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Étienne Côté-Paluck June 11, 2012
Original French Text: http://urbania.ca/blog/3152/la-democratie-n-est-pas-foutue
While thousands of people are being arrested because they are protesting peacefully, ordinary writers with good sense find it outrageous to pretend that truncheons, political profiling, and mass arrests don’t suggest intimidation.*
The students’ cause (a near doubling of tuition fees over 7 years, an offer rejected by nearly all student associations) really seems to have created a free for all for everyone to say anything they want.
The Finance minister, Raymond Bachand, shamelessly affirmed that he wants nothing to do with a Quebec where elected officials can’t “walk around in the street without being assaulted.”
Oh really? So does this rule also apply to regular people?
Because in terms of abuse of power, there’s always the Sarkozy or Bush model. Cute.
If we want to be part of a Quebec in which police arrest young ‘vandals,’ we must also want to arrest those officers of the peace who dishonour their badges and colleagues for the good cause. Even if the majority of police officers have all the goodwill in the world, why do some of them engage with people who provoke them? We don’t pay them to attack citizens.
I’d like to be part of a Quebec where, at the exits of high schools, 13 year olds wearing red squares aren’t told by police to “Take those off.” That happened last week in Rosemont. I’d also like to be part of a Quebec where the simple fact of publicly announcing your opinion is not perceived by our elected officials as an incitement to violence. The party in power in Quebec is starting to radicalize.
It’s not just parliamentary opposition, public criticisms, elections, the police, and the tribunals. Constitutional democracy is way more complex. Never boring, certainly. But we should not content ourselves with so little without working for more. For example, if the student associations are moving slowly away from representative democracy to use strategies from direct democracy, why be scared of them, as our politicians are?
The dozen or so arrests that were planned for the beginning of the Grand Prix take on an intensely political flavour in a time of crisis, putting into question both the neutrality of the police force and the value of the rest of their work. Refusing to let a young scout do volunteer work because she had in the passed expressed dissident beliefs tends to lead to some of the same conclusions.
Do you really think that these hundreds of protests are being planned by a huge, top-down organization? No. Welcome to the horizontal organizing of the 2.0 world, and its pamphlets of 140 characters.
Part of the population is frustrated by the attitude of the government. They protest several times a day, for up to 6 hours at a time, in dozens of towns and neighbourhoods, and sometimes end up running into each other. Do you see the logistical impossibility of organizing this? How could you impose strict criteria, like the number of participants (as many as possible?), the method of transport of the participants (as fast as possible?) on spontaneous protests? Thousands of casseroles (pans) and one panda, prove on a daily basis that law 78 is unenforceable. Even if the police have yet to use it, probably out of fear that it’s legality will be contested.
Thousands of people are receiving $500 fines for having dared to spontaneously and peacefully express their dissent in the streets. Seems like nothing, but is this democracy?
It’s true that criminal acts have been committed in the name of the cause, or at least using the cause as pretext. Unfortunately, using these already-illegal acts to justify new restrictions isn’t fooling anyone. These new laws, rules, and policing tactics rest on a foundation of authoritarianism that is worrying for those who admire our democracy.
In Montreal and Québec, for the last three weeks, the police declare almost every protest ‘illegal’ almost before they start, without any authority to do so. Is it an arbitrary decision, or just a threat?
Let’s talk about the ‘special law.’ Since when can Québec legitimately pass a law that contravenes fundamental liberties and leaves up to police officers the discretion to choose when to apply it? Who knows.
An elected MNA was arrested on Wednesday, with others in Québec. Dûment warns that he was breaking the law, having stayed in the street. He was committing civil disobedience against the special law. The police, however, charged him under the Safe roads act. They handcuffed him and detained him with dozens of others for a common fine. It’s enough to make your hair turn grey.
We’re just making fools of ourselves when this law is helping [Vladimir] Putin to justify his own anti-protest laws. Meanwhile, the québecois resistance to law 78 is being cited as an example of ingeniousness in several international media outlets, including Libération and Wired. A little shot of caribou to go with that?
Elections will probably take place in September, but do we really have to wait for this hypothetical window before requiring of our government that they get rid of a law that contravenes our fundamental rights?
In any case, the healthy mechanisms of a state of law, like mass peaceful protest in the streets of Québec, are working to oppose this law. We don’t need to get too outraged, then, when people reference historical struggles that helped build modern democracy. Gandhi and Luther King are still touchstones for a number of contemporary political philosophies.
Maybe we would all do better to seek more inspiration from them?
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.