Union files lawsuit over Kenney government’s law blocking protest and dissent

Jan Malek
Jeudi 25 juin 2020 - 21:02

The Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE) has filed a lawsuit against the Alberta government’s new law that aims to stop protest and dissent.  

Known as Bill 1, the “Critical Infrastructure Defence Act,” Kenney’s government launched the new law after Teck Resources announced its withdrawal of its Frontier Mine application, a $20-billion tar sands expansion project. Premier Kenney pointed to the mining corporation’s decision, as well as country-wide blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, as a justification for the Bill. 

The Act was passed on June 17 with AUPE’s announcement of the lawsuit coming only days later. 

According to the Union’s statement of claim, Bill 1 would restrict people’s rights to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression and their right to peaceful assembly, which are all guaranteed under Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are asking the court to strike the law down. 

The law includes fines set at a minimum of $1,000 a day for individuals, with a maximum of $10,000 for the first day, and $25,000 on each subsequent day.” 

The law also makes it “an offence for individuals or companies to aid, direct or counsel someone to interfere with or interrupt the use of essential infrastructure, whether publicly or privately owned. Companies would face minimum fines of $10,000 a day, and a maximum of $200,000.” 

What is “critical infrastructure” under Bill 1? 

In the media conference announcing the proposed legislation, government officials said a list of public and privately-owned sites could qualify as “critical infrastructure,” including roads, railways, pipelines, oil refineries, telecommunications facilities, dams, bridges and associated construction sites for these areas. The definition of “critical infrastructure” was also left open to future changes. 

As reported in the Edmonton Journal, AUPE President Guy Smith said the union is prepared to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

“As we know, peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, keeps our democracy active, and it should be protected,” he said. “And here you have those folks being turned into criminals and having their life, liberty and justice or security denied them.” 

Losing our right to protest 

The Council of Canadians has joined with concerned citizens and groups across the province opposing the legislation and its attempt to silence dissent. Across the country we are seeing limits and restrictions being put on people’s right to protest. In most instances companies and corporations obtain an injunction that RCMP and police forces then use to justify restricting or preventing protests. Not complying means you face the threat of forceful eviction and arrest. 

Here are some examples: 

In 2010, RCMP and local police services made the largest number of mass arrests in Canadian history outside of the G20 summit in Toronto. The watchdog report concerning police actions found that “the RCMP abandoned its policy of allowing protesters to peacefully disperse when it assisted the municipal Toronto police force in three ‘kettling’ incidents during the G20 summit.” 

On January 8, 2019, RCMP officers, acting on a court injunction from T.C. Energy Corp. to construct the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, violently stormed a camp set up by Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory. According to documents obtined by the Guardian, the RCMP “were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.” 

In January 2020, locked out Co-op Refinery Complex workers in Regina who had set up a peaceful and legal picket line in front of the refinery were confronted by dozens of police officers from the Regina Police Service. Video of the confrontation show police forcibly removing protestors. There are also reports of one protestor being struck as police moved a vehicle. Fourteen people were arrested, including Unifor President Jerry Dias. Both the Regina Police Service continued to act at the behest of the company and interfered with union members’ rights to protest and picket throughout the labour dispute. 

Then in February 2020, the RCMP arrested 13 people at a camp on traditional Wet'suwet'en territory in a pre-dawn raid to enforce an injunction order against those blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The arrests sparked solidarity actions across the country much like the ones Premier Kenney and his government are now targeting. 

No respect for democratic rights 

Members of the Kenney government have made it clear they don’t have time or respect for these democratic rights. In May, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said that during a pandemic would be a “great time” to build pipelines because health restrictions limit people’s ability to gather in any form of protest.  

The Council of Canadians applauds and supports the Alberta Union of Public Employees’ protest and challenge of the Kenney government’s anti-democratic legislation. The Council of Canadians also acknowledges that the Act is, as emphasized by Indigenous Climate Action, an intimidation tactic against Indigenous Peoples and other racialized communities. There is much work to be done, and we commit to amplifying and supporting Indigenous and grassroots organizers around this anti-democratic piece of legislation.