Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pas Cool Jean: Charest's Folly

"Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it" ~ H.D. Thoreau
The Quebec government of Jean Charest has revealed a stunning lack of political savvy with Bill 78, the most draconian legislation to appear since Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act in 1970. Just when it had the sympathy of a majority of Quebecers against the ongoing student tuition-hike protests, the government has now resorted to a set of laws designed to restrict the civil rights of all its citizens. Charest has not only overplayed his hand, he's also activated a backlash that may sweep him out of power in the next provincial election, which could come as early as this year.

The bill was hastily thrown together and includes some ridiculous restrictions that directly contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights. As the Montreal Gazette reports:
Article 16 – which stipulates an organizer of a demonstration of 10 people or more (later amended to 50 or more) must first submit the itinerary, date and time to the police – had people asking about their soccer teams, church picnics and the Canadiens. What if we won the Stanley Cup and poured out onto the streets to celebrate? Illegal, under this law.

Faculty are targeted as well through Article 29, which covers crimes of omission. “Anyone who, by act or omission, helps or, by encouragement, advice, consent, authorization or command, induces a person to commit an offence under this act is guilty ...”

Daniel Weinstock, a philosophy professor at the Université de Montréal, wondered if that means he can’t teach his students about Karl Marx?

As Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for (CLASSE), the largest of Quebec’s four student federations, has said, "For us, education is a fundamental right; no economic barriers should prevent anyone from pursuing his or her education."

According to Berkeley Political Science Professor Wendy Brown, such desperate acts on the part of a government reveal its fundamental impotency. In her 2010 book, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Brown suggests that when invoking these restrictions the state isn't asserting sovereignty, but rather is reacting defensively to an outside threat from a weakened posture. The notion that any state could ever be regarded as a sovereign actor that feels itself under such siege is ludicrous. Bill 78 can actually be interpreted as the last gasps of power. As long as the state has the sovereign ability to enforce a state of precariousness, the conflict in Quebec will likely intensify into an ever-worsening relationship between the government and its citizens.

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