At long last, Montreal to do away with its controversial protest bylaw

A controversial Montreal bylaw that required groups planning a demonstration to give their route to police ahead of time and prohibited protesters from wearing masks will soon be off the books.

A notice of motion to repeal the bylaw, known as P-6, is on the agenda of today's council meeting. The bylaw could be repealed as early as next month.

Mayor Valérie Plante confirmed last week the city is making the change, saying she doesn't want to limit citizens' right to protest.

She cited, as an example, the massive peaceful climate change demonstration earlier this fall that drew half a million people to the streets.

"It's to find a balance, and for us repealing the P-6 bylaw was the thing to do support the right to protest," Plante said.

When Projet Montréal was in opposition, it had pressed for the law to be scrapped.

Bylaw passed for 2012 student protests

Montreal police has not enforced the bylaw since 2015.

It was put in place at the height of the student protests in May 2012 by former mayor Gérald Tremblay.

After the bylaw was passed, hundreds of students and their supporters were handed $637 tickets for not following the rules, often after being kettled, or encircled, by police. Many were given multiple tickets, totalling thousands of dollars.

The bylaw was the target of legal challenges and often, confusion.

In April 2013, for instance, Marc Parent, the city's police chief at the time, stressed his officers would not arrest hockey fans celebrating a Canadiens' playoff victory if they ended up in the streets.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Portions of the bylaw have already been struck down by a successful court challenge launched by Julien Villeneuve, also known as "Anarchopanda," the costumed mascot of Quebec's 2012 student protests.

Last year, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled the requirement to provide an itinerary was "arbitrary" and "unreasonable," and the ban on masks was unconstitutional. 

The Plante administration did not appeal the ruling.

A victory for freedom of expression

On Monday, Villeneuve, a philosophy teacher at Collège de Maisonneuve, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak he was "delighted" by the decision to repeal the bylaw.

"It's been a long time coming," he said.

He said the bylaw was so broad and "ill-defined" that it gave police the power to break up nearly any protest — or even a public gathering of friends.

Villeneuve pointed out that P-6 has its roots in a 1969 bylaw put in place by former mayor Jean Drapeau. That bylaw was an attempt to limit protests by police and firefighters, he said.

Quebec's Ligue des droits et libertés, a civil rights group, hailed Plante's decision to repeal the bylaw as an "important victory" for freedom of expression.

The group's spokesperson, Lynda Khelil, said P-6 and the previous 1969 bylaw were "instruments of repression."

Khelil said the change "will finally allow Montrealers to use public space to express their political views without fear of repression."