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Quebec students seek injunction on law limiting demonstrations

Lawyers for student organizations asked the Quebec Superior Court [official website, in French] on Tuesday to suspend parts of an emergency law that restrict spontaneous protests until the law's constitutionality is determined. The law, "An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend" [Bill 78, PDF], was introduced and passed on May 18 to address the problem of frequent student protests against a proposed tuition increase of around 80 percent. The law, which will cease to be effective in July 2013 or any earlier date the government finds appropriate, imposes civil penalties on those who initiate, organize, participate or assist protests without giving an eight-hour notice to authorities. The fine ranges from CAD $1,000 to $125,000. Student associations such as La Federation etudiante collegiale du Quebec (FECQ), La Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec (FEUQ) and Table de Concertation Etudiante du Quebec (TaCEQ) [advocacy websites, in French] responded that the law is unconstitutional and violates students' right to free expression and right to assembly. Felix-Antoine Michaud, who represents the student organizations along with lawyers of Juripop [advocacy website, in French], pointed out that the police did not use the new law in arresting more than 1,000 protesters but rather utilized the municipal bylaws. He argued that the authorities do not need the new law to effectively maintain peace and order. The lawyers for the government will present their argument on Wednesday.

Other countries have attempted to enact laws that would restrict protesters from exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled on Tuesday [JURIST report] that Moldova violated the rights to peaceful assembly and to be free from discrimination by banning gay groups from protesting in front of the country's parliament. Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] last week signed [JURIST report] a controversial law that would increase the penalties imposed on protesters who violate demonstration regulations. The law had been approved [JURIST report] by both houses of the Russian parliament two days earlier. In March, Swiss voters passed a law [JURIST report] similar to Quebec's proposed one. The law imposes heavy fines amounting to 100,000 Swiss Francs (USD $110,000) for people who protest without prior governmental authorization.

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