Apparently the spring protests, which picked up again this week in Montreal, were more widespread than I had previously imagined, even quite violent.
They were so bad that Jean Charest`s Liberal government rushed through Bill 78 which limits protests and poses a dilemma for civil libertarians (and that would include me were I a citizen here).
Bill 78 requires that any protest involving more than 50 people file notice of its intended marching route at least eight hours in advance with police.
Now that an election has been called for September 4, some fear the bill will be used to quiet political speech. The Montreal Gazette weighed in with an editorial pooh poohing such fears today, but the spectre of cracking down on free speech is always troubling, something we in New Hampshire learned first-hand this year with the heavy-handed tactics of House Speaker Bill O`Brien.
At last check at least, the Charest government had not banned any media from his press conferences like O`Brien did to the Concord Monitor. However, there`s word in the Gazette today that Charest is beefing up security at his campaign stops, perhaps in an attempt to avoid having to answer tricky questions. As many as six of those men (we would call them Secret Service) were seen around him at a stop yesterday as Charest once again warned Quebecers that there are two ways to get a separatist referndum, either vote for his opponent Pauline Marois of the PQ or stay home in protest of his own government`s corrpution.
In other words, Charest appears to be saying--hold your nose and vote for me.
Such is the state of Quebec politics.
As for Bill 78, the Gazette says it is needed to allow police to plan for the proper response to protest marches. It was propmted by a May riot in Victoriaville when, according to the paper, "hard-core troublemakers arrived from out of town with genuine violent intentions."
It`s always a tough line to draw between the right to protest and the need to preserve a peaceful society. I suspect most of my Libertarian friends would come down against Bill 78; I suspect I would as well were I a Quebecer, but then in the closest analogy I can think of, I voted in favor of Speaker O`Brien shutting down the gallery in the House when protests broke out during the budget debate.
Disrupting a legislative body cannot be tolerated. Whether or not an eight hour notice when 51 people plan to get together is needed or not...well, you decide.
I only ran across a smattering of the pots and pans protesters last night, not as many as 50, but protests are continuing. Student leaders are ina quandary; they fear that should violence break out, there will be a reaction in favor of the Charest government the students are trying to defeat.