06/28/2012 03:10 EDT | Updated 08/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec's Confusing Use of New Protest Laws

Two years ago, the G20 weekend of protests in Toronto was a classroom, of sorts.

Hundreds of police descended on the city from across Canada and tested new techniques of crowd control on protesters and non-protesters alike.

It seemed that the consensus among decision-makers was that the easiest way to control a protest movement was to illegalize movement and convergence.

Dalton McGuinty's Liberals enacted the so-called secret law, the Public Works Protection Act, with very little public discussion. The law enabled the mass arrest, detention, search and pat down of thousands of us on the streets that weekend.

Using this tactic to limit the protests was easy; even if it were against the Charter, a court ruling would come months, if not years after the G20 leaders and their convoys left Toronto.

Like police, politicians learned a lot from the G20 too. They learned that this tactic, while morally questionable, worked.

Similar tactics have been used during the Québec student protests.

Laws have been used as blunt instruments to try and stop protests. Among other restrictions, Québec's Law 78 makes it illegal to protest near a CÉGEP or university, or to be in a crowd of people totaling 50 or more unless the police have been notified in advance.

Montréal passed a bylaw making it illegal to wear masks at rallies. This has yet to deter AnarchoPanda, the famous, mask-wearing protester who has become a symbol of this ridiculous limit to personal expression.

In Québec City, a municipal bylaw was passed to ensure the 'peace and good order' of the city. This prohibits night-time rallies, the kind that have been a regular occurrence in Montréal.

The secret law during the G20 and the list of laws passed in Québec to quell protests share a common characteristic: they're virtually impossible to enforce consistently.

Unsurprisingly, they haven't been enforced consistently.

I participated in two rallies in Gatineau at the end of May and beginning of June during the national meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students. Despite the heavy police presence, hundreds of us marched through the streets as if no laws forbade it.

Tens of thousands of Québecers marched on June 22 in Montréal and Québec City too.

And, despite the massive crowds that stayed past 11:00 p.m. for the St. Jean Baptiste concerts, no one was arrested for breaking Law 78 or Québec City's municipal law.

However, protests in Québec City that followed the last attempt at negotiations between students and police resulted in a police crack down. Sixty-four people were arrested, including the lone Member of National Assembly for Québec Solidaire Amir Khadir.

Québecers who oppose the law argued in an editorial that, among other concerns, Law 78 gives too much discretionary power to police. Matt Gurney at the National Post argued that the selective application of Law 78 has lead to much of its criticism.

What good is a law that, once passed, is applied selectively? It places a tremendous amount of power in the hands of police who have proven unable to yield such powers appropriately.

None of these laws are actually intended to bring order to society. They're intended to give government and police the cover to restrict the rights and freedoms that are supposed to be guaranteed to us by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Intimidation is a strong tool of government but it's not going to make any social movement go away.

Canadians should be offended by these attacks on all of us. If our freedoms can vanish by a hasty decision of our local city council, just how free are we really?

And, will we let them reach our breaking point?