Alternatives will be hosting the Festival of Solidarity, which will explore the process of mobilization in response to austerity and regression. Notable speakers will include Hervé Kempf as well as Coalition large de L’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) representative Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Social movements are thriving around the world and many activists, such as Kempf and Nadeau-Dubois, are taking note of the influence activism can have. However, under a new Quebec law, power that comes from social statements like marches is threatened. Bill 78 is a piece of emergency legislation that has recently been pushed through by the Charest government on May 18, 2012, and is severely violating Quebec civilians’ right to protest, a liberty protected under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. This new law will be addressed during the festival, with particular attention given to its effects on recent demonstrations.

Hervé Kempf is the founder of the ecology magazine Reporterre as well as the acting environmental editor at Le Monde. At the Festival of Solidarity, Kempf will be discussing social movements and how they have the ability to save the planet. Kempf’s research can be found in his two novels How the Rich are Destroying the Planet and Enough with Oligarchy, Long Live Democracy.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is a history major at the University of Quebec in Montreal. As one of the representatives for the student union coalition CLASSE, Dubois has become a major player in the student movement in Quebec. CLASSE, along with two other student organizations, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), has been actively protesting the rising tuition rates in Quebec for the last several months, though the fight has been ongoing since 2003. The movement, however, has since evolved. It has become much more about the role of government, the power of the people and other social justice issues. The student strike in Montreal is nearing its fourth month and as support grows, ignoring the unrest is no longer an option for either the public or the government.

Upon the introduction of Bill 78, the student movement has grown in both numbers and diversity. Simultaneously, it has increased tension amongst civilians, police and government officials through increased violence and arrests.

It is first important to understand the impact Bill 78 has had on the student protests here in Montreal. The legislation has set out very severe regulations upon student demonstrations, such as Section 16, which states that it is necessary to provide eight hours notice and detailed information concerning the route and duration. Several sections that have given rise to both national and international criticism.

For example, Sections 13 and 14 state that it is forbidden for any person or persons to directly or indirectly delay classes or deny access to them. The loose terminology in these sections does not specify what actions might fall under this rubric, leaving much up to the individual to interpret, something which is troubling for students and the public alike as it can be manipulated in favour of the government and police. Section 15 says that student organizers must undertake appropriate measures in order to convince students to neither directly nor indirectly disrupt classes. Section 17 puts the onus upon the student organizers once again, and states that they must ensure that they remain within the parameters that they had submitted previously. Finally, Section 25 threatens fines of up to $5,000 for individuals and $125,000 for groups that violate the bill. These are some of the more pressing sections that have garnered attention from both media and legal experts.

Throughout all of this, the student movement in Quebec has persevered, but Bill 78 has also affected how the international community perceives Quebec and its students. An article published in The New York Times, titled “Our Not-So-Friendly Northern Neighbor”, argues that Charest’s objective is to weaken student and union organizations, rather than try to restore security.

Quebec students’ ability to maintain a strong presence despite this bill can be attributed to a variety of factors. To understand why Quebec is so active when it comes to social justice issues, one would have to return all the way back to the Quiet Revolution, which first instilled the ideals of accessible post-secondary education. Student groups in Quebec are often composed of smaller numbers and are seen to be more politically active compared to student organizations in other provinces.

Bill 78 has lit a fire under an already large movement; once it was passed, there was a clear increase in participation and mobilization in the marches, as demonstrated in the nightly marches since Bill 78’s introduction. In light of this new law, students have gained more support from the media and the public.

Bill 78 has created a more diverse movement, encompassing a variety of age groups, cultures and political affiliations, and it has given rise to discussions concerning civil rights in Quebec, and their role and direction in society. There has been a clear lack of support from many of the Anglophone schools in Quebec. The French schools, when deciding whether to participate in the protest, typically discussed the principles of society being addressed, while discussions in English universities typically revolved around the economic aspects of the student protest. However, with the introduction of Bill 78 Anglophone support has increased along with Francophone support.

These are just a few of the developments of the student movement in Quebec. Social movements are constantly evolving and changing to better suit the topic they are mobilizing for or against. To find out more about the issues facing the student movement, and social movements in general, please refer to the June Alternatives podcast, and listen to an interview with the Concordia Student Union outgoing VP External, Chad Walcott. A key figure in increasing student participation at Concordia, Walcott has been involved with the student movement since its onset. The interview also addresses Bill 78 and the issues it presents both symbolically and practically.