Quebec students, unions challenge anti-protest law

Fri May 25, 2012 2:39pm EDT
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By Leila Lemghalef

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Quebec students and trade unions on Friday formally challenged a new anti-protest law they say undermines democracy in the Canadian province, which is reeling from three months of demonstrations against planned tuition hikes.

Many people are disobeying the law with noisy nightly marches through the city of Montreal to show their unhappiness with the Liberal government.

The students, unions and around 70 community groups asked the Quebec superior court to suspend parts of the law, which requires advance notice of protests and sets out stiff fines for those who disobey.

"We are worried that the Quebec government is attacking fundamental rights ... such as the right to gather, the right to free speech as well as the right to protest peacefully," said Leo Bureau-Blouin, head of the Quebec College Student Federation.

The court will hear the request to suspend parts of the law next Wednesday. The coalition also wants the court to throw out most of the law on the grounds that it violates the constitution.

The protests against the tuition hikes have turned into a general campaign against the government, which must call an election by December 2013. Polls indicate Premier Jean Charest could lose to separatists who want independence for the French-speaking province.

Police arrested almost 700 people in Montreal and the provincial capital, Quebec City, on Wednesday night.

Charest replaced his chief of staff on Thursday with a former aide who has been working on the student issue. The education minister resigned last week.   Continued...

Montreal police stand in front of smoke from an unknown source, during a protest against student tuition hikes on the 100th day of Quebec's student strikes, in downtown Montreal May 22, 2012. REUTERS/Brett Gundlock