Quebec Court of Appeal voids bylaw forcing protesters to provide route to police

The Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled the requirement of submitting a protest itinerary in advance is "arbitrary" and "unreasonable." The appeal was filed by CEGEP professor Julien Villeneuve, a.k.a. "Anarchopanda," the costumed mascot of Quebec's 2012 student protests.

Ruling is another legal victory for CEGEP prof known as 'Anarchopanda' during 2012 student protests

Anarchopanda has won another victory in his effort to have the City of Montreal's protest bylaw P6 struck down. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The Quebec Court of Appeal has struck down a City of Montreal bylaw that forced protesters to provide an itinerary to police ahead of time, ruling the requirement is "arbitrary" and "unreasonable."

The appeal was filed by Julien Villeneuve, a.k.a. "Anarchopanda," the costumed mascot of Quebec's 2012 student protests.

"I'm delighted obviously. It confirms what we've been saying for what, six years now?" Villeneuve said. 

Former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay introduced P-6 in May 2012, after weeks of disruptive protests triggered by the Charest government's plan to hike university tuition fees.

Villeneuve, the Maisonneuve College philosophy teacher behind the panda mask, first won a victory at the Quebec Superior Court in June 2016 when Justice Chantal Masse overturned two key provisions of the bylaw, known as P-6.

She lifted the ban on wearing masks or face coverings in protests.

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

She ruled that spontaneous, unplanned protests cannot be declared illegal, because filing a route with authorities in advance of an unplanned protest isn't feasible. 

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

Now the Quebec Court of Appeal has voided article 2.1 of the bylaw — that requirement to submit an itinerary.

Police confront student demonstrators on February 23, 2012 in Montreal. (CBC)

Organizers can't control route, Villeneuve argued

Although Masse's ruling went largely in his favour, Villeneuve contended it did not go far enough. 

He argued asking for an itinerary in advance of a demonstration placed protest organizers in an undue position of power.

"P-6 asks you not only to give the itinerary, but to have that itinerary respected," he said before launching his appeal. He said it forced organizers into the position of having to "repress" protesters if they failed to stick to the planned route.

Furthermore, he said, the bylaw compelled protesters to know whether or not an itinerary had been provided to police —an expectation he considered unreasonable.

The Quebec Court of Appeal called the requirement "arbitrary" and "unreasonable." 

The CEGEP teacher used crowdfunding to raise money for the original legal challenge.

City criticizes previous administration

Montreal's Plante administration said it's pleased that the highest court in Quebec has validated its position on P-6 and said it does not intend to appeal the ruling or continue the legal battle.

"This chapter is closed," said a statement from Mayor Valérie Plante's office. 

The city criticized the previous administration for spending money and time to carry out what it called a "useless" legal battle. 

In light of the ruling, the city said it plans to look at the related cases that are still active to assess whether or not to withdraw the charges. 

With files from Sarah Leavitt