Quebec passes law to make protesting outside schools, hospitals and vaccinations sites illegal

Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault tabled the legislation Thursday morning and it later passed. It outlaws protests within 50 metres of schools, daycares, hospitals, clinics, COVID-19 vaccination centres and testing sites.

New law will apply for 30-day period that can be renewed

Quebec Premier Francois Legault walks in for question period Thursday, September 23, 2021 at the National Assembly Quebec City. His government tabled a bill to outlaw protests near places such as schools, hospitals and COVID-19 vaccination sites. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government has made it illegal to protest within 50 metres of schools, daycares, hospitals, medical clinics, mobile clinics, COVID-19 vaccination sites and testing centres.

Law 105, tabled Thursday morning and adopted that same evening, also makes it illegal to organize or "incite" someone to organize protests at those places. 

People who protest or help organize them will be subject to fines of $1,000 to $6,000. Those fines double for anyone who "threatens or intimidates a person who is going to, trying to access or leaving" these types of facilities.

The law also allows a Superior Court judge to grant an injunction to either prevent a protest from taking place or stop someone from organizing one. 

The new law does not stop health-care workers or school staff from protesting conditions at their workplaces.

The Coalition Avenir Québec said the law is a response to recent anti-vaccine demonstrations outside schools and hospitals. It was tabled in a bill at the National Assembly by Geneviève Guilbault, the province's public security minister.

On Wednesday, Premier François Legault said the legislation was necessary, adding that his patience with protesters "had reached its limit."

He also urged opposition parties to support it so that it could be adopted quickly. 

"We're taking action to protect our children, protect our nurses [and] protect our patients," the premier said on Thursday morning.

"What's important is that we adopt this today."

New law applies for 30-day period, but it can be renewed

All parties agreed to fast-track the proposed bill. MNAs had few hours to study it and propose amendments.

"We're not against people demonstrating," said Dominique Anglade, the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.

"We're against people intimidating and demonstrating in front of children and in locations that are dangerous for the people that are impacted."

Manon Massé, co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, said the proposed bill must respect people's right to protest. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Manon Massé, co-spokesperson of Québec Solidaire, said it's important to protect children and health-care workers while respecting people's right to protest.

"It's important for the law to bring measures that are exceptional, temporary and specific," Massé said.

The law will apply for a 30-day period — an amendment that was suggested by Claire Samson, the lone MNA at the National Assembly for the Conservative Party of Quebec. 

There is a provision, however, that allows the government to renew the law's 30-day application period. The law will no longer apply once the province's public health emergency is declared over.

The public health emergency has been in place since March 13, 2020. 

Law 105 goes further than existing provincial laws that prevent people from blocking access to schools, hospitals and clinics.

Quebec also banned protests within 50 metres of abortion clinics in 2016.

Human rights lawyer says bill violates charter

Before it was adopted, Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey said the proposed law is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Beyond that, it is unnecessary because there is already a prohibition on unlawful assembly, he said.

That means demonstrations could be stopped when they become violent, too loud, or contrary to municipal by-laws. Already, unions regularly hold demonstrations in front of hospitals and schools, he said.

"The right to demonstrate is a fundamental right. You can, of course, regulate it," Grey said.

Banning demonstrations within 10 metres of a door or from going after individual students would be more reasonable, but limiting protests to 50 metres away from schools, for example, appears to be an effort to stop the anti-vaccination message from reaching students, Grey said.

"I don't think it's the role of the government to block the message," said Grey. 

With files from Cathy Senay and Radio-Canada