Quebec human rights commission slams Bill 78

The commission says Quebec's special law, Bill 78, is contrary to several rights enshrined in the province's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Montreal exploded with protests after Bill 78 became law in May. (Radio--Canada)

Quebec's special law, Bill 78, that suspends a school semester and limits some protests, impedes on peoples' fundamental rights, according to the province's Human Rights Commission.

The commission, known as the CDPDJ, issued its review of the emergency legislation, that was enacted in May at the height of Quebec's student protests over tuition increases.

The 56-page commission analysis finds Bill 78 doesn't respond to minimum requirements laid out by Quebec's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In particular, the commission takes issue with sections of the law that prohibit protests on school property as direct attacks on freedom of expression and association as guaranteed under the Quebec Charter of Rights.

Bill 78 lays out strict rules for demonstrations of more than 50 people, including having to give eight hours' notice for details such as the protest route, the duration and the time at which they are being held.

The law's "prejudicial elements" should be proportionate to the benefits it brings to the public good, said CDPDJ president Gaétan Cousineau.

As it stands, the legislation includes some articles the commission says are "stated in large and unclear terms."

The CDPDJ's analysis is not legally binding — only a court of law can render the legislation invalid.

Sections of Bill 78 CDPDJ says violate the charter

  • Article 13, because it affects freedom of expression, of reunion and peaceful association.
  • Article 14, because it affects freedom of peaceful gatherings, and, in association, freedom of expression by making it illegal to assemble group within or outside an educational institution.
  • Articles 12 to 14, because they directly impact people's sense of solidarity and personal convictions towards a cause. 
  • Article 15, because it imposes certain responsibilities on student associations (under Quebec's charter, associations do not have control or the right to exert such control over members.)
  • Articles 16 and 17, because it requires approval for protests larger than 50 people, in violation of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
  • Articles 18 to 31, because it imposes financial sanctions, in violation of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. 

The Commission says Bill 78 is also unclear about what acts are legal or illegal.

Quebec's Liberal government cited article 9.1 of the province's Chart of Rights and Freedoms when it first introduced its emergency legislation.

Article 9.1 states that certain freedoms can be revoked if peoples' security is endangered.

The emergency law has come under fire from student group and civil rights advocates.

After its adoption on May 18, opponents launched a court challenge against the law.

A coalition of groups also requested a temporary injunction to suspend Bill 78, pending the legal challenge.

That injunction request was rejected in court on June 27.

Bill 78