16 April 2015

Quebec Bill 78: CCLA denounces drastic, broad infringements of fundamental constitutional rights

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has severe concerns about the constitutional validity of Bill 78, which was passed by the Quebec National Assembly on May 18, 2012. The CCLA agrees that access to education and ensuring that instruction in schools, CEGEPs and universities is open and available for those who want to attend are pressing and substantial societal interests. Our concerns are not directed at this goal, but rather the means that the Quebec government has chosen to pursue it. Bill 78 drastically limits freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly rights in Quebec.  It puts in place a number of prohibitions that are at best tenuously linked with the goal of ensuring access to postsecondary education. Even those provisions that do directly address access to educational institutions are frequently overly broad, vague and discretionary.The Bill, for example, imposes very broad prior notification requirements that would apply to all demonstrations, regardless of their connection to student protests or proximity to educational institutions. Bill 78 requires organizers of any demonstration involving 50 or more people to provide an eight-hour written notice to the police specifying the time, duration, venue and route of the demonstration. These obligations would even be imposed on gatherings taking place on private property, so long as the location is “publicly accessible.”  The police will have the power to unilaterally decide the proposed route or venue poses a serious risk for public security, and require the organizers to submit a new plan.These prior notification requirements are broad, vague and in most applications will have no rational connection to ensuring access to postsecondary institutions. There is no definition of a “demonstration,” leaving significant leeway to police and government officials to determine when the prior notification scheme will or will not apply. Any individual organizer who fails to provide notification to the police or does not “employ appropriate means” to make sure the demonstration follows the approved plan may be fined between $7000 and $35,000 per day; if it is a group that has organized the demonstration, the fine can be between $25,000 and $125,000. The onerous notice requirement, the lack of clarity in the obligations of the organizers, as well as the recourse to penal sanctions will fetter the fundamental freedom of all those within Quebec to organize peaceful assemblies ...

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