Although they are sworn to uphold the laws of the land, hundreds of lawyers marched through Montreal streets Monday in a subdued challenge to Bill 78, which limits public protests.
“We don’t want to break the law but we want to contest it,” explained Pierre, a 23-year-old articling lawyer who would not give his last name. He was among an estimated 500 to 700 lawyers, notaries and other legal professionals who marched in their black robes and in near silence from the Montreal courthouse to Place Émilie-Gamelin, where they were greeted by wildly cheering protesters gathered for their own nightly march.
There were several protests Monday night against planned tuition fee hikes and Bill 78. It was the 35th consecutive night of protests in the city and as of 9:30 p.m. police reported no arrests.
Ironically the lawyers’ protest was in perfect accordance with the law they ardently oppose. Organizers gave police their planned itinerary more than eight hours before the march.
Rémi Bourget, one of the organizers of the march, said some lawyers were worried they might be fined under Bill 78 for participating in the protest. “That’s why we especially wanted to march legally, in our black robes and in silence,” Bourget said.
Denis Barrette, a lawyer in his 50s, said Bill 78 is a serious hit against fundamental rights of free and peaceful assembly that people have under the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights.
“There are so many vaguely worded parts to this law,” Barrette added. “It gives an incredible amount of discretionary power to police. It also makes the education minister judge and jury when it comes to deciding if student groups are legal.”
René Saint-Léger, another lawyer in his 50s, said Bill 78 is also worrisome because it has been enacted for a finite period of time (it expires July 1, 2013). “We will probably be in an election during that time,” Saint-Léger said. “What will happen when someone wants to stage a protest against a minister of the government who is campaigning in a few hours, for example?”
“That could be seen as being against the law.”
Cheering on the lawyers from the sidewalk was Ginette Vincent, 59, a secretary. The lawyers are adding credibility to the opposition to Bill 78, Vincent said. “They are lawyers, after all.”