9 government officials harassed amid Bighorn Country park plans: Alberta environment minister

Alberta environment minister says 9 government officials harassed amid Bighorn Country park plans
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's environment minister says there have been nine separate incidents of "verbal and other forms of harassment" of government employees related to consultation around her government's proposed Bighorn Country park plan. Sarah Kraus has the latest.

Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said Wednesday there have been nine separate incidents of “verbal and other forms of harassment” of government employees surrounding consultation around the proposed Bighorn Country park plan.

Phillips said two of the cases are quite serious, but did not elaborate.

“These are human resources matters,” she said. “It was enough that I was worried about the safety of the people who work for the government of Alberta in a couple of isolated cases.”

Phillips has faced criticism after cancelling four upcoming public information sessions on the Bighorn plan. She said the sessions were cancelled due to public safety concerns.

READ MORE: Bighorn Country information sessions cancelled over allegations of intimidation, bullying

Phillips said the in-person sessions will be replaced with telephone town halls. If and when they are convinced public safety is restored, the government will move forward with in-person information sessions, Phillips said.

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“If I am being advised that we cannot guarantee public safety, then I must act. I cannot sit on my hands. That would be irresponsible,” she said in Lethbridge Wednesday. “This is not ideal, that a tiny minority of people is essentially setting the agenda for what ought to be an open and democratic process.

“So that’s why this is a very fluid situation. We will continue to monitor it.

“If we can reinstate those information sessions, we will.”

READ MORE: Alberta government waffles on Bighorn Country public consultations, will reschedule after backlash

In a statement Wednesday, the Alberta RCMP said it has not provided any official advice to Alberta Environment and Parks regarding the Bighorn public consultations.

“It is not the role of the RCMP to give specific advice or recommendations to government agencies,” the statement read.

“We can confirm we have been contacted by some members of the public who wanted the police to be aware of some concerning social media interactions around the Bighorn public consultation.

“Alberta RCMP can confirm that we do not have any ongoing investigations relating to the consultations.”

Watch below: Ongoing Global News coverage of the plans in Bighorn Country

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Alberta UCP MLA Mike Ellis is calling for another minister to be put in charge of the Bighorn file, citing concerns with the way it’s been handled thus far.

“We do not say this lightly: Given the lack of trust in the region, another minister should take over responsibility for the Bighorn plan,” Ellis said. “The government also needs to make clear that they are withdrawing their arbitrary consultation deadline for the Bighorn.

“The rushed timeline prior to an election is not helpful to anyone.”

READ MORE: Biologists pen letter over Alberta MLA’s ‘misinformation’ on conservation plans

In November, Phillips announced eight new parks covering 4,000 square kilometres in the Bighorn area, along the eastern edges of Banff and Jasper national parks.

Residents and area officials have raised concerns about how the project might affect oil and gas exploration, the forestry industry, and off-road vehicle use.

The Bighorn plan is supported by 37 former top provincial biologists in a letter sent to the premier last week.

The telephone town halls are being held as follows:

Tuesday, Jan. 15
Drayton Valley, Sundre and surrounding area
6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 16
Red Deer and surrounding area
6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 24
Edmonton and surrounding area
6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

To participate in the telephone town halls, dial 1-877-229-8493 and enter code 115500#. People can also listen and ask questions online.

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People can also review the proposal and weigh in on the project through an online survey.

The Alberta government said on Jan. 23 that “engagement has already reached more than 30,000 people, as well as municipalities, recreation groups, small businesses and industrial operators.”

With files from The Canadian Press.