The Ghost of Maurice Duplessis

The Québec conflict over access to higher education and the refusal of the embattled Liberal party government of Jean Charest to compromise the principal of a major increase in fees has reached a critical point. With the adoption by the Québec National Assembly of controversial legislation, Bill 78,  that most of the legal establishment and civil rights experts in Québec view as a constitutional violation of the charter rights of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and communication and freedom of peaceful assembly the government has crossed a rubicon of sorts.(See the excerpt from the Charter below)

The populist mass circulation newspaper le journal de Montréal has headlined  ”Loi Matraque” on its front page complete with a photo of a woman police officer dressed in riot gear holding a baton as marchers walk by.  Québec has a dark history when it comes to civil liberties . This is a province which elected many times the authoritarian politician Maurice Duplessis who adopted the notorious padlock act which civil rights experts like Pierre Trudeau and F.R.Scott and others fought courageously until they were able to get the law overturned in the courts. It was the Duplessis reign of abuse of civil rights that drew Trudeau into politics and led to the creation of the constitutionally entrenched charter of rights of which Canadians are so justifiably proud.

The new bill 78 is regrettably worthy of Duplessis because it gives police the power  to decide which speech acts and private communications can be considered indirectly contributing to violations of the law which prohibit demonstrations or marches  of more than fifty persons, even if peaceful from taking place without prior 8 hour notice, detailed description of the route and permission of the authorities. The law and the government’s advocacy of it has pandered to the commonplace authoritarian impulse in societies to suppress dissenting minority opinion about key social and economic questions.

The student movement in Québec has also made  errors in its handling of its advocacy. This is not surprising for youth. And possibly the student movement  has been infiltrated by  some extremists and agents provocateurs. The rights granted by the charter are for peaceful assembly. Violence and intimidation are absolutely unacceptable.

In my view  the dispute should be subjected to mediation and this law which if it can be subjected to the courts without delay will be found unconstitutional.It may well help Premier Charest in the polls but it is a terrible price to pay for this ephemeral advantage.

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Fundamental Freedoms

Fundamental freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.


About haroldchorneyeconomist

I am Professor of political economy at Concordia university in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I received my B.A.Hons (econ.&poli sci) from the University of Manitoba. I also completed my M.A. degree in economics there. Went on to spend two years at the London School of Economics as a Ph.D. student in economics and then completed my Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Toronto. Was named a John W.Dafoe fellow, a CMHC fellow and a Canada Council fellow. I also was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1968 after completing my first class honours undergraduate degree. Worked as an economist in the area of education, labour economics and as the senior economist with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for the Government of Manitoba from 1972 to 1978. I also have worked as an economic consultant for MDT socio-economic consultants and have been consulted on urban planning, health policy, linguistic duality and public sector finance questions by the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. I have also been consulted by senior leaders of the British Labour party, MPs from the Progressive Conservative party, the Liberal party and the New Democrats on economic policy questions. Members of the Government of France under the Presidency of Francois Mitterand discussed my work on public sector deficits. I have also run for elected office at the municipal level. I first began to write about quantitative easing as a useful policy option during the early 1980s.
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