An open letter from a student, a voter and a Montrealer:
Thirty years ago the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed by the federal government. It is not difficult to see how Bill 78 infringes on fundamental freedoms explicitly designated in the Charter. The freedoms of peaceful assembly and association seem to be neglected by the newly passed bill and limits on demonstrations seem harsh. However when we take a closer look at the limits put in place they do not seem as terrible as some argue. Barring any demonstrations from taking place within institutions of learning is a measure necessary not only to ensure the safety of students attending classes, but to assure their own rights are respected.
Our freedoms can only extend so far and their limit is easily described, but not so easily discerned. One can exercise their freedoms as far as they please until the point in which they come into conflict with the freedoms of another person. Infringing on the freedom of the citizens of Montreal is unacceptable under any circumstances. The freedom to demonstrate and fight for a cause is an incredibly important right that many take for granted in Western democratic states. We are fortunate to be able to fight for a cause we deem important, but students must realise the population of Montreal, and to a greater extent Quebec, cannot be held hostage.
Students have the right to strike and have their message heard so far as it does not infringe on rights of the rest of the population. When that occurs the government should intervene to assure the freedoms we so easily take for granted. It is justified to fine both individuals and associations that actively force the cancellation of classes.
These demonstrators are violating the rights of their fellow citizens while arguing for equal opportunity in education. These freedoms have been infringed upon time and time again with little recourse against the offending strikers. How can one argue for fair access to education and later block students from entering an institution of learning? The hypocrisy is astounding and makes one wonder if the students are striking for the cause of education simply for the hell of it. Blocking students from an education is much more appalling than the increase itself and without justifiable excuse. Furthermore holding associations accountable to the actions of their members will provide incentive for them to return to the table and actually sign a negotiated agreement.
The decision to implement strict regulations on any group of ten demonstrators or more is jarring, but it must be seen from the perspective of the average citizen. Students have disrupted the city and caused havoc on numerous occasions without recourse. Bill 78 allows police to be notified of all demonstrations in order to properly prepare a response that ensures the safety of strikers and civilians alike.
Instead of trying to garner support from the greater population, student strikers have alienated themselves and appear as extremists. Many in Montreal who once backed the students are hesitant to continue doing so. Smoke bombs in the Metro, rioting, and Molotov cocktails have changed the dialogue in the city decidedly against the students. Destroying the peaceful way of life of Montrealers and endangering their lives will surely fail to gather any supporters from the overall population of the city. What students do not understand is they need this support. Even if they believe in the highly inflated numbers repeated by student leaders, the movement only includes a small percentage of citizens. If they hope to affect change, they will require the support of a majority of the Quebec population.
Finally, an important fact many students fail to realise is that negotiations require dialogue and compromise. One party cannot begin talks with the intention of winning every argument and obtaining every goal. Compromise seems to be a word missing from the vocabulary of many strikers as they refuse to accept anything less than a complete cancellation of the tuition increase. Both parties have to approach the negotiation table ready to make concessions in order to achieve a tangible result.
This bill exemplifies the desperation felt by the provincial government and should be regarded by students as proof that their message is slowly getting across. Nevertheless both parties have to take responsibility for their actions and ensure the fundamental freedoms of all citizens are never infringed upon. No piece of legislature or violent demonstration will bring results. These can only be achieved through negotiation.
– James Vaccaro