Barreau criticized for stance on bill 78

The Barreau du Québec has ruffled the feathers of some members of the bar after it sent a letter to the Quebec government criticizing legislation that would give police more control over student protesters and public gatherings.

The letter, published on the barreau’s web site on May 16 by president Louis Masson, expressed concerns about the bill that it said could unduly limit freedom of expression and requires more debate before its adoption.

“The proposed regulation raises serious issues related to respecting fundamental freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly and it is therefore likely to be subject to judicial debates,” the letter reads.

The letter continues: “In addition, the provision, as drafted, might give rise to charges against individuals who wished to participate in an event without being identified and having no intention to offend.”

Once adopted, the bill would requie the exact location and itinerary of a meeting, parade, or other gathering to be shared with the director of police; stop anyone involved at meetings, parades or public gatherings from having their faces covered without reasonable cause; and institute a range of penalties depending on the number and severity of the offences.

Some barreau members have balked at the letter, saying the bill is necessary given the continued rioting by student protesters that has rattled the province over the past three months.

“I have just read your press release this evening with the deepest distress and most complete disbelief," former Canadian Bar Association president Bernard Amyot wrote to the barreau president on Thursday evening, according to a La Presse report. “Silence would have been less damaging than the total abdication to anarchy in defiance of the rule of law, which you falsely claim to defend, from the authority of elected parliamentarians and authority of the judiciary and its independence. Shame to the Quebec Bar and to the president Masson.”

Massive protests have raged in Quebec for more than three months, particularly in Montreal, as the Quebec government goes head-to-head with students protesting college and university tuition-fee hikes.

Among bill 78’s proposals, student protesters would be barred from demonstrtating inside and within 50 metres of college and university buildings. The legislation would also fine protesters found guilty of an offence that forces the cancellation of classes. The fines would range from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the offence. They could go up to $125,000 if the offence is committed by a senior officer or representative of a student group or federation.

Today, the Quebec legislature is continuing its section-by-section consideration of the law.

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