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Pierre Saint-Arnaud June 12, 2012
On Tuesday, student associations have begun to elaborate their legal arguments to the opening of the hearings of the Superior Court of Quebec, which examines the first of two motions which aim is to ultimately overturn Bill 78, adopted on May 18.
This first motion, supported by 70 trade unions, social, environmental and community organisms, is a request for a stay of execution in order to suspend the application of certain provisions of the law, until courts study the issue thoroughly.
“If a year later, this law is found to be unconstitutional, there are people who will have been arrested and convicted while the law is unconstitutional. That’s the reason for the stay of execution request” explained Giuseppe Sciortino, lawyer for the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), during a break in hearings.
Before the Court, Mr. Sciortino argued that with this law, the Charest government had chosen not to respect student democracy, to deny the students right to strike, and to leave them only the right to boycott their classes.
The lawyer argued that this same government considers student organizations and their leaders as trade unions and attributes them the same responsibilities toward their members, while denying them the same rights.
Mr. Sciortino added that Bill 78, which suspended classes in colleges and universities while on strike, and forced a return to classes in August, thus became a massive injunction replacing all previous, ratifying the elimination of the students’ right to strike, as ordained by judges in previous cases.
The Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Quebec, François Rolland, who decided to hear this cause personally, however corrected him on this point by recalling that all the judges involved in these decisions had issued interlocutory injunctions, none of them ruled on the merits of the case.
Mr. Sciortino added that by surrogating to the courts, by forcing the return to school and by giving herself the ability to sanction offending student associations, the Minister of Education, Michelle Courchesne, assumed the right to find them guilty of contempt without trial.
Before members of the press, he argued that sanctions provided, some of which allow the minister to completely deprive student federations of their membership fees, are a clear infringement in the right of association.
“It is obvious that money is the sinew of war. (…) A student organization without money, it’s not worth much” said Mr. Sciortino.
The plaintiffs also argue that the law gives police an arbitrary power over the right to protest if they feel that the schedule or route provided by the organizers is not satisfactory. They also believe that in its implementation, it opens the door to abusive interpretation.
Ms. Felix-Antoine Michaud, who represents the college student federation (FECQ) and university student federation (FEUQ) of Quebec, took the example of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament currently taking place, to illustrate how the provisions of the law represented an obstruction to the freedom to demonstrate.
“The law does not say what kind of message is good or not, it only says that a spontaneous demonstration is illegal if there was no notice eight hours earlier. Thus, for example, if the Italians win (in Euro 2012 and parade) on Saint-Laurent, they have not notified because they could not guess that they would win. Inevitably, they are considered as acting illegally since the event would not have had advance notice” he specified.
The second procedure is a motion to institute proceedings for declaratory judgment and in nullity, which seeks to invalidate the statute law as a whole, the plaintiffs considering it unconstitutional. This procedure could be heard from July 3rd.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
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