I Was Not in a Protest Last Night

I Was Not in a Protest Last Night

by Farnell Morisset

Upon hearing that bill 78 was to be adopted by parliament with only minimal modifications, I set to writing an article for LifeInQuebec.  I reviewed and immediately deleted the article – a piece so thoroughly laced with profanity that it would have been unfit for any proper publication.  Unable to clear my head, I then decided what I probably needed to do was to take a walk.  So I did – and it seems a few others who happened to be downtown had the same idea. 

Several thousand others, in fact.

My outrage is not over the tuition increase.  My outrage is not over the handling of the crisis by student leaders and government officials.  My outrage is not about the exploitation of our natural resources, Québec’s place within a changing Canada, the management of our public finances, the salaries and benefits of high-ranking public officials, our growing debt, or anything else I could conceivably imagine was motivating the few thousand people I just so happened to bump into during my evening stroll.  My outrage is very specific.  My outrage is from this:

Une personne, un organisme ou un groupement qui organise une manifestation de 50 personnes ou plus qui se tiendra dans un lieu accessible au public doit, au moins huit heures avant le début de celle-ci, fournir par écrit au corps de police desservant le territoire où la manifestation aura lieu les renseignements suivants:

1 – la date, l’heure, la durée, le lieu ainsi que, le cas échéant, l’itinéraire de la manifestation;

2 – les moyens de transport utilisés à cette fin.

Lorsqu’il juge que le lieu ou l’itinéraire projeté comporte des risques graves pour la sécurité publique, le corps de police desservant le territoire où la manifestation doit avoir lieu peut, avant sa tenue et aux fins de maintenir la paix, l’ordre et la sécurité publique, ordonner un changement de lieu ou la modification de l’itinéraire projeté; l’organisateur doit s’y conformer et en aviser les participants.

Article 16, loi 78 (amendé)

I have taken the liberty to translate it as faithfully as possible:

A person, an organisation, or a group which organises a protest of 50 people or more which will be held in an area accessible to the public must, at least eight hours before the beginning of it, submit in writing to the police body serving the territory where the protest will take place the following information:

1 – the date, hour, duration, and location as well as, if applicable, the itinerary of the protest;

2 – the means of transport utilised to this end.

When it judges that the location or projected itinerary comprises serious risks to public safety, the police body serving the territory where the protest will take place can, before the protest is held and in order to maintain peace, order, and public safety, order a change in location or a modification of the projected itinerary; the organiser must conform to it and advise the participants.

Article 16, bill 78 (amended)

If the reason for my outrage is not immediately obvious, allow me to direct your attention to the third line of Québec’s cornerstone document expressing the values of our society, the Charte des droits et libertés de la personne:

Toute personne est titulaire des libertés fondamentales telles la liberté de conscience, la liberté de religion, la liberté d’opinion, la liberté d’expression, la liberté de réunion pacifique et la liberté d’association.

Article 3, Charte des droits et libertés de la personne (http://www2.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/dynamicSearch/telecharge.php?type=2&file=/C_12/C12.HTM)

Which I once again take the liberty to translate, adding emphasis on the key component:

Every person is entitled to the fundamental liberties, such as liberty of conscience, liberty of religion, liberty of opinion, liberty of expression, liberty of peaceful assembly, and liberty of association.

Article 3, Charter of Rights and Liberties of the Person

That’s all we need to know, really.  We, as a society, consider that the right to the fundamental liberties of peaceful assembly and association comes third, after the right to life and safety (article 1), and the right to rescue from danger (article 2).  The proposed law clearly goes against the fundamental principles of what we consider the guiding principles of our freedom.

The government insists that bill 78’s anti-assembly dispositions are not in breach of the charter’s dispositions, and angry as I am, I do admit they are not, strictly speaking, wrong.  The charter does allow for laws which limit the extent of these freedoms (article 9.1), as makes perfect sense to an orderly society.  An easy example is that the charter asserts one’s residence is inviolable (article 7), yet warrants are regularly given to allow authorities to search a suspected criminal’s home.  The government argues, therefore, that its new law is legal and that citizens are still “free” to organize protests… they just need written police permission to do so first.

My anger over such obvious underhanded lawyering around a fundamentally correct and virtuous principle is the reason I needed to go out for a walk last night.  I certainly did not anticipate so many others would share my need to stretch their legs as well.  It was most definitely not a protest, though – with the law less than 8 hours old, that would have been illegal.  That some 3,000 of us seemed to walk in the same direction for over two hours, from Parliament, through the Vieux Québec, into the Basse-Ville, and then back along Boulevard René Levesque to the Parliament, is a remarkable coincidence.  Perhaps it was a jogging club? 

Good thing there were no protesters to interrupt this street performance and group math study session.

Now there are many other things of note with bill 78, and in fact I encourage you to read it (http://www.assnat.qc.ca/fr/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projet-loi-78-39-2.html) for yourselves.  Particular is a little jewel which would give Mme Courchesne, minister of education, absolute authority to immediately change, modify, or disregard any existing law in order to see to it that teaching establishments reopen.  Anyone caught not exercising their freedom to ask for police permission before protesting is slated for fines of 1,000$ – 5,000$, which double the second time around.  Groups organizing these protests face up to 125,000$.  For perspective, this is more than twice the fines imposed for electoral fraud.  So again, if any legal official is reading this, I was just out for a walk downtown and had no idea all those other people were going to be there yesterday night – honest!

I may, however, go for more such walks in the future.  I’ll let you know if I see any protesters.

About the author:

Born and raised in Québec City, Farnell Morisset attended English school throughout his primary, secondary, and CEGEP studies, before ultimately choosing to stay in Québec City and study civil engineering at Laval University.

While at Laval, he served as president of the civil engineering student association. It was there that he discovered his affinity for writing and commentary, preparing a weekly column in the student newspaper dealing with the issues he, as president of the association, felt were important and relevant.

Farnell is passionate about discussing (amongst other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québecois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québecois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to LifeinQuebec.com as a valued member of our, in-house, writing team.

Categories: News

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset has an engineering degree from Université Laval and common law and civil law degrees from McGill University, where he also studied economics.