United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called Quebec's restrictive protest law "alarming" during a speech in Geneva on Monday, putting Canada on the map with some of the world's biggest human rights abusers.
"Moves to restrict freedom of assembly in many parts of the world are alarming," Pillay said in her opening address to the UN Human Rights Council. "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."
The UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights organization, pointed out that Pillay used her "sharpest language" in the speech when referencing the Canadian province.
"While Pillay cites only two other countries in the world for restrictions on freedom of assembly—expressing 'concern' about Russia, and 'deep concern' for Eritrea—only Canada provokes her far stronger 'alarm,'" The UN Watch wrote in a press release.
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Pillay also mentioned Syria, Mali, Nepal, and Mexico as human rights' hotspots whose situations concerned the United Nations, CBC News reported.
The Canadian government was quick to defend Quebec's passage of Bill 78, which requires that assemblies of over 50 people submit a precise itinerary to authorities eight hours in advance and was sparked by this year's escalating student protests over tuition increases.
Protesters who fail to abide by the law are also subject to large fines of up to $35,000 for student leaders and $125,000 for their associations under the Bill, according to the National Post.
"Canada, including Quebec, has robust legal systems through which citizens can challenge laws passed by their elected legislatures," Joseph Lavoie, the Press Secretary for the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to CBC News. "We find it strange that, in her statement today, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights would include such a reference while completely ignoring the serious human rights violations in Iran, Belarus, and Sri Lanka."
Hillel Neuer, the Montreal-born executive director of UN Watch in Geneva, called the UN's citing of Quebec amongst the world's human rights abusers "simply absurd."
“Quebec’s Bill 78 was adopted by an elected democracy and will now be scrutinized by a series of independent courts applying the world’s finest machinery for reviewing legislation according to constitutional human rights guarantees—a process that’s already underway," said Neuer, the National Post reported.
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The Quebec Bar Association, which represents the province's lawyers and prosecutors, took an "unprecedented step" to condemn Bill 78, and over 600 lawyers have participated in protests, according to Rabble.ca.
There have been an estimated 4170 arrests made in Quebec since the protests began in February, according to Global News Montreal.