Reported on: May 22, 2012 14:41 PM
Reported in: Education
Canada, May 22 - EI national affiliates, the Confédération des syndicats du Québec(CSQ), the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ-CSN), and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) have strongly condemned Quebec’s Bill 78. This legislation, tabled to end the 14-week student strike, violates fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, and expression.
Adopted on 18 May, Bill 78 makes it illegal for groups of more than 50 persons to engage in peaceful assembly without prior approval of authorities in direct violation of the fundamental freedom of assembly guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law allows the government to defund student associations, imposes heavy fines on student demonstrators, and forces employees who support the student strike back to work. The law especially targets leaders of student associations who could be individually fined up to CAN$35,000 for continuing to demonstrate contrary to the law. For participating in a second demonstration, the fine doubles. For a student association supporting a demonstration, the initial fine is up to CAN$125,000 and doubles to CAN$250,000 for a second offence.
The bill changes the law for class action law suits, so that student and other supportive associations can be more easily sued. It also reverses the burden of proof, leaving student associations, faculty associations and unions liable for any damage caused by a third party in a demonstration, unless they can prove that the damage was unrelated to the demonstration.
The bill also criminalises expressing support for demonstrations that are contrary to the bill, subjecting any individual Canadian to fines of up to CAN$5,000, organisational representatives to fines of CAN$35,000, and their organisations to fines of CAN$125,000.
The bill has already received strong criticism from the Quebec Bar Association, student groups, labour organisations, and civil liberties groups.
CSQ stated this Bill undermines much more than the right to strike of Quebecois students, who for more than a year have been opposing the increase of 75% in tuition fees. This echoed the view conveyed by other trade unions that the Government is directly attacking students’ freedom of association, as well as each and every Canadian citizen’s freedom of expression. Considering that this bill goes well beyond the framework of a student strike and violates the civil liberties of all Canadians, CSQ is calling on concerned citizens and education activists to support students in their legal action to repel Bill 78 by signing the petition available on http://www.loi78.com
“This law is despicable and we are witnessing the creation of a widespread social movement to defend collective and democratic rights, including the right to education,” highlighted FNEEQ President, Jean Trudelle.
He went on to say: “Students deserve great credit for imposing a public debate on the right to education, and getting support from a considerable part of the population.”
“This special law is a terrible act of mass repression,” said CAUT Executive Director, James L. Turk. “The Quebec government has opted to exert the heavy hand of the law as a weapon to suppress dissent.”
“Now, more than ever, the rest of Canada needs to be pinning on a red felt square showing their support for the students of Quebec and for civil liberties,” added Turk referring to the symbol of the student strike.
“Bill 78 needs to be defeated in the name of democracy or the rest of Canada should be joining the students on the streets.”
French affiliate UNSA-Education showed international solidarity with Quebec students and education unionists.
UNSA-Education General Secretary, Laurent Escure, said his union “condemns the trend, in a certain number of developed countries, consisting in the worrying ‘commercialisation’ of the access to university by increasing the financial discrimination to the detriment of social justice, as well as the much needed improvement of qualification levels.”
The continuing strike by more than 165,000 students over plans to raise university tuition fees has already led on 14 May to the resignation of the Quebec's Education Minister, Line Beauchamp.
“I am not giving up in the face of vandalism and civil disobedience,” she said. “I am resigning because I no longer believe I'm part of the solution. I would never have reached a compromise with the students,” she alleged. “So I am making the biggest compromise I can make.”
Following her resignation, student leaders reaffirmed that the problem for them was never Beauchamp, but the tuition increases. Changing the minister will not necessarily change that. They deplored the office of the Premier did not give enough room to manoeuvre to the Minister to solve this conflict. They also denied that student groups were not ready to make any compromises on the issue of tuition fee hikes.
Quebec students are still demonstrating against the tuition increases. Nearly 200 students were arrested during the latest demonstration in Montreal on 20 May.
EI supports its Canadian affiliates in their struggle to see students’ rights respected by the Quebecois authorities, and urge the latter to withdraw Bill 78 and engage in faithful dialogue with student and education unions.