Quebec's new Bill 57 could be used to censor citizens: analysis

Simon Rocheleau, a lawyer based in Quebec, has been closely monitoring municipal issues for several years. According to his analysis, Bill 57 is still ill-defined.

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Quebec Premier François Legault and members of his party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, have just proposed their new Bill 57, primarily aimed at protecting elected officials in the performance of their duties against intimidation, harassment, or threats. This comes after several elected officials, both at the provincial and municipal levels, have expressed their feelings about the threats and toxic climate surrounding them.

Simon Rocheleau, a lawyer based in Quebec and podcaster on the "Ian et Frank Podcast," has been closely monitoring municipal issues for several years, as it is the level closest to the citizens. According to his analysis, Bill 57 is still ill-defined. Rocheleau expects further debates in the parliamentary committee to clarify the bill.

According to Rocheleau, if this project is adopted as it stands, it will profoundly alter the municipal and provincial political landscape. But what about the implications for citizens?

The bill states that anyone who hinders the exercise of a deputy's functions by threatening, intimidating, or harassing them in a way that reasonably makes them fear for their integrity or safety would be liable to a fine of up to $1,500. "When it comes to integrity, what exactly are we talking about? What is a reasonable fear of compromising an elected official's integrity?" asks Rocheleau.

"It is particular that we only focus on the quality of being elected. This creates a barrier between citizens and their representatives," he emphasizes.

The bill includes fines for anyone who hinders the functions of an elected official or deliberately disrupts the proper conduct of a city council. Rocheleau warns that this could risk arbitrariness and impeding democracy.

"There is currently an intimidation plan at the Sûreté du Québec [the provincial police service], a plan to combat the intimidation of elected officials. So it's not as if there is absolutely nothing in place," he notes.

Rocheleau points out that this is not the kind of law he expected to see emerge in Quebec. He mentions: "This is the kind of thing I would have expected to see in countries that do not have British parliamentary traditions like ours."

Rocheleau urges a thorough examination of every aspect. "Political power is at stake. Opposition parties must play their role and ask the right questions," he insists.

The impact on freedom of expression is also a focus. “We risk creating a double standard, where certain opinions are tolerated while others are sanctioned,” he warns.

While many express concerns regarding Bill 57, Rocheleau calls for vigilance and reflection. “The intentions may be laudable, but how they are implemented raises fundamental questions for our democracy,” he concludes. 

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