Protection of elected officials | A bill that risks “criminalizing democratic participation”

Protection of elected officials | A bill that risks “criminalizing democratic participation”
Protection of elected officials | A bill that risks “criminalizing democratic participation”

(Quebec) Provisions in the bill to protect elected officials leave room for “arbitrariness” and risk “criminalizing democratic participation,” warn trade union centers, the League of Rights and Freedoms and specialists.

Posted at 1:25 a.m.

Updated at 5:00 a.m.

What there is to know

At the beginning of April, Minister Andrée Laforest tabled a bill to “protect elected officials” and “promote the unhindered exercise of their functions”.

This law would provide the power to obtain injunctions against citizens and issue fines of up to $1,500.

In a letter, the four major trade union centers denounce these “arbitrary” powers and deplore the fact that citizens are being targeted, “while the majority of documented cases of harassment are the work of elected colleagues, especially political opponents.”

“Certain provisions of the bill could have the effect of criminalizing the democratic participation of citizens and undermining their freedom of expression,” deplore the FTQ, the CSN, the CSQ and the CSD in a letter sent to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Andrée Laforest.

Minister Laforest tabled the omnibus bill on the protection of elected officials on April 10, in a context where nearly 10% of municipal elected officials have left their positions since the 2021 election. Its first chapter gives more power to municipalities or to the Chief Electoral Officer to take action against citizens who engage in harassment.

But the union centers find that the minister goes too far.

They target the articles indicating that an elected official targeted by “words or gestures which unduly hinder the exercise of his functions or infringe his right to private life” can request an injunction from the Superior Court, as well as a article allowing a fine of $50 to $500 to be imposed on a person who, “during a meeting of any council of a municipal body, causes disorder in such a way as to disrupt the proceedings of the meeting”.

This is, in our opinion, a formula that is far too broad, which opens the door to undemocratic and arbitrary excesses.

Extract from the letter signed by the four union centers

These findings are shared by the League of Rights and Freedoms, which is directly calling for the withdrawal of all of the measures to protect elected officials contained in the bill. In her memoir, she argues that we find ourselves in a “context of limiting spaces for social protest”. She cites three examples:

  • In November 2023, François Legault’s office threatened an organization that sent him 10 copied emails to demonstrate its opposition to Christian Dubé’s health reform to “transmit this problematic situation to the Sûreté du Québec” since “the excessively high number of emails sent to our address constitutes harassment.” François Legault’s press secretary, Ewan Sauves, retorts that it is “an error”. “That shouldn’t have been the case. We regret this situation,” he told The Press.
  • In the summer of 2023, citizens of Trois-Rivières protested against the industrial park expansion project. They stand up brandishing small posters on which we can read, among other things, “Wet environments, we are watching you”. The deputy mayor then “quickly suspended the meeting and called the police. The rest of the session took place in the presence of the police, with the doors locked,” says the League.
  • Then, still in Trois-Rivières, the City sent a formal notice to a citizen who described an elected official as incompetent on Facebook.

“Inhibitory effect”

In the parliamentary committee, Lynda Khelil, spokesperson for the League of Rights and Freedoms, spoke with a CAQ deputy, Samuel Poulin, who told her that it was not because she did not feel threatened that the elected officials municipal authorities did not have this feeling.

“We are not convinced that our message was well understood. There is a real problem of harassment, intimidation and threats against elected officials, we do not deny it. We are not saying that the minister’s intention is to restrict freedom of expression. But by its application, it will be arbitrary and abusive,” says Mme Khelil. For its part, the government insisted that these powers would only be used in the event of abuse.

Pierre Trudel, professor at the faculty of law at the University of Montreal, fears an “inhibiting effect” on citizen participation. This bill could allow an elected official “to claim not to be disturbed in the exercise of his duties”.

Being bothered is part of the political game, as long as it doesn’t turn into harassment.

Pierre Trudel, professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Montreal

In the case of the proper holding of municipal council sessions, he argues that the municipalities already have the authority to maintain order. “And we are adding to them a special power to impose a fine on someone who will be accused, and who will then have to defend themselves. It’s very excessive,” he said.

Constitutionalist at Laval University, Louis-Philippe Lampron shares this opinion regarding municipal councils. “The reason why we leave ample room for criticism with elected officials is because it is the elected officials who have the decision-making power. If it is not sufficiently defined, elected officials have an interest in silencing opponents. No one wants to see a demonstration that ridicules our point of view,” he says.

And even if the Court risks ruling in favor of an aggrieved citizen, it risks taking time, money and energy. “We must find a solution to protect elected officials. But the solution must not create a bigger problem,” he says.



PREV “We need support and money”: Two Lot-et-Garonnais who became professional golfers speak about their first season on the circuit
NEXT Avenue Maguire: Korean restaurant Bab Sang closes its doors a year and a half after controversy over English service