Quebec passes law to restrict protests, ban wearing masks

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 18, 2012 19:54 EDT
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Student protest in Montreal, May 17 via AFP
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MONTREAL — Authorities in Canada’s Quebec province passed emergency measures Friday to curb protest rights in a bid to restore order after months of sometimes violent student demonstrations over tuition hikes.

The francophone province’s assembly passed a law after a marathon two-day session requiring groups of more than 10 people to inform police in advance when they plan to hold a demonstration, and provide the location, time and duration of the event.

On its heels, the city of Montreal also passed a bylaw prohibiting wearing masks after several cloaked protesters smashed storefronts and clashed with police during demonstrations continuing into a 14th week amid a deadlock in negotiations.

Fines for breaches of the two laws range from $500 to $250,000. An exception to the no-mask rule, however, is allowed for the Halloween holiday.

Students, unions and the opposition party criticized the government over the emergency law, with one former premier calling it “barbaric.”

Louis Masson, president of the Quebec Bar Association representing 24,000 lawyers, said it goes too far by restricting fundamental “freedoms of expression… to a point that begs the question, who would now dare protest.”

Before the emergency law was unveiled, a majority of Quebecers had backed the government on the need for a hike in school fees of more than $1,700 to help reduce a budget deficit.

But many also said Quebec Premier Jean Charest had mismanaged the crisis, according to polls.

The student demonstrations culminated Monday with the resignation of Quebec’s education minister and rising political star, Line Beauchamp, following a standoff when 165,000 students rejected a tentative deal last week to stretch tuition hike over seven years instead of five.

“When laws are unjust, sometimes you have to disregard them, and we’re seriously thinking about this now,” student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said about the emergency measure.

Photo AFP/File, Rogerio Barbosa

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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