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Quebec government lawyers defend Bill 78

06/13/2012 03:03 EDT | Updated 08/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Lawyers defending Quebec's controversial Bill 78 against a possible temporary injunction say the government had no choice but to intervene following months of student strikes.

Normand Lavoie, the lawyer representing the province's attorney general, said judges who issued court orders to students who wanted to return to class implored the government to act.

A coalition of opponents, including the province's major student organizations, is trying to persuade Quebec's Superiour Court to suspend six sections of the so-called emergency legislation until July, when the court is expected to hear the groups' second legal challenge seeking to declare the law invalid.

Bill 78 lays out strict regulations governing demonstrations of more than 50 people, including having to give eight hours' notice for details such as the protest route, the duration and the time at which they are being held.

The student groups, labour federations and a wide range of other organizations behind the motions claim the law is unconstitutional and a violation of basic rights and launched a court challenge May 25.

Bill 78 has not only found opposition from student groups and union leaders. Citizens armed with pots and pans have taken to the streets nightly to show noisy distain for the legislation in what have been come to be known as the "Casserole Protests."

Despite the legislation's provisions, Montreal police have resorted to a municipal bylaw when declaring nightly protests illegal because routes weren't provided in advance. Police have also laid charges under the Criminal Code.

Lawyers for student groups challenging the bill have said the threat that police could apply the law is sufficients grounds to fight it.

Government needed to act, lawyer says

Lavoie told the court today it is important to consider the legislation's context.

He said more than 40 court orders had been issued to allow students to return to class when Bill 78 went to a vote in a marathon session in the national assembly on May 17. The bill was adopted the next day.

Most of those injunctions were not respected, Lavoie told the court.

In some cases, students and supporters physically blocked the doors to the institutions. In one case, the provincial police riot squad was called in to clear out the picket line.

Lavoie said some of those injunctions, issued by the same judge who is also considering the one currently before the court, urged the government to act and it did so by drafting the bill.

He cautioned the court to be reluctant about suspending the application of the law because all legislation is presumed valid.

The hearing continues in a Montreal courtroom this afternoon.

In addition to the provisions relating to protests, Bill 78 also suspended the winter semester until August to give students a chance to recoup missed classes.

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