Montréal Police have threatened to use Bill 78 against students for the first time since the adoption of this hated law. Nineteen people are under investigation after disruptions at the Université de Montréal.
Bill 78 was adopted by the Liberal government to stop student unrest last spring. It provides for severe penalties for people found guilty of blocking entrances to schools, and students must show their itinerary to any police officer asking for it. Police have confirmed that it is the first time citizens are being detained specifically under Bill 78.
Several court challenges are under way against the law, which is seen by many observers - and not only students - as a clear violation of basic rights, such as the right to protest, the right to dissent and the right of association. No doubt, this time, with one week to go before the provincial election, authorities have decided to react more forcefully to any unrest.
When universities reopened this week, several classes were disrupted, and masked people have organized protests on school grounds as well as inside school premises. In some cases, confrontations were physical, with students accusing security guards of grabbing them by the throat.
The Québec Human Rights Commission has already stated that Bill 78 violates fundamental freedoms under the Canadian Charter, while the Public Service Alliance of Canada said that Bill 78 was "a direct attack against civil liberties in Québec". The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, for its part, has denounced the "drastic, broad infringements of fundamental constitutional rights in Québec".