Quebec emergency law goes 'very far', ex-judge Gomery says
Press council president 'disturbed' by 'extreme and immoderate' reporting of the conflict
Posted: May 19, 2012 10:43 AM ET
Last Updated: May 19, 2012 10:40 PM ET
A retired Quebec Superior Court judge is weighing in on a controversial emergency law passed by the Jean Charest government on Friday, saying the new Quebec law goes "very far."
Protesters took to the streets of Montreal Friday night in defiance of Quebec's legal crackdown hours after members of Quebec's national assembly voted 68-48 in favour of Bill 78.
The historic legislation was passed in an effort to restore order to the province after 14 weeks of student protests and violence over proposed tuition hikes.
In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, retired justice John Gomery tells host Evan Solomon that the new law does put "a limitation on free expression."
"The question is whether or not that limitation is reasonable," says Gomery.
"My view is that this legislation is part of the extreme reaction that this debate has provoked. Violent demonstrations provoke violent reactions," Gomery told Solomon.
"I think it is surely going to be contested before the courts," said the retired Quebec judge.
Quebec's opposition leaders, labour union bosses, even the Quebec Bar Association came out swinging against the law before it was even passed.
According to Gomery, "the legislation goes very far."
Bill 78 raises "very serious issues" which according to Gomery will take "a long time" to be debated and sorted out before the courts.
The law is designed to be in effect for one year only, and then expire.
"In the meantime, I presume the police will use this legislation to crack down," said Gomery.
The retired justice made it clear he was expressing "a personal opinion" and not an opinion in his role as President of the Quebec Press Council.
"I don't think the press council is going to take a view," said Gomery.
Gomery warns against 'extreme and immoderate' reporting
On Thursday, Gomery issued a news release as president of the Quebec Council in which he expressed concern over the media's tone and coverage of the student protests, and attempts by the police and protesters to intimidate the press.
In the release, Gomery said he had noticed a "radicalization" in the choice of language used by some journalists and commentators with respect to their reporting of the student protests. He wondered if more "moderate" points of views would "diminish the risk of exacerbating" the conflict.
Gomery told Solomon the press council found it "disturbing" to see media coverage become "increasingly extreme and immoderate."
"Threats, insults and violent statements have no place in a democratic society," said Gomery.
When asked for specific examples, Gomery would only say that having the media call the student protesters "spoiled babies" did nothing to advance the dialogue. And having students call the Quebec government "fascist" was no better, he explained.
"There is an ethical obligation towards moderation. It doesn't exclude strong opinions strongly expressed, but using inflammatory terms I don't think contributes to a democratic debate," said Gomery.
The Quebec Press Council also expressed concern over an "alarming" increase in incidents resulting in acts of "intimidation" by the protesters and police.
In April, police arrested two reporters from the French-language daily newspaper La Presse during a student protest.
"Freedom of the press must absolutely be protected, and even more when reporting conflicts," said Gomery in his statement on behalf of the Quebec Press Council.
Gomery was appointed to investigate the sponsorship scandal which informally became known as the Gomery Inquiry in 2004.
He retired from the bench in 2007.
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