There’s no two ways about it – legislation tabled June 1 in the form of Bill 1, effectively outlaws all public protest – peaceful or otherwise.
“Essential infrastructure” is determined by numerous other acts including the Pipeline Act, Environmental Protection Enhancement Act, Highways, Development and Protection Act, Railway (Alberta) Act, Traffic Safety Act, Agricultural Operation Practices Act, Hydro and Electric Energy Act, Public Utilities Act, Gas Utilities Act, Oil and Gas Conservation Act, Coal Conservation Act, and other legislation.
The mere 16 item list, which takes about a page and a half including spacing and a wide margin, becomes 10 pages once the additional legislation is added so one can see the extent of potential limitations.
The extent is all protests can be in contravention of Bill 1, and any person who partakes in a protest can be fined, arrested, and jailed.
For a first offence, a minimum fine of $1 000 can be applied up to a maximum of $10 000, or up to six months in ail – or both. A second offence carries the same jail term but allows the maximum fine to increase to $25 000. Corporations can be fined between $10 000 and $200 000.
Bill 1 affords peace officers the ability “to arrest, without warrant, any person” the peace officer finds in contravention of entering any essential infrastructure “without lawful right, justification or excuse”.
Under Bill 1, it is a violation to willfully block ordinary access to the following, [S.1 (vii)] as defined by the Traffic Safety Act:
Section 1 (p):
“highway” means any thoroughfare, street, road, trail, avenue, parkway, driveway, viaduct, lane, alley, square, bridge, causeway, trestleway or other place or any part of any of them, whether publicly or privately owned, that the public is ordinarily entitled or permitted to use for the passage or parking of vehicles and includes
(i) a sidewalk, including a boulevard adjacent to the sidewalk,
(ii) if a ditch lies adjacent to and parallel with the roadway, the ditch, and
(iii) if a highway right of way is contained between fences or between a fence and one side of the roadway, all the land between the fences, or all the land between the fence and the edge of the roadway, as the case may be, but does not include a place declared by regulation not to be a highway; (Section 1, pg 10-11)
And: (xvi) “a building, structure, device or other thing prescribed by the regulations”.
The broad inclusiveness of literally every space “public or private” manages to make any protest participant subject to potential fines, arrest, and imprisonment, daunting – even if we think we know what the government is specifically looking to deter.
The bill was first mentioned after the rail blockades across Canada threatened transport services but it also follows the Walterdale Bridge and Calgary intersection blockades by Extinction Rebellion last October, as well as the pro-pipeline convoy that backed up traffic on Edmonton’s Anthony Henday in December.
Unlikely the latter deliberate attempt to impede essential infrastructure is a target, but that’s the problem with Bill 1 – it offers the opportunity to prohibit any protest that would “willfully obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the construction, maintenance, use or operation of any essential infrastructure in a manner that renders the essential infrastructure dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective.”
The energy infrastructure focus also brings to mind the Co-op Refinery lock-out in Saskatchewan that spilled into Alberta in February and set up at the Carseland card-lock gas location – an act that would now be easily quelled by Bill 1.
The Kenney government has pulled no punches about its support for the oil and gas industry above all else. And there seems to be a genuine belief that environmentalists are the greatest enemy facing Alberta oil rather than our government’s refusal to listen to anyone that isn’t parroting their talking points. So Bill 1 isn’t a surprise – but it goes too far.
While it offers sweeping discretionary powers to peace officers, there is nothing that explains what is acceptable, with absolute clarity, for anyone who wishes to exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly.
One cannot assume that certain – indeed any – protests would not result in charges.
The broad scope of Bill 1 probably seemed like a good idea two months ago, but after a weekend of protests in the United States against police for – among other things – unequal exercise of discretionary powers, the disrespect to our freedoms is appalling.
As Canadians watch the events unfolding in the U.S., it’s difficult to remember that they are afforded similar rights to peaceful protest that we are here – theirs are supposedly “guaranteed” by their Constitution – ours begin as limited within the Charter.
Bill 1 includes unlimited opportunity for law enforcement to shut down protests but does not detail under what circumstances our freedoms will be protected. While some of us with either perceived or real privilege may trust in the discretion of peace officers, some of our neighbours – if you’re listening – have no reason to do so.
Personally, I’m on pins and needles waiting to see if the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is going to rear up on a white horse again.
Because while some people may feel they can rest on the laurels of their privilege, whether its favour from the current government or something more ingrained, legislation that can be used against any Albertan for exercising their freedom to protest should put no one at ease.
This post contains opinion.
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Deirdre is a politically-engaged, fake-news slayer physically distancing in southern Alberta.
Connect: @Mitchell_AB, firstname.lastname@example.org