Montreal

Quebec Superior Court strikes down Montreal's ban on masked protesters

"Anarchopanda," the costumed mascot of Quebec's 2012 student protest movement, has won a legal challenge of Montreal's controversial bylaw P-6, which bans masked protesters and makes it illegal to participate in a demonstration if the route hasn't been filed with authorities.

'Anarchopanda' wins legal challenge of bylaw P-6

Julien Villeneuve, also known as 'Anarchopanda,' has won a legal challenge of Montreal's municipal bylaw banning masks. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

"Anarchopanda," the costumed mascot of Quebec's 2012 student protest movement, has won a legal challenge of Montreal's controversial bylaw P-6, which bans masked protesters and makes it illegal to participate in a demonstration if the route hasn't been filed with police.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse has declared two key articles of the bylaw to be unconstitutional:

  • Article 2.1, which makes it illegal to hold any demonstration if organizers fail to file an itinerary with police in advance.
  • Article 3.2, which makes it illegal to wear a mask during a protest.
In her 124-page ruling, Masse struck down the mask restriction entirely. 
A woman protests against the proposed bylaw outside of Montreal City Hall before it was passed on May 18, 2012. (Shaun Malley/CBC)

As for the right of demonstrators to withhold their planned route from police, her decision was more nuanced.

Masse ruled that spontaneous, unplanned protests can't be declared illegal, because filing a route with authorities in advance isn't feasible. 

However, where people have been invited in advance to attend a demonstration, a route must be filed, as required by the bylaw.

Chaotic student protests 

Former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay introduced P-6, the controversial bylaw, in May 2012, after weeks of protests triggered by the Charest government's plan to hike university tuition fees. Masks and covered faces had become a common sight, and protests had become increasingly violent.

The bylaw's adoption spurred further protests, and a year later, "Anarchopanda" — the panda-costumed, informal mascot of the 2012 student protest movement — had his head seized by police at an anti-P-6 demonstration.

The unmasked panda, Maisonneuve College philosophy professor Julien Villeneuve, was fined along with 278 other people for participating in the illegal protest. A few days later, Villeneuve launched a fundraising campaign — dubbed "Pandaction"— to fight the controversial bylaw.

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      In a separate court case, another protester successfully challenged the right of the Quebec government to use provisions in the Highway Safety Code to prevent street demonstrations.

      'Anarchopanda' expresses delight

      Villeneuve said he is "delighted" with this latest ruling, adding he is optimistic that the many protesters still facing stiff fines under the municipal bylaw will see their cases dropped. 

      Anarchopanda appears at the Montreal courthouse on June 5, 2012 to protest the Montreal bylaw against the wearing of masks during demonstrations. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

      He told CBC News that he took up the panda costume to protect the students. He thought the costume would help calm tensions with the police.

      "It's a lot easier for a panda to pacify than just a random dude walking in the streets," Villeneuve said.

      He said the right to wear masks at protests can range from a person fearing repercussions from an employer, to how being recognized might affect their personal life.

      Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has not yet read the ruling.

      However, in a brief response to reporters' questions, Coderre said everyone has the right to freedom of expression, but wearing a mask and providing authorities with the itinerary of a protest route have nothing to do with that right.

      The mayor couldn't yet say whether the City of Montreal will appeal the ruling.

      READ Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse's complete ruling here (in French):

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      with files from CBC Montreal's Homerun

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