If you would like to volunteer and join the effort, please contact us at the above email before embarking on any translation work, in order to avoid any redundancies. We cannot accept translations that have not been cleared with us first.
For more useful English-language sources on the conflict, see:
The original French text of this editorial can be found here: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/350475/loi-78-abus-de-pouvoir
Bernard Descôteaux May 19th, 2012 Québec
The Charest government has made the decision to resolve the student strike on tuition fees through force, which is the logical conclusion of its management of a crisis that it has neither understood, nor mastered. The situation has been terrible, and the end of this story could not have been anything other than lamentable We denounce it.
The only words that can describe Bill 78, which was adopted yesterday by the National Assembly to ensure a return to studies are: ABUSE OF POWER. If it took a law to ensure accessible conditions for learning, which was necessary in and of itself, nothing justified the suspension of the fundamental democratic rights of the entire citizenry of Quebec, namely the right to demonstrate, which will from now on be subject to the arbitrary control of police forces.
Why such an excess of authority? We cannot help but note that, in the history of Quebec and of Canada, two democratic states equipped with charters of rights and freedoms that they wear proudly on their sleeves, an authoritarian tendency appears as soon as there is perceived social tension. This is the corollary of fear resulting from the weakness of the authorities in power. The examples are numerous. There was of course the October Crisis, but also the abuse of police power during the G-20 Summit in Toronto two years ago. In the present moment, this weakness has been evident in the Charest’s government’s inability to solve this crisis through dialogue.
We at le Devoir have always felt it necessary to denounce these authoritarian tendencies, even if it meant standing alone against everyone else. This is what Claude Ryan courageously did in 1970 when the War Measures Act was imposed. A respect for our fundamental rights is part of our values. We have always felt preoccupied with the collective destiny of our society, while at the same time always being careful to ensure individuals protection against the abuses and deviations of the state. There are numerous voices protesting against those contained in Bill 78. The Charest government did accept a few amendments to its plans for the bill, but the bill as it was votes goes way too far.
The contempt that students have been feeling, and that is an obstacle to productive negotiations between all the representative parties, is today articulated in a law that reeks of arrogance, and of an affirmed willingness to break a crisis that has become out of control, even though it was at the outset a political disagreement, like many others that Quebec has seen. For the students, this law is a “declaration of war”. For various social groups, this is an opportunity that the state has seized to undermine fundamental rights. The legal challenge that is on its way will be lively.
The idea of a pause in this unsustainable escalation, by suspending courses, would have been enough. But no. This reaction is excessive; it hits such crucial rights as freedom of expression and of assembly smack in the face, flouting democracy. It exceeds the usual framework of dissuasive tactics with extreme amendments—for students who are denouncing fee hikes! It threatens the existence of the student groups, denies them their recourse to power through striking by prioritizing above all else the right to education, while at the same time eviscerating their right to freedom of assembly. It incites people to inform on each other. It lapses into a dangerous insignificance by attacking the carrés rouges.
It turns the heads of institutions into disciplinarians. It forces associations to exert control over their members. It give police forces surveillance powers that definitively erase the possibility of spontaneous demonstration. It renders the state omnipresent, granting it exorbitant powers that flirt with the denial of rights. Its vagueness and arbitrariness could extend to other spheres. The anxieties and contempt that people have are fully justified. This has done nothing to dissipate those feelings, but rather it has consolidated them.
This repressive law could not have resulted in anything other than stupour and indignation, as we say yesterday in various reactions. It was supposed to calm things down? It has contributed a sense of incertitude to the troubled social climate of the past few weeks that only adds to the disorder.
Citizens have had good reason to be moved by the images of violence that the student conflict has unfortunately resulted in. But this insidious law also contains its fair share of violence. The general public has understood this law as impossible, a mistake, and shameful. We ask: what will rallies be like from now on? The mister of education says that this law was made for the students, but this was not indicated in its actual text. How will the law be interpreted? This opens the door to abuses. Coming out of the opposition to the tuition hikes, this special bill leaves in its wake a fear of expressing ideas that run contrary to the government’s party line. This rattles the pedestal of democracy.
What to do now that the bill has been passed? Is is now law and must be respected. But resistance is possible. Some recourse exists. There is the legal path, which the student associations and human rights organizations with rightly pursue. And there is the path of public opinion which will pass judgement during the next election. The government will want to defend their decision to raise tuition, but they will also need to explain why they allowed such a foreseeable conflict to degenerate as it has, and why it did not intervene until it was too late.
There is a third path, that of reason, which could find the Charest government falling right back into the tensions that prevail today. Negotiations are still possible. The government did this just a few months ago with the Crown prosecutors, negotiating with them even after having imposed a return-to-work law on them. Taking this path and recalling Bill 78 would show that the Premier, his ministers, and his deputees, are not looking to instrumentalize the law towards political ends, but that their principal interest is social peace.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.