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Students take Charest's emergency law to court

Protesters opposing Quebec student tuition fee hikes demonstrate in Montreal, Thursday, May 24, 2012.


Quebec students and their union backers have filed a court challenge to strike down parts of the special provincial law that put limits on their right to protest.

The motion filed in Quebec Superior Court Friday says the law, known as Bill 78, imposes too many restrictions on fundamental rights to assemble peacefully and demonstrate.

Requirements to give police eight hours advance notice of the place and time of any protest with more than 50 people hinder the freedom to peacefully assemble, the motion says. "All spontaneous demonstration is banned," it says. "It's severe, difficult to follow, ambiguous, practically difficult to respect, and contrary to our values."

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A months-long student protest against a tuition hike turned into a widespread demonstration of discontent last week after Premier Jean Charest's government passed the law imposing the restrictions. A CROP-Radio-Canada poll released late Friday said only 30 per cent of Quebeckers agree with the law. Pot-banging citizens are now flooding the streets in the early evening hours to manifest their anger with the law and government.

In other provisions being challenged, the law orders protesters to stay away from colleges and universities, allows police to alter protest plans and threatens heavy fines for organizers if their demonstration veers into unplanned territory.

With 140 organizations backing the court motion, college student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin said the court challenge will be "one of the biggest constitutional files in the history of Quebec, both for the number of plaintiffs and the number of people directly concerned."

The students say they've received donations to finance the fight, along with the volunteer services of dozens of lawyers. Unions are also backing the battle, as they have backed the protest against the government's planned $1,625 tuition hike spread over five years.

The law "puts our members in the position of having to act as informants," said Réjean Parent, president of the union which represents Quebec college teachers. "Mr. Charest says we live in a state ruled by law. Well, this law is crooked. So we'll work on setting it straight."

The students have asked for an emergency injunction to set aside the law until the constitutional questions can be heard. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for next Wednesday.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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