Striking student coalition calls for mass disobedience of new protest laws
Montreal – Less than three days after the Quebec provincial government adopted law 78, which imposes strict restrictions on the right to protest throughout the province and suspends the semester of any student association which remains on strike, the voices calling to oppose and outright disobey the law have grown by leaps and bounds. This includes court challenges to the law, a direct call to disobey, and a new website, http://www.arretezmoiquelquun.com/ (Somebody Arrest Me), where people can post their public opposition to the law.
Around 170,000 people have signed on to a demand to nullify the law, which will be presented by the three main student organizations – FEUQ, FECQ and CLASSE – as well as their allies in the labor union sector in court on Tuesday.
One of the three largest unions in Quebec, the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux, said they will be asking that the law be suspended for 30 days while the courts decide on it’s constitutionality.
The most vocal and direct criticism of the law came this afternoon from CLASSE. At a press conference in Parc Émilie-Gamelin, from which 27 consecutive night demonstrations have begun, the coalition’s spokespeople announced that their organization will not obey law 78, and that they are calling on members of the public to do the same.
“Already, thousands of citizens have announced their intention to defy the law, but to date, no organization has yet had the courage to speak in their name. Today, CLASSE assumes that role,” declared one of CLASSE’s spokespeople, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
“This law, for us, must be blocked,” said Nadeau’s colleague, Jeanne Reynolds. “Facing an unjust situation, inaction is a sign of complicity. To submit to this law, is to accept it. To accept this law is to sanction its contents.”
To that end, the coalition’s members will be voting this week to continue their strikes up until classes are set to resume in August, when they will organize more general assemblies to continue the strike and take action to ensure strike votes are enforced. Picket lines or any other action that could directly or indirectly stop students from attending class – even if their association has voted to remain on strike – are forbidden under law 78, punishable by hefty fines, up to 125,000 for associations, and by the seizure of both union dues and being locked out of their union offices.
In order to show the amount of public dissent against the law, CLASSE also launched a new site, http://www.arretezmoiquelquun.com/ (Somebody Arrest Me), where people are being encouraged to post pictures of them saying they will disobey law 78. Since it went live at 3:30pm, 1,476 people have added their pitures and names. The declaration posted on the website, translated from the French by the collective at Translating the Printemps Érable, is republished below.
CLASSE has called for a large demonstration in Montreal tomorrow to mark the 100th day of the strike – and two months to the day since the March 22nd march against tuition fees increases which saw some 300,000 people. It will be starting at 2pm at Place des Festivals at Place des Arts metro. It is not clear whether this demonstration falls within the parametres of the new law.
Declaration made by CLASSE, May 21st 2012. Originally published in French here: http://www.arretezmoiquelquun.com/pages/declaration
You can sign on to the declaration here: http://www.arretezmoiquelquun.com
Having familiarized ourselves with Bill 78, adopted by the Assemblée nationale du Québec on May 18, 2012. Adopted on the 95th day of an already historic student struggle, the special law flagrantly has the objective of suffocating this mobilisation.
Since its adoption, the vocabulary of indignation regarding this has been depleted. Legal practitioners, artists, editorialists, intellectuals and personalities from all walks of life have unanimously denounced this front-line attack on the fundamental and inalienable rights of freedom of expression, of association, and of demonstration. Despite this unanimity and the strength of these condemnations, the government of Québec is staying on its course and refusing to repeal its unjust law.
Facing this obstinacy to trample on the fundamental principles of democracy itself, it is important now to pass to action: this law must be blocked.
In a situation of injustice, inaction is synonymous with complicity. To submit oneself to this law is to accept it. To accept this law is to sanction its content. We are currently witnessing a historic face off between the government and youth. Power is looking at us, attentively. This law is a test. If we submit ourselves to it, we are acknowledging the efficacy of its repression: the government wins. If it wins once, it will do it again. We cannot open the door to this possibility.
This arm of iron is the visible face of a more profound conflict. If youth do not take on their historic role of shielding against authoritarianism, who will? “If youth cool off, the whole world will chatter their teeth,” wrote Georges Bernanos.
This law has come to break the already rattled confidence between the people and their insitutions. Corruption and the disproportionate influence of lobbies and economic interests on governments have, for a long time, eroded this confidence and birthed a political cynicism without precedent. Presently, what we refer to as the assembly of the people is already eroded by partisan interests, the bait of monetary gain and corruption. This law deepens the nail in the coffin of Québécois democracy.
A lot of people are watching us. As human beings, we carry the heritage of past struggles. From Murdochville to Asbestos, not to mention the student strike of 2005, the history of Québec is criss-crossed with difficult struggles, long and sometimes illegal strikes. Those who have initiated these struggles have transmitted a torch that it is forbidden to avoid at this crucial moment. The fundamental rights that we enjoy today are not gifts, they are our legacy. We must also defend them out of respect to those who obtained them for us. If they want to take them away from us, we will fight. Beyond the law, if we must. If it is unjust and we are serious in our intentions to defend justice, we must disobey. This has a name: civil disobedience.
With this law, the government is attacking much more than student associations: it is attacking the mere possibility that each woman and man should have to freely contest decisions that have been made in their names by those with political power. The government is using fear to repress dissent: these are methods worthy of an authoritarian regime. This liberty-killing law would have us renounce more than just our rights: it would have us renounce what we are. We affirm today that we refuse to capitulate to fear and intimidation. We stay loyal to our principles of individual and collective freedom.
We do not have another choice. Alone facing this law, we are weak. Together, we have to power to block it.
In signing this declaration, we are engaging ourselves to keep struggling; to staying mobilized, in accordance with the fundamental freedoms that have been conferred to us by various national and international charters and conventions. If this means criminal prosecutions in line with Bill 78, we are engaged to face them.
I disobey. Somebody arrest me.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.
Tim McSorley is a member of the Montreal Media Co-op.