Tuition, Protest and Bill 78: A View from Quebec

Tonight The Pensive Quill carries a letter written by written by many of Quebec’s leading historians in protest against a a Quebec government bill which would impose restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly. It was submitted by André Poulin and translated by Tom Peace.

At the end of last week, the Quebec government tabled Bill 78 in an effort to end the months of protest over planned hikes to university tuition. The bill sets restrictions on the freedom of assembly and expression, requiring those in protests over 50 people to ascertain that the protest has been officially sanctioned by police and government officials.  The bill also holds student associations, unions and their leaders accountable for the actions of their membership. The biggest problem with the law, like most draconian measures, is that it is vague in its definition of illegal activity and harsh on punishment.  Not surprisingly, countless groups – including some that disagree with the tuition-based protest – have voiced their opposition to it, culminating in a mass demonstration on Tuesday in Montreal.  Below is a translated version of an open letter, written by many of Quebec’s leading historians in reaction to the government’s bill.  It is followed by brief summaries of the posts related to this issue published by our francophone partner site,

Here is the letter:

In the silence of rejection, the chains of the slave and the voice of the whistleblower are no longer heard.  All tremble before the tyrant.  It is as dangerous to encourage their favour as merit their disgrace.  The historian is charged with the people’s vengeance.  It is in vain that Nero prospers, for Tacitus has already been born into the empire.” – François-René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’outre-tombe.

As professors and historians who, alongside others, have documented Quebec’s political history, we affirm that we have rarely seen the government commit as blatant an assault on the fundamental rights underpinning Quebec society.

The rights to free expression, to protest, and to assemble are at the heart of our democracy.  These civil and political rights determine our belonging and participation within the life of our political community.  From the struggle of the Patriots during the 1830s to that of the union movement during the Quiet Revolution, these rights were at the heart of our province’s historical transformation; they were central to the fights of women, Aboriginal people and others for political recognition. Our political regime cannot fully claim to be a democracy without the rights enshrined in the Charters.  Democracy requires that citizens have the capacity to exercise their rights.  This is the foundation of law in this country and the primary objective of political struggles since the beginning of the parliamentary system.

The student movement, by its actions over the past three months, has merely taken up the mantle of this democratic heritage. It is unbearable to watch a government using undemocratic practices in response to these protests. The principal function of a democratic state is to guarantee its citizens their rights and freedoms.

Worst of all is the government’s more recent act, Bill 78.  According to the President of the Quebec Bar, this act calls into question the primacy of the rule of law in conflict resolution.  Indeed, in its current form, Bill 78 clearly limits the right of all citizens to peaceful protest. It severely curtails the academic freedoms within the university.  It suspends legitimate legal recourse and reverses the burden of proof by making student associations and unions responsible for the acts committed by others. Finally, it severely penalizes citizens, student associations and unions who do not comply with the provisions of this exceptional law.

In its current form, Bill 78 is a wicked and infamous law.  We call on all those in this country who care about our fundamental political freedoms to mobilize against this aggressive act against our rights and liberties.


  1. Just to let you know, last night more than 600 hundred people were arrested under this law for protesting in the streets of Montreal and Quebec.

  2. Anthony with respect where can I find the orginal French version..? I'm fluent in French and my oldset daughter(she's a plastic half Irish & half French) wants to go to uni in Montreal this yr..

    This is interesting.

  3. This is indeed scary stuff and something I would expect from the brits,did they not try something similar here a couple of years ago with little but a whimper from qsf. I always thought that Canada with its strong French connection would have been to the fore in guarding human rights,which to me this bill is a major attack, a very scary post and it may be a warning to us all on this side of the big pond of what is to come,which is a further erosion of our ever decreasing civil liberties.

  4. Frankie,
    here is the french version:

  5. Marty,
    indeed it is a scary stuff. The good news though is that people aren't scared and still protest every night in the streets. At 8 pm every night, people are banging saucepan or taking the streets.

    The bill 78 is a provincial law, so it's only applies to Quebec. But, Canada is now governed by a conservative party that is close to the american religious right. From a peacekeeper nation, Canada has become a warmonger nation.

  6. The guardian has a article on the student strike and law 78.

  7. André mon ami it sounds like another storming of the Bastille is reqd there.bon chance,shove the bastards in the st Lawerence..

  8. Andre,

    a very important protest against a very dangerous bill.

  9. André

    Maggie Thatcher Done exactly the same with the miners and their Unions, but, when she Brought the , "INFAMOUS" POLL TAX to England,Scotland , and, Wales, she did not have a clue as to the extent of the protests which happened, In those days She was Attributed to the NWO, "New World Order", those Laws you are all protesting about are NWO and Draconian, Basically it is saying, DO AS WE SAY, NOT AS WE DO, Every Student , Lecturer , Professor Should fight this law to your last breathe , Don't Forget, A Banner Like this can speak a Million Words to those trying to bring this law in, and it should say this, "We are your future", "The People voted you in" , "The People Can Vote You Out"

  10. itsjustmacker,

    I was in London the day that Thatcher resigned, it was a great day! I have also seen miners manifestations in London in the summer of 1984. in that summer, I was working in a French restaurant near trafalguar Square. This strike had a big impact on me. I dide my Ph D on a welsh miners families (1850-1900). I work on the village of Treherbert. Now, I work mainly on Northern Ireland, but still love to read about Wales.

    For now the law 78 is a complete failure. Each night the number of people protesting is inceasing.

  11. Here is a link to a video on the protest marches in Montreal

  12. if Boston College was in Quebec the professors there would be calling for a stronger Bill 78

  13. I hope I see Quebec in smart tuition reviews, because I really want to move to Canada due to all the good benefits, not like here in United States.