P-6 Concerns Unmasked for Students

CSU Hosts P-6 Panel Discussing Bylaw’s Implications

Panellists and other detractors to the P-6 bylaw say it disregards freedom assembly and other human rights and freedoms. Photo Brandon Johnston

Just before the upcoming municipal elections, the Concordia Student Union turned its attention back to bylaw P-6, this time bringing the conversation to students.

The CSU’s Legal Information Clinic hosted a panel discussion Oct. 21 to discuss the bylaw, which was amended in May 2012 during the student general strike against tuition increases. The bylaw prohibits demonstrators from covering their face and deems a demonstration illegal if marchers do not submit their protest route to police beforehand.

“The repression and the amount of work put into the repression of protest in Montreal since the student strike has been huge,” panellist and prominent Concordia student activist Katie Nelson told the roughly two dozen audience members.

This includes, she continued, “conditional arrests, which prevent people from going to protests just out of fear of reaching conditions of criminal charges that won’t even make it to court.”

The panel consisted of six experts on the bylaw and its usages, ranging from Concordia student advocates to civil rights lawyers and specialists.

The panel featured CSU Legal Clinic Coordinator Walter Chi Yan Tom, Quebec Public Interest Group at Concordia working groups and programming director Jaggi Singh, Ligue des droits et libertés president Dominique Peschard, class action lawyer for students Marc Chetrit and executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations Fo Niemi, along with Nelson.

Throughout the discussion, panellists emphasized the importance of knowing the bylaw and what it means to students and protesters.

“We see that society is evolving in a way in which more and more people are dissatisfied with,” said Peschard.

“There is more injustice, more inequality, and if we want to combat all these aspects of rights violations we need to be able to protest,” he continued. “I think it’s fundamental to not let ourselves be intimidated and to demand that our rights be respected.”

Niemi added that, within student and protestor groups, there has been a “lack of awareness of their constitutional and civil rights and the determination to stand up for those rights.”

Panellists further suggested that having the courage to stand up for the right to protest must become the norm.

“We have to develop more of an instinct to turn the table around and say that when there’s human rights abuse by authority, we need to promote greater accountability and take legal action where the means are there to challenge,” said Niemi.

The panellists concluded by giving advice and encouraging resistance from students.

Jaggi Singh of Concordia’s Quebec Public Interest Research Group advised to “never share your itinerary with the police if you’re demonstrating.”

“We have that right to demonstrate spontaneously,” he said.

“Often we get this view that if you have nothing to hide, if you’re safe and peaceful, then you should just say so.”

Singh says that shouldn’t be the case.

“I actually think we need to reclaim the idea of privacy and private lives,” he said. “Not because we have something to hide that we don’t want to [reveal], but because we have that right to engage our society and our world and keep information to ourselves.”

CSU VP External Caroline Bourbonnière, who organized the panel, said she felt that the discussion had been well done and relevant, and ended by telling attendees that the CSU “took a strong stance” against the bylaw last year and plans to work closely with Singh and Nelson to determine their position this year.

Panellists stressed holding a vote on P-6 and challenging it, but Nelson admitted that she has less faith in the system.

“The solution to this problem isn’t going to be found on a ballot through another electoral party, but instead in the streets with solidarity in our communities,” she said.