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Alberta proposes new anti-protest bill

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tabled a bill this week that if passed, would levy fines as high as $10,000 a day and up to six months jail time against protestors.

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.

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.

The Council of Canadians opposes this proposed legislation and its attempt to silence dissent, including the growing number of people calling for recognition of Indigenous sovereignty over the unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, workers’ rights, and urgent action to address the climate crisis.

As reported by the Globe and Mail, “if passed, the law would include 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 would also “make 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.”

“This is the Alberta government trying to take away our right to question and criticize and to call for the social and environmental changes our country needs,” said Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “It is a shocking attempt to infringe on basic, fundamental rights in democratic society.”

What is “critical infrastructure?”

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. This definition would also be left open to future changes.

“Jason Kenney must be scared, if this is the first Bill that’s been tabled this session,” said Poundmaker, a local organizer who was present at the rail blockade outside of Edmonton on February 18. “This is an intimidation tactic, pure and simple, but we’re not afraid. We’ll keep fighting as long as the colonial state continues to pursue corporate interests over the people’s rights.”

Whether it’s solidarity with Wet’suwet’en, with workers, or for climate justice, people in Alberta and across the country will continue to make their voices heard. Protest and dissent are a fundamental part of democracy. History has been shaped by key moments when citizens stood up, protested and disrupted injustices. Slavery, segregation, tyranny, unjust laws – there is a long list of examples where people have disrupted “business as usual” to effect positive social change.

We are seeing this happen now – whether it’s the student-led actions on the climate crisis, solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, or workers erecting blockades to fight against powerful and profitable corporations – civil disobedience and acts of disruption that include peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential to our democracy.