Alberta bill targeting blockade protesters passed into law
A CN Rail blockade was set up near Acheson, west of Edmonton, on Feb. 19, 2020, in opposition of the Coast GasLink project.
EDMONTON -- An Alberta bill that implements tougher punishments on protesters who set up blockades along or near "essential infrastructure" has been granted royal assent and passed into law.
Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, allows the government to levy heavy fines and possibly imprison anyone unlawfully interfering with infrastructure including pipelines, highways, utilities and oil and gas production facilities.
"The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, would protect essential infrastructure from damage or interference caused by blockades, protests or similar activities," Bill 1 reads.
It received royal assent on the morning of June 17 and comes into effect immediately.
It forbids anyone from "willfully destroying or damaging essential infrastructure" as well as "obstructing, interrupting or interfering" with the use of the same infrastructure.
The law also applies to telecommunication lines, dams and mines. Individual offenders face a fine of $1,000 for a first infraction and up to between $10,000 and $25,000 for future violations.
Corporations face a minimum $10,000 fine rising to a maximum of $200,000.
"We want to send a clear signal this will not be tolerated," Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said when the bill was introduced in February.
He also noted that the fines for both corporations and individuals compound on a daily basis.
Bill 1 was introduced following a series of rail blockade protests in support of the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs in British Columbia and their opposition to the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project.
The law raises legal questions about constitutionality, given the competing rights between businesses and protesters.
"There has to be some way of balancing the co-existence of those rights and interests," Eric Adams with the University of Alberta law school told CTV News after the bill was introduced in February.
Adams noted there's little, if anything, in the bill that would be made illegal that isn't already against the law.
"The public might ask politicians 'what are you doing about that?’ and in this case, the Alberta government wants to have an answer," he said.
Adams also noted the bill could also face challenges for interfering in areas of federal jurisdiction like roads and railways.
Other are calling it "an entirely political provocation" that nods to political supporters without actually changing the legal framework.
“What we are experiencing now in Canada is the day in the life of a healthy democracy. And the impact that is negative today may turn out to result in … reconciliation tomorrow,” Michael Bryant with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said in February.
"He's making matters worse for all sides," said Bryant of Kenney. "It's an unconstitutional effort to censor dissent."