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Public servants harassed about Bighorn proposal: Environment Minister
Alex Antoneshyn, CTV Edmonton
Published Wednesday, January 9, 2019 5:07PM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 9, 2019 6:30PM MST
Amid criticism, Alberta’s minister of environment and parks has released more information about the harassment she says warranted cancelling public consultation about the government’s Bighorn Country proposal.
On Jan. 5, Alberta Environment and Parks cancelled a series of public consultations, saying, “We do not feel we can guarantee the public’s safety or freedom from intimidation at this time.”
Speaking in Lethbridge Wednesday, Minister Shannon Phillips revealed nine public servants were the victims of alleged instances of harassment. She said most of the incidents were of a “verbal variety—but some of it was not.”
Two events she qualified as “serious.”
She also said the RCMP had “two open files” regarding the Bighorn file. The ministry later clarified Phillips was only aware of two reports being made to police.
Alberta RCMP told CTV News it did not provide any advice to the provincial government, nor does it have any ongoing investigations, related to the Bighorn Country consultations.
It did say police were contacted by members of the public about “concerning social media interactions.”
Jason Nixon, United Conservative Party MLA for the Rimbey, Rocky Mountain House and Sundre area, has denounced Phillips’ cancellation of the public events.
In a statement, Nixon said Phillips “chose to politicize our law enforcement, mislead Albertans, and slandered countless concerned Albertans as behaving in a way that warranted exceptional RCMP intervention.”
On Wednesday, Phillips responded: “My number one priority as a public servant is public safety. And if I am being advised we cannot guarantee public safety, then I must act. I cannot sit on my hands. That would be irresponsible.”
Four teleconferences have been scheduled in the affected geographic areas in place of the in-person town halls. The minister called the situation “fluid” and subject to change if it was determined public meetings could be held safely.
“This is not ideal,” Phillips said. “A tiny minority of people is essentially setting the agenda for what ought to be an open and democratic process.”
The Bighorn Country proposal details new provincial parks and recreational areas, environmental protections and economic opportunities.
Some Albertans have expressed concern the provincial government is rushing into a plan that will negatively affect recreational activity and industry.
“Everybody’s hurting out here,” said Bart Guyon, reeve of Brazeau County. “We’re being pushed into poverty when we should be focusing on prosperity.”
A parks coordinator with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society told CTV News he believes some criticism of the proposal is justified.
However, “the problem is those legit concerns get drowned out by people who, in some cases, are just misinformed,” Chris Smith said.
According to Phillips, the public consultation period has been extended by two weeks, but the Bighorn Country proposal’s timeline remains otherwise unaffected.
With files from Dan Grummett