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Quebec's largest student group vows defiance of emergency law

Student union leader Gabriel Nadeau Dubois of CLASSE reacts to the exclusion of his group to the negotiation table with the Ministry of Education over tuition hikes Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec's largest student group has vowed to defy the Quebec government's new emergency law, calling for a summer of protests and acts of civil disobedience.

C.L.A.S.S.E., the more radical of the province's three main student associations, declared Monday it would continue to encourage protests even if it meant it would lead to harsh financial penalties under the province's Bill 78.

"The special law won't kill the student movement," spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said at a news conference on Monday.

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"The fundamental rights under threat today need to be defended."

In a blatant act of defiance, the group encouraged anyone against the new law to post their photo on a new website, the name of which translates as "Someone arrest me." The group reported the website was overloaded with submissions Monday afternoon.

The student group called for protests at least until classes, which were suspended under the legislation, resume in August. It also launched an appeal for financial assistance for a legal challenge against Bill 78 and to help pay for any fines incurred under the new legislation.

While a recent poll suggested the majority of Quebecers were in favour of the law, the government continues to face stiff opposition from those who argue it's an affront on civil liberties.

One expert in public disputes said the government's attempt to solve the conflict with legislation was doomed from the start.

"What they did was very short-sighted, and has now created a broader scope for the protests," Alan Levy, an associate professor at Brandon University, said in an interview.

"What the government really needs to do here is they really need to think about how to engage these folks and not alienate them."

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A massive demonstration is planned for Tuesday afternoon to mark 100 days since the first group of students walked out of class. A coalition of 140 community groups and unions encouraged people to join the demonstration to denounce the tuition increases and the legislation.

"We decided earlier this year that the tuition increases should be a priority," Veronique Laflamme, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said in an interview.

"But now, with the introduction of Bill 78, we find it even more important to participate in the protests."

Several of the coalition members have already provided financial support for the student protests, she said.

Meanwhile, the international hacker group Anonymous hacked into the Quebec government public security's website today, the latest in a series of apparent cyber attacks against the province. A post on the hacked web page warned the government to be fearful of the group.

"We don't forgive," the post said. "We don't forget."

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Tensions were high during the nightly protests over the weekend after the bill was passed last Friday. More than 300 people were arrested on Sunday night alone and at least 20 were injured, including 11 police officers — though none seriously.

Another protest held Monday night was far calmer than a night earlier. Thousands chanted slogans denouncing the law as they marched through the streets. There was a considerably smaller police presence and no arrests were made.

Bill 78 lays out regulations for demonstrations over 50 people, including giving eight hours' notice for a protest itinerary. Individual organizers and student groups could face stiff fines if they don't comply. C.L.A.S.S.E. said it had no plans to do so.

Penalties range between $7,000 and $35,000 for a student leader and between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations. In addition, the legislation provides for fines for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution. The law put the current academic session on hold until August for striking students, which make up less than one-third of Quebec post-secondary students.

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