As everyone knows by now, Quebec is headed into a summer election. The Liberal party is trying to define the election as a choice between democracy or protest. As someone who has studied and taught political science at the highest levels this strikes me as a bizarre if not ignorant frame. I will explain why below. I should first point out that I think I know why the Liberals have chosen this ignorant frame: they are simply preying on the ignorance of the voters. I say this because it is a faux choix which is supported in either historical or legal terms.
I do not mean to be a bookish wonk but a quick skim of the first five Sections of the Constitution Act of 1982 (AKA Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) is quite instructive.
The first section notes that the rights listed within the Charter are not unlimited. And the Courts have establish the litmus test for determining when and how the state may infringe on those rights. Section 2, lists our FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS (sorry for the sledge caps). Notice these freedoms are listed prior to Section 3,4,5 which lists our democratic rights. The order is important because it means that those who drafted the Charter took it for granted that the freedom of the press AND the freedom to protest were necessary conditions to ensure that the freedom to vote and to hold public office were meaningful freedoms. Here look for yourself:*
CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982
CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other means of communication.
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
4. (1) No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.(2)
(2) In time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House of Commons or the legislative assembly, as the case may be.(3)
5. There shall be a sitting of Parliament and of each legislature at least once every twelve months.(4)
The idea that somehow the citizens of Quebec are forced with a choice between democracy and protest is, therefore, on the face of it, scientifically speaking bullshit. That the Anglo press in Quebec was more than little responsible for repeating this line during the protests is disappointing as it suggests they do not know their own constitution nor do they understand that the freedom of the press is listed along with (in the same section) the freedom to protest as a fundamental right.
It would also be nice if someone in the press would ask Mr. Charest why he thinks the protests will end if he gets elected? That may be the case, but nothing in our constitution guarantees it.
*it reads the same in French.
2. Chacun a les libertés fondamentales suivantes :
a) liberté de conscience et de religion;
b) liberté de pensée, de croyance, d’opinion et d’expression, y compris la liberté de la presse et des autres moyens de communication;
c) liberté de réunion pacifique;
d) liberté d’association.