The adoption of Bill 78, May 18, 2012 by the corrupt and reactionary government of Jean Charest (with the support of the ultra‑right party, Coalition Avenir QuÃ©bec or CAQ), will go down in Canada and Quebec`s history as one of the most serious attacks against civil liberties, fundamental rights and democracy in general.
The attack in Quebec on freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to organize threatens the people across Canada.
We call on labour, students, popular movements and all democratic‑minded people of Quebec and English‑speaking Canada to unite and fight for the preservation of our democratic rights and against Bill 78.
A unified and coordinated resistance is the only effective way for the people of Quebec to repeal the Act and to make a break from the policies of austerity, privatization and higher fees. We call to intensify mobilization efforts to organize a general strike in Quebec.
An anti‑democratic law
The President of the Bar Quebec Association, Louis Masson, has said "that this bill, if passed, constitutes a violation of the constitutional and fundamental rights of citizens. The extent of these limitations to fundamental freedoms is not justified to achieve the objectives of the government."
The amendments made by the CAQ in no way diminish these concerns. In particular, the law:
* seriously limits the right of association, the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression,
* requires organizers of events with 50 or more people to reveal to police the route and mode of transport at least eight hours before they start;
* gives police the authority to unilaterally order demonstrators to change their route or location;
* imposes financial sanctions so severe that they threaten the continued existence of student unions and employee associations on campus;
* demands student associations and employees to take steps to ensure that their members comply with the law;
* imposes a reverse onus of proof on the employee associations in which a member would be charged with offense;
* while the explicit notion of encouragement has been removed, the law still states that anyone who helps or induces another person to commit an offense under the Act is liable to the penalties provided.
The Swiss "example"
During a press conference Robert Dutil, Quebec Minister of Public Security, raised that Quebec would be neither worse nor better than other countries in Europe or US states that also, he claimed, limit the right to protest in the same way. He mentioned in particular the case of Switzerland. It seems that the Charest government has been greatly inspired by a law passed in April 2012 by the canton of Geneva, which limits the right to protest similarly to Law 78.
The Swiss law was an initiative of the extreme right. Its progressive opponents are currently challenging the law in federal court because it is contrary to the constitution and international treaties. Minister Dutil did not mention that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai, has made serious proposals for amendments to the Geneva law. Kiai, whose position is connected with the Council for Human Rights, said the Swiss law would "unduly restrict the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, which are the essence of democracy," and that "the exercise of fundamental freedoms should not be subject to prior authorization."
The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right. However, a fundamental right subject to an authorization is no longer a fundamental right. The exercise of the fundamental right to demonstrate must be without any prior authorization. We call on the people to continue to exercise their right to protest with or without permission.
The student strike expands
What began as a campaign for access to education by the students has become a broad popular struggle against cuts, privatization and austerity measures. Now it is a battle for the right to organize, freedom of association, and for democracy itself.
In fact, the student movement is currently in the forefront of popular struggle against a widespread political and social crisis. This is why the bourgeoisie wants to crush it at once. The stakes are high: a defeat of the student movement would be a setback to all progressive forces, in Quebec and Canada, while a victory for the students would help everyone.
That is why the labor movement has a duty to become directly involved in the fight.
Helping the monopoly corporations
Law 78 also fits with Charest’s election strategy, so much so that it could be titled "An Act to support the Liberal campaign." Charest not only intends to get political mileage from the student struggle by presenting the Liberals as the party of Law and Order, he also wants to curb any protests during his election campaign.
The stubbornness of the Charest Liberals is entirely responsible for the crisis. This obstinacy is the consequence of their total loyalty to the ruling class, the big capitalist monopolies which are increasingly worried about the development of the popular struggle that has shook the Quebec nation.
By refusing to seriously negotiate with the student movement and instead deploying violent paramilitary police, anti‑democratic court orders, and now adopting this reactionary and provocative law, the Charest Liberals have again demonstrated arrogant contempt for the youth, educators, unions, and all the people of Quebec.
At each stage of this struggle, the class nature of the claims of youth, students and workers have become clearer. Similarly, the fight has exposed the limitations of democracy in a capitalist system.
According to Jean Charest, democracy is limited to voting in elections every four years. Now, between elections it seems, we have a dictatorship of the 1 percent where it is almost needless to consult or accommodate popular demands.
In a democracy according to Charest, rights are increasingly reduced to only those who can afford them, such as the right to use private health services, or as the right to education, which becomes the individual right to attend paid courses. The corporations can ignore workers’ rights or pollute a river for a tiny penalty, but when the people resist, the government tries to fine them out of existence.
The crisis of the capitalist system
The crisis in Quebec is also a reflection of the general and systemic economic crisis of capitalism as a whole. This crisis takes the form of an attack against the democratic rights coupled with increasing militarization and war.
The Harper Conservative government federally has wasted billions of dollars to bomb Libya, to keep the Canadian military in Afghanistan, and to increase military spending and prisons, all at the expense of social programs. One F-35 bomber could pay for Charest’s tuition increases.
The Harper Conservatives have attacked also the right to strike by imposing back to work orders at Air Canada and Canada Post. They also deliberately manipulated the electoral and parliamentary processes with "robocalls."
Last March, BC elementary and high school teachers had their right to bargain collectively and strike violated. The fierce repression at the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 led to over a thousand arrests, while the Occupy movement was evicted last fall.
As the Central Committee of the Communist Party said in spring 2010, the reason behind this class repression is the same: to stifle the democratic aspirations of the masses, weaken the struggle of the working class and, if necessary, crush anti-capitalist dissent.
The seeds of fascism
True democracy is actually an anathema to capitalist domination. As the systemic crisis deepens and expands the class struggle, the ruling class does not hesitate to use all means at its disposal to maintain its hegemony, even removing the democratic rights that it generally tolerates under bourgeois democracy.
Bill 78 must be fought not only by the people of Quebec, but by all democratic Canadians, because it plants the seeds of fascism.
Chants on the street have compared Law 78 with the War Measures Act or the Padlock Law of Duplessis. The Padlock Law began as an attack on the Communist Party in Quebec and rapidly expanded to almost any labour or progressive group. The law was brought into force in 1937, and it took twenty years before the Supreme Court struck it down. By that time the government had created the PROFUNC list, which was used by the police and military in 1970 to help round up "suspects" after the declaration of the War Measures Act.
To overcome Bill 78 to win the battle against austerity measures, the people of Quebec must not be limited to a legal battle or hope for a change in government through elections. The best approach for working people and youth, against big business and its government power, is above all united action and mass mobilization.
An election will also take place, sooner or later, and will bring together parties which voted against Bill 78, but at the same time opposed other progressive demands. For example, although she wears the red square today, Pauline Marois says it is necessary to increase tuition, but at a slower pace.
The best vehicle for the hope of the students and peoples is, currently, Quebec solidaire. Notably, Quebec solidaire calls for free education, a longstanding demand of the Communist Party and Young Communist League. Blocking the right, defeating the Liberals, and electing a government of Quebec solidaire is an important part of the way forward.
Call for solidarity
In the context of Bill 78, the Quebec students have called for solidarity and material support from across Canada.
Bill 78 comes on top of already harsh repression. As of May 18 there have been 472 criminal charges during the strike. One week in April saw over 600 arrests in three days. Thousands have been pepper sprayed and tear gassed, clubbed and beaten, detained and released. Victims of the strike include Francis Grenier, who lost most of his sight when a sound grenade was illegally thrown by a police officer into his eye; Maxence Valade who lost an eye from a rubber bullet; and Alexandre Allard, who was in a coma for several days from a rubber bullet to the head.
Four students are currently being charged under provisions of anti‑terrorist laws enacted following September 11th. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co‑spokesperson of CLASSE, will appear in Superior Court for having dared say that "I find it legitimate" that students form picket lines to defend their strike.
On the other hand, Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s opportunist decision to say nothing about the principles behind this dramatic, massive struggle is a serious betrayal of the student protesters. Mulcair said the tuition hike "is first and foremost a matter of provincial jurisdiction… Our fight is not with the Charest government… Violence is not the right way to do things." All these statements were helpful to the Charest government, while isolating the students from the solidarity of popular organizations who follow the lead of the NDP.
We call for labour, student, community and progressive organizations to send messages of support to the Quebec students, and for emergency solidarity actions to be held across the county to break the silence in English‑speaking Canada about this incredible people’s movement!
For a Charter of Youth Rights!
Bill 78 is also a direct attack on the rights of youth. Instead, we demand a Charter that defends their right to accessible education; good quality and safe union employment, democracy; peace; leisure and democratic culture; justice for Aboriginal youth and Quebec; and full equality. The Charter would be legislation with teeth, preventing further erosion of our rights on all levels.
In Quebec, forward to a general strike
United mass mobilization must continue to grow with the labour movement fully involved. It is now time to start organizing a general strike, social and political! The coming months of summer and fall will be a crucial period to further expand the struggle and mobilization. This is why the Communist Party calls for the organization the working class and student movements to be prepared to increase the response early in the fall.
Peoples Voice June 1-15, 2012,<