Quebec adopts law to fine people who intimidate, harass politicians

Quebec’s legislature adopted a law Thursday that includes fines up to $1,500 for anyone who intimidates or harasses a politician, despite criticism that the legislation could threaten free speech.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government has said the law is necessary to stem the rise in resignations of elected officials, particularly at the municipal level.

The government introduced the legislation in April, shortly after an organization representing Quebec municipalities released a survey indicating 74 per cent of elected municipal leaders reported having experienced harassment and intimidation, and 741 out of 8,000 had quit since elections were held across the province in 2021.

Aside from fines, the law allows elected officials to ask the Superior Court for an injunction against a citizen who threatens, intimidates or harasses them.

Quebec newsroom leaders called the legislation excessive and potentially stifling to democratic debate. Media companies — including The Canadian Press, La Presse, Quebecor, and CBC — wrote an open letter to the government in May, arguing that the legislation is too broad and allows elected leaders to potentially silence unfavourable criticism from both citizens and journalists.

“This would make life easier for elected officials, and cities, who would like to intimidate individuals and organizations that do not have the means to defend themselves,” the letter said. “The mere existence of this new legislative tool would be likely to have a chilling effect on citizen and media speech.”

In response to the criticism, Municipal Affairs Minister Andrée Laforest amended the bill to say its aim was to protect elected officials from threats, harassment and intimidation “without restricting the right of any person to participate in public debates.”

As well, Laforest amended the bill to specify that Crown prosecutors rather than the provincial elections agency would be responsible for charging someone who threatens or intimidates a politician.

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