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Threatening politicians could result in $1,500 fine under new Quebec bill

Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Andree Laforest announces an environment program for municipalities, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Scott, Quebec. Quebec is investing $2 million to connect elected officials and their families with psychological aid resources after a wave of resignations and leaves of absence among mayors in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot. JQB

People who harass or threaten Quebec politicians could soon be hit with a court injunction or a fine of up to $1,500, if a new bill tabled in the provincial legislature on Wednesday is adopted.

Municipal Affairs Minister Andrée Laforest presented the proposed legislation, which aims to put an end to the often-toxic climate faced by elected officials.

She told reporters in Quebec City the measures in the more than 40-page omnibus bill are designed to stop threatening behaviour, and that she isn’t worried it will be used to muzzle political opposition.

“No, not at all,” she said in response to the question. “What we want is to stop situations that persist, threatening comments, violent comments.”

A recent survey by Quebec’s union of municipalities found that 74 per cent of elected municipal officials reported having experienced harassment and intimidation, and that 741 out of 8,000 had quit since the 2021 election.

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While the Criminal Code already has laws against making threats, Laforest said further measures were needed to address harassing language directed at politicians by citizens.

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Laforest cited the example of a citizen who comes to every city council meeting and who uses abusive language. “It can boil over, then it can be threatening comments, so we are in a situation of abuse and threatening comments, so now we will be able to act,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Threats against politicians dominate discourse on Quebec election campaign’s 5th day'
Threats against politicians dominate discourse on Quebec election campaign’s 5th day

The legislation would give police the power to impose a fine of between $50 and $500 to anyone who disrupts a city council meeting with disorderly conduct. A person who threatens, intimidates or harasses a municipal or provincial politician in a way that prevents them from doing their job or makes them worry for their safety would face fines of between $500 and $1,500.

The bill would also authorize politicians subjected to comments or actions that “unduly hinder the exercise of their functions or invade their privacy” to apply to the Superior Court for an injunction. The court could then order the citizen to stop communicating with the politician or to refrain from going to their office or acting in a way that would hinder their work.

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While politicians are already able to appeal to the court, the legislation would ensure that the request is treated urgently.

Other sections of the bill would also require municipalities to adopt “internal management regulations” to outline how order, civility and respect are to be maintained. As an example, Laforest said heated debates often erupt when resolutions are tabled without warning, so the regulations could outline how initiatives would be introduced and debated.

Laforest said she hopes the bill will be adopted by June.

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