QUEBEC CITY, Que. - If Transport Minister Guy Chevrette has his way, the kind of highway demonstrations Quebec has seen over the past two years will be forbidden after June 23.Bill 130, expected to pa...
THE COST OF DEFIANCE: Quebec demonstrations such as this 1998 blockade near the Ontario border will soon carry a cost. (Photo by Carroll McCormick)
QUEBEC CITY, Que. – If Transport Minister Guy Chevrette has his way, the kind of highway demonstrations Quebec has seen over the past two years will be forbidden after June 23.
Bill 130, expected to pass into law before the summer recess of the National Assembly, threatens fines ranging from $300 to $27,000 and even the confiscation of vehicles in the event of such protests.
Roughly translated, the Bill says that “No one may, without being legally authorized, occupy the roadway, shoulder, highway property or road access, or place a vehicle or obstacle in a manner that hinders the circulation of transport vehicles on a road or a road access.” It goes on to say that offending vehicles can be towed away, and even confiscated if their owners are convicted of breaking the new law.
First offences range from $300 to $1,050. Second offences carry fines ranging from $3,000 to $10,500. And anyone convicted of organizing such a demonstration faces a fine ranging from $3,000 to $9,000 for a first offense and $9,000 to $27,000 for a repeat offense.
Although there are those who are happy to debate the effectiveness of highway demonstrations or blockades, the October blockades in 1998 did get the government’s attention and led to an investigation of owner/operator working conditions. A year later, nine days of demonstrations led to a round table on the trucking industry and a permanent forum to address issues in the trucking industry. This forum, contained in Bill 135, was reportedly enshrined into law in June.
Other demonstrations were reported to have had no little to no effect on the government.
“The Bill limits the freedom of expression in a social democracy. For us that constitutes an unjustifiable limitation. It is like killing a mosquito with a cannon,” says Francois Vaudreuil, the president of the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN). CSN banners appeared frequently at the demonstrations of the past two years. “They must allow people in a free and democratic society to express their dissatisfaction,” he says.
“The fines are way too high and treat the drivers like criminals.” And, warns Vaudreuil, “When one restricts the freedom of expression like this, this provokes people. There are other forms of demonstrating.” The CSN does not, however, plan to organize any demonstrations to protest Bill 130.
Pierre Miller, the president of the Canadian Co-operative of Independent Truck Owner/Operators, sometimes referred to as the Metallos, says, “We totally agree that things will not be settled that way any more. I led one in 1990 when no-one paid attention to us, but now that the government recognizes that there is a problem in the trucking industry, we have no more use for (demonstrations).”
Francois Laporte is the director of government affairs for the Teamsters of Canada. He says that, “We are supposed to have a pro-labor government in a Quebec social democracy. This government is a shame for the labor movement.”
Henri of the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) was also critical: “We denounce it, but we have not decided to do anything about it. The union prefers to negotiate face to face, and not by methods like roadblocks, which were last year initiated by individual truckers.”
Unions have, of course, been involved in organizing road blockades such as the ones protesting high fuel prices last winter, organized by the CSN and the Association Nationale des Camionneurs Artisans Incorpor (ANCAI). At other times they have disavowed responsibility, even though their banners and pamphlets have shown up at the demonstrations.
Angry truckers can still apply to organise authorized demonstrations, but by definition, such events will be highly unlikely to force the Quebec government to do anything it does not want to. As Goulet puts it, as he recalls scenes of pig farmers unloading livestock and feed on Hwy. 20 to protest low pork prices, “The government has figured out how to take care of the pigs and the truckers with the same Bill.” n