06/12/2012 11:14 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec students ask court to suspend special law

Student groups will return to court for a third day on Wednesday to challenge Quebec's controversial Bill 78, an emergency law that limits protests amid the province's tuition hike crisis.

Student federations have filed a legal motion to temporarily suspend the special law until July, when the court is expected to hear the groups' second legal challenge seeking to declare the law invalid.

Lawyers for student groups are challenging specific clauses they believe violate freedom of expression and freedom of association.

The special law has done nothing to quell anger over the government's handling of the tuition crisis, said Éliane Laberge, president of Quebec's college federation (FECQ), as she entered Quebec Superior Court Tuesday morning. In fact, she said, "It is only aggravating the conflict right now. The government has chosen repression."

The legislation's spirit shows a certain government disdain for young people, said Martine Desjardins, president of Quebec's university students association (FEUQ).

Desjardins said the Liberals' Tuesday night byelection loss in Argenteuil, a longtime bastion for the party, shows that Quebecers will judge a government that shows contempt for its youth.

"The government has been sanctioned very harshly by the population," Desjardins said. "If you want to repress the youth, you're going to be sanctioned."

Bill 78 was adopted May 18. The law limits the timing, size, location and planning of student protests at the risk of heavy penalties for leaders.

Police forces across Quebec so far have been reluctant to apply the law, relying instead on municipal bylaws or the Criminal Code to act against protesters.

But a lawyer for three of the main student groups, Félix-Antoine Michaud, said simply the threat that the police could use the law against students is reason enough to fight it.

"If they do, it will be a catastrophe for all the student organizations," Michaud said.

Lawyers for several labour federations are also making arguments before Quebec Superior Court.

On the other side, the Quebec government plans to argue Bill 78 is necessary to keep the peace and permit students to go to school.

The law also suspends the winter semester for colleges and universities until August, giving students a chance to recoup missed classes without losing a term.

The legislation was adopted in response to Quebec's tuition crisis, which started in the winter with a provincewide boycott of classes in colleges and universities and has ballooned into daily protests.

Quebec plans to raise tuition in the fall.