Student demo restrictions land Canada on UN human rights blacklist

Navi Pillay

UN human rights boss Navi Pillay lists Canada alongside Russia for its 'alarming' Bill 78

LAST UPDATED AT 15:30 ON Mon 18 Jun 2012

IT IS USUALLY thought of as one of the freest nations, but Canada today finds itself cited alongside Russia and Eritrea for "alarming" new laws controlling public demonstrations in a speech by the UN human rights boss Navi Pillay.

Pillay made her criticism about Quebec's 'Bill 78'. With the Orwellian full title 'An Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend', the bill was the authorities' response to months of student protest about high fees, reports CBC News.

The law restricts the freedom of assembly on or near university grounds – and requires prior police approval for demos held anywhere else in Quebec. The authorities must now be given eight hours' notice and a precise itinerary or fines can be imposed.

Speaking at the opening of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Pillay said: "Moves to restrict freedom of assembly in many parts of the world are alarming...

"In the context of student protests, I am disappointed by the new legislation passed in Quebec that restricts their rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly."

But UN Watch, an NGO which monitors the UN's performance, was quick to criticise Pillay, saying the reference to Quebec was "absurd" and pointing out that the bill was passed by a democratically-elected government and was being challenged in court by its opponents.

The Canada Free Press quotes Hillel Neuer, the Montreal-born lawyer who heads the group, as saying: "While Canada is certainly fair game for criticism, for Pillay to divert the world’s attention to what in a global context is an absolutely marginal case... is simply absurd.

"The Canadian activists who presumably put her up to this are misguided, and the UN commissioner is making a big mistake by sending the message that countries that have blots on their system - if indeed the Quebec law is a blot - are even worse than countries where the blot is the system." · 

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