Every night at 8 o'clock in the city of Montréal, a raucous rhythm of clacking and clanging arises from the city's burroughs, as people of all ages bang away on pots and pans to signal their resistance to Québec's Bill 78, an emergency law which sharply limits civil liberties in response to months of student protests.
Across the street from where I'm staying, local author Anne Dandurand marks 8 p.m. on her wrought-iron balcony. Drumming away on her pot, and drawing locals from around the quartier, she casts an iconic shadow against the red brick walk-up. As I grab a BIXI and bike through the Plateau, it is clear she is not alone, as children and aging boomers — hardly students — randomly march with their helter-skelter orchestras.
"Enforcing Bill 78 has only served to get people out on the streets in defiance of the law," says Jen Spiegel, a professor at Concordia University who lives in the Quartier Latin, a neighbourhood that has seen the brunt of conflict between protesters and police. "It's everybody now. People who were never involved in the student movement have come out in solidarity. Some of the most active people out on the streets, banging on their casseroles, are the elderly. There are families and kids defying this law."
Bill 78 imposes restrictions upon peaceful assembly and public expression in Québec by requiring demonstrations of over 50 people to file a route beforehand, subject to approval by police. It also limits the ability of education workers to strike and establishes no-picketing and no-protesting zones around educational institutions. The law sanctions fines of up to $125, 000 for student associations whose members break the law. Critics have pointed out that it attempts to defund student associations whose members engage in public protest otherwise protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Earlier this week, Québec's Supreme Court announced it would hear an application, filed by the student unions, to suspend sections of the law deemed unconstitutional. In late May, hundreds of lawyers gathered in their black robes of the bar to silently protest Bill 78, assembling in front of Montréal's courthouse and marching silently through the streets.
Ironically, what has galvanized broader support behind the student movement is the government's draconian response with Bill 78. While Québec is divided over the law, both Amnesty International and the United Nations have expressed concern over the law's restrictions. Maina Kai, one of two Special Rapporteurs with the UN, wrote that Bill 78 "unduly interferes with freedom of association."
Resistance against the bill has manifested itself throughout the province. Small local towns in the Laurentian mountains that are not known for their political activism have staged casseroles. Ski villages not unlike Whistler have come out in protest, with 180 people banging away on casseroles in Val-David in early June.
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