1969 Bylaw 3926 (Montreal)
In 1969, in the midst of a surge of protests, Montreal City Council passed Bylaw 3926, which allowed the Executive Council to take special measures if there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the holding of assemblies, parades or gatherings will cause tumult, endanger safety, peace or public order.” The bylaw’s creation was recommended in a report written by J.P. Gilbert, director of the Montreal Police Department, who was concerned about the recent surge of demonstrations in the city. His report identified ninety-seven demonstrations of 1969 that had required a police presence. As Gilbert explained, many had been violent: “The experience of recent demonstrations has shown that many agitators, usually the same ones, infiltrate a large crowd in order to throw various missiles – Molotov cocktails for instance – from within such crowds, or otherwise to disturb the peace or endanger personal property, while it is extremely difficult to identify and restrain such agitators soon enough.” The Executive Council immediately introduced an ordinance banning the “holding of any assembly, parade or gathering on the public domain of the City of Montreal for a time period of thirty days.” Montreal had, in effect, banned freedom of assembly for a month.
Bylaw 3926 was ironically titled “bylaw relating to the exceptional measures to safeguard the free exercise of civil liberties, to regulate the use of the public domain and to prevent riots and other violations of order, peace and public safety.” The bylaw prohibited assemblies that endangered the public order, required individuals participating in demonstrations to refrain from hindering others, made it illegal to “jostle” others, and banned any assembly that endangered the peace. Since the bylaw did not define an illegal assembly, any group of two or more people would fall under the scope of the law.
Montreal’s Ligue des droits de l’homme (LDH) immediately objected to the bylaw. The day after its introduction, the LDH called on city council to retract it or, failing that, to amend it so that it distinguished between violent and non-violent demonstrations. According to the LDH, “Sur le fait que lorsqu’une protestation devient par ses paroles ou par ses gestes une menace réelle et directe de violence physique à l’égard de certains homme publics, elle devient aussitôt illégal et doit être dispersée après avis et avec les moyens proportionnés au degré de danger prévisible.” [Clément, Canada’s Rights Revolution] Federal political leaders including John Diefenbaker (Progressive Conservative) and David Lewis (NDP) demanded that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau refer the contentious bylaw to the courts. But Trudeau refused. In April 1970, 134 women who were demonstrating against the bylaw were arrested and sentenced to eight days in jail or a fine of five to twenty dollars.
In 1971, the Executive Council again used the bylaw to introduce an ordinance that banned all demonstrations. City council was concerned about violent outbursts on the picket line of strikers at La Presse newspaper. In his report to city council, Jean-Jacques Saulnier, director of the Police Department, expressed concern about rising militancy among the strikers and the threat of a monster demonstration being called by Louis Laberge, leader of the Quebec Federation of Labour. After the city decided to act on Saulnier’s report and pass the ordinance, the LDH arranged a meeting with Jérôme Choquette, provincial minister of justice, in which it asked Choquette to amend the City Charter so that the bylaw could not be enforced. He refused to consider the request. Despite public statements from the attorney general of Canada condemning the bylaw – and a ruling by a Quebec lower court that the bylaw was ultra vires (which the city immediately appealed) – people continued to be arrested under the ordinance. Attempts to have the government call an inquiry into the arrests at the La Presse picket line were similarly rebuffed.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled the bylaw ultra vires in 1978 (Dupond v. City of Montreal).
Marx, Herbert. “Notes and Comments: The Montreal Anti-Discrimination Bylaw.” Manitoba Law Journal 4 (1970-71): 347.