Not The Time To Let Our Guard Down

By Beryl Wajsman on September 7, 2013

As heartening as it was to hear that Premier Marois realizes that passage of Bill 14 is now unlikely and that it may well die in committee, we would caution that this is not the moment to let down our guard. We can indulge in cautious optimism, but we must keep up the pressure. One thing that we can be happy about. Engagement works and community matters! Decisions can be influenced. But you can’t leave it up to the few. The few can’t defend the many alone forever. But events of the past ten months culminating in the Premier’s statement prove that the few can succeed with the help of us all.

What do we know so far? We know that the Liberals have been steadfast in their opposition to this needless legislation in its totality from the beginning. Even as The Suburban went to press ten months ago with its first cover on this issue entitled “Bill 14 – Don’t even think about it!” there has been no breaking in their ranks. We know, from informed sources, that  influential members within the PQ government are open to eliminating the more egregious elements of this Bill. We know they are opposed by “pur et dur” Pequistes who do not  want to consider any change. We know that elements of the government have listened to criticism.

They also saw the Unity rallies against the Bill. If the numbers in the streets were not overwhelming, the coverage by all media – French as well as English - was. Up front and bold. The sparks had been lit. The government had to pay attention because the numbers grew. It saw the CRITIQ conferences which not only highlighted the damage this Bill would do, but presented detailed and informed  opposition by Francophone, Anglophone and allophone leaders of civil society. And CRITIQ got the largest audiences on this issue that Quebec has seen since the 1990s, quadrupling the involvement that began in the streets with a membership now greater than 10,000. Independent groups in social media such as “Bring back the flag” have obtained almost 30,000 likes. And they listened too at the Assembly hearings.

Perhaps one of the most important turning points came in late April when four consecutive presentations were made – by outgoing Quebec Bar president Louis Masson; constitutional lawyer Julius Grey; Quebec Human Rights Commission President Gaetan Cousineau and myself – dealing specifically with the violations of civil rights embedded in Bill 14 that violated provincial, national and international legal norms. The point was driven home. One thing this government did not want, as Philippe Couillard said, was to be perceived as anti-civil libertarian on the continental and global stages.

And finally the position of the CAQ. It is clear from Premier Marois’ comments that as much as we feel the CAQ’s position leaves much to be desired, she and her government could not get the CAQ to make any concessions. And again informed sources report that the government tried very hard. We feel that the CAQ should oppose the Bill in totality. On principle. The CAQ objected only to certain elements, and too few at that. We also know from well-placed sources that there is a passionate internal debate within the CAQ  between MNAs who want to vote down the Bill in its entirety and those who have followed Mr. Legault’s position. But at least the CAQ didn’t weaken further. And part of the reason was what have come to be called as the “CAQ attacks.” Mass e-mailings organized by CRITIQ and Unity aimed at CAQ members.

Why am I going through this recapitulation of events? To demonstrate that every citizen can have a role to play and must play that role. And that every role is important whether you attend a demonstration or make a presentation before a National Assembly committee or send an email to an MNA. All these are ripples from thousands of centers of energy and daring. And together, these ripples make a torrent that can tear down, in Bobby Kennedy’s words, “The mightiest walls of prejudice and oppression.”


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Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

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Alan Hustak

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