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Justice minister 'really angry' over Idle No More blockade, will meet with police chiefs
Linda Hoang, CTV Edmonton
Published Thursday, January 17, 2013 11:59AM MST
Last Updated Thursday, January 17, 2013 6:05PM MST
Alberta’s justice minister is speaking out about Wednesday’s Idle No More blockade on one of the province’s busiest roadways, saying he's angry and concerned with how road blockades affect public safety.
Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis says demonstrators who blocked all but one lane northbound on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway just south of Edmonton Wednesday, crossed the line.
“I’m really angry with this whole situation,” Denis told CTV News on Thursday.
Denis, who is also a lawyer, says although the constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly, which he supports, when public safety becomes an issue, it raises concerns.
“I do also think there is a limit and what we saw yesterday, and what we saw with the blockade yesterday, I don’t think that’s in the best interests of public safety and my personal view is that’s crossing the line.”
Wednesday’s blockade was organized by the Papaschase First Nation, who blocked the QEII near Gateway Park for about two hours as part of a national day of action in support of the Idle No More movement.
Idle No More supporters are opposed to the federal government’s omnibus budget bill, Bill C-45, which they say takes away land and treaty rights.
The blockade, overall, was peaceful, but there was an incident when a driver of a truck tried to drive through the protestors.
“My concern yesterday was perhaps someone would try and run the blockade, well guess what that’s exactly what happened yesterday,” Denis said.
“My fear is that we’re going to see more of that if these tactics escalate. The tactics do make me angry and they do concern me in the realm of public safety.”
The mayor of the Regional Muncipality of Wood Buffalo also has concerns over road blockades.
"I think the good will that the cause would have had would be diminished completely by the frustration experienced by individuals, but it's also a concern in terms of safety," said Mayor Melissa Blake.
"We don't want to see protestors harmed or see individuals come to harm."
Denis says he supports peaceful assembly, such as previous rallies and demonstrations that have taken place in downtown Edmonton and Calgary, but he believes there is a limit and that limit was reached on Wednesday.
“When you have a blockade like that, that’s going to frustrate a lot of people,” he said.
“We’ve been getting calls about this particular protest for weeks and my comments have always been that we support the right to peaceful protest but it cannot be allowed to cross the line where it impacts the mobility of other citizens.”
Although the minister is not allowed to tell police how to handle protestors, Denis plans on meeting with three police chiefs – from Edmonton, Calgary and the RCMP - to discuss ways to handle future blockades.
The meeting is scheduled for Monday.
With files from Susan Amerongen
A local First Nations group holds a blockade on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, as part of an Idle No More national day of action.