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Quebec to table bill aimed at cracking down on student protesters

Quebec Premier Jean Charest responds to Oppositoin questions on an expected emergency law on tuition hikes as Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, sits nearby during Question Period on May 17, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government will table later this evening special legislation that will impose strict conditions on students wanting to demonstrate against the planned tuition fee hikes.

The precise measures will be unveiled once the bill is tabled around 8 p.m. this evening. There are reports that the bill will include stiff fines against anyone attempting to block entrances to the colleges and universities.

In announcing the need for special legislation Wednesday, which also suspends classes until late summer for those still on strike, Quebec Premier Jean Charest said that violence and intimidation against those who want to attend classes can no longer be tolerated.

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"We are suspending the session. We are not cancelling it ... This will allow us to finish the session in August and September and then pursue," Mr. Charest said on Wednesday. "The other part of the legislation we are tabling in the National Assembly will address the right to have access to your classes in universities, in faculties, in departments."

The measures amount to taking a "pause," according to the Premier, who was attempting to buy time, hoping that a truce will appease the tensions and even take some of the wind out of tenacious and well-organized student movement.

The students responded with a warning that they will challenge the law in court if the legislation limits their right to demonstrate and to block classes if the majority of members of a school or student association votes to do so.

The strike against the more than 80-per cent tuition fee hike over seven years has lasted now for more than three months and students are poised to continue the battle in August when classes resume.

The bill was expected to hold protestors away from the campuses, meaning that police forces will likely be used to ensure access to the schools. Some fear that this may only antagonize an already tense situation, especially in Montreal where demonstrations against the tuition fee hikes and the Charest government have become a daily occurrence.

The opposition parties are preparing to filibuster the adoption of the bill and delay the holding of the final vote, which will take place sometime early tomorrow morning after an all-night debate.

Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois was already gearing up for the difficult battle her party was prepared to wage against the government.

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"We have come to the point where we will debate a special law against our children, against our youth and all of this because of the Premier's stubborn need to save face," Ms. Marois said Thursday in the National Assembly. "Never, never has he even taken one minute to meet the students."

All opposition parties have strongly criticized Mr. Charest's refusal to personally meet with the students in order to find a negotiated settlement to a crisis that now jeopardizes social peace and was hurting the economy of Montreal.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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