Protesters Form Human Chain to Fight Bill 61

Controversial Bill Tabled Hours After Protest

Protesters surrounded Mount Royal in a physically distanced chain to fight Bill 61. Photo Esteban Cuevas

Hundreds of protesters congregated at the George-Étienne Cartier statue at the base of Mount Royal on Friday to denounce Bill 61, hours before it was announced the bill did not pass.

The bill—which the opposition has called “authoritarian”—would give the government unprecedented powers. It would allow them to ramp up the 202 construction projects currently underway in the province, cutting down build time from 10 years down to one or two years, even at the risk of threatening vulnerable species.

The Coalition Avenir Québec said the bill’s purpose is to accelerate the province’s economic recovery after the COVID-19 shutdown. However, the Coalition étudiante pour un virage environnemental et social said the bill goes too far, fearing the new rules would allow for construction on the habitats of vulnerable species.

Masked protesters spoke to the crowd, encouraging the government to vote against Bill 61. Photo Esteban Cuevas

“[The bill] endangers the environment and ability of younger generations to exist on the planet,” said Albert Lalonde, an organizer with CEVES.
Lalonde called the bill narrow-minded, focussing only on the economy, not taking into consideration the long-term effects the bill could have on the environment.

CEVES, the same group that organized the Sept. 27 climate march, wants the bill to be revised to consider its impact on the environment.

“We’re asking for wide democratic consultation that touches each and every one of us very deeply,” he said.

“I think the effect is dangerous, and that’s what matters, that’s why we’re here. It is very irresponsible to have a recovery that is not just, that is not green, that’s endangering our future to exist here,” he said. “Creating jobs is not worth it if it means destroying our ecosystem.”

“We have to change the economy, not relaunch the system that is choking us.” —Albert Lalonde

The bill has also faced criticism from the provincial Liberal party, Parti Québécois, and Québec solidaire, with Liberal leader Dominique Anglade saying the bill would “pave the way for the emergence of collusion and corruption.” The bill would set aside the usual checks and balances that keep the process honest, with no timeline of when these measures would be removed.

“The bill as is today is not acceptable; we already know that. It requires major changes,” Anglade said.

During a speech to the crowd, Lalonde said the creation of jobs while not ensuring social or climate concerns “is incompetent or ill-intentioned and dangerous.”

“A fair transition to a green society is not an option; it’s not something we can pull out of our hat someday when we feel like it,” he told the crowd. “We have to change the economy, not relaunch the system that is choking us.”

“It’s the same capitalist system. It’s all about profit and not the well-being of humans,” Lalonde said.

Volunteers chanted with protesters while keeping physically distant. Photo Esteban Cuevas

The protesters formed a physically distanced chain around the base of Mount Royal, standing two metres apart and leaving room for pedestrians. The chain spanned from the end of Park Ave., up Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, and to the corner of Mount Royal Ave. E. and Camillien-Houde Wy.

Volunteers guided the protesters in creating the chain, assisted in social distancing, and led the protesters in chanting “un pas en avant, trois pas en arrière, c’est la politique du gouvernement.”

There were several attempts at the wave, as protesters paraded around with signs in hand.

“You can always count on firefighters,” protesters joked as a fire engine drove by and honked in support for the demonstration.

Premier François Legault posted on his Facebook page Friday morning that he held out hope the CAQ would be able to pass the bill as the session ended on Friday afternoon. However, the government failed to reach a consensus with the opposition parties, which still felt the bill gave the government too much power.

The assembly is scheduled to reconvene Sept. 15. The bill has been tabled until then.