14 Co-op refinery picketers arrested as city held hostage: Regina police chief

Click to play video: '14 arrested following Unifor’s blockade at Co-op Refinery'
14 arrested following Unifor’s blockade at Co-op Refinery
WATCH: Tensions reached new heights on the picket line during the Co-op Refinery lockout – Jan 21, 2020

Fourteen Unifor picketers, including the union’s national president Jerry Dias, were arrested by Regina police and charged with mischief on Monday night at the Co-op Refinery picket line.

Chief Evan Bray said these charges are not related to a court injunction, but officers were able to gather enough evidence in the field to warrant the mischief charges. Those charged, are due in court on Feb. 26.

Out of police custody, Dias held a press conference outside a Co-op gas station on Tuesday morning. According to Dias, he is not allowed within 500 metres of the refinery as part of his release conditions.

“I’ve never seen a police department in any city in this country behave the way the Regina police did last night,” Dias said.

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The union leader accused the police of acting like “thugs,” saying police told women they would push them. Dias added this is the first time he’s been arrested in 40 years of labour activism.

“They understood what they were doing. They released the other six people well before they released me. They were trying to make a statement, and frankly the statement backfired.”

Click to play video: 'Unifor president Jerry Dias arrested as Co-op Refinery labour dispute escalates'
Unifor president Jerry Dias arrested as Co-op Refinery labour dispute escalates

According to Bray, the arresting officer did not know who Dias was when he was arrested. Dias disputed this, saying officers called him Jerry, despite his legal name being Jerome.

Bray said he viewed police conduct as respectful and professional on the picket line.

Dias said the union now plans on escalating their boycott of all Co-op retail and products.

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“If the Co-op gas stations and stores and other facilities are supportive of the management team at the refinery, then the workers that pump gas from the gas stations are going to have something to say about their lack of loyalty,” Dias said.

Click to play video: 'Chief Evan Bray explains how Unifor and Co-op “are essentially holding the city hostage”'
Chief Evan Bray explains how Unifor and Co-op “are essentially holding the city hostage”

Strong likelihood of more charges

The 14 arrests are not related to the court injunction, according to Bray. However, their investigation into these arrests is ongoing and there’s a strong likelihood of injunction related charges.

The Regina police are working with lawyers, Crown prosecutors and other police agencies to interpret the injunction.

The injunction restricts the picket line to holding up traffic for a maximum of 10 minutes.

On Monday, Dias said the injunction only applied to Unifor Local 594, and not the national union. Dias said the national chapter is a legally separate entity and is now responsible for the picket line.

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Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) argued the injunction extends to all of Unifor, and is exploring their legal options.

Bray emphasized that police are not choosing sides, and respect the workers’ right to picket, and Co-op’s right to maintain business.

“We have to be able to find a way to strike that balance, maintain public safety, prevent people from breaking the law, allowing both sides to exercise their rights and of course that is directed through court order, by police,” Bray said.

“When emotions are high and there’s essentially two sides to a discussion, there’s going to be polarizing effects in a community.”

Unifor expects another 200 to 250 workers to arrive in Regina Tuesday. This is on top of 500 who reportedly joined the picket line over the weekend from across Canada.

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All but two of the people who were arrested on Monday night are not from Regina. Bray acknowledged it’s a common union practice to bring in outside members to increase pressure on the employer.

“I get it, and all the power to them. That’s an important part of how labour relations work in our country, but it can’t be to the point where they’re breaking the law,” Bray said.

Currently, Unifor has erected fences at several Co-op refinery gates. Bray said he won’t signal police plans, but they are monitoring the situation.

“We have officers out there right now; we’ll continue to have officers out there. Our goal is to not have to make arrests,” Bray said.

While there were 14 arrests on Monday, Bray said he views it as a relatively low number given the hundreds of people on the picket line.

When asked if the fences will be coming down today, Dias said the union would see how the day unfolds.

Holding the city hostage

Approximately 50 officers were on the picket line Monday night, a significant deployment of police resources.

“I really feel like, without choosing sides, right now both sides are essentially holding the city hostage a little bit,” Bray said.

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“I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair for the tax payers of our city.”

Bray said when he went to the RPS communications branch on Monday night dispatchers where having resource challenges due to having 50 officers at the picket line. One dispatcher had to be set aside to focus solely on refinery matters.

While about 50 officers were at the picket line, dispatchers were also having to deal with firearms calls, a stabbing and a vehicle accident.

The 50 officers were a mix of crowd control officers, regular patrol and some plain-clothes cops, according to Bray.

On Bray’s hostage comments, Dias placed the responsibility with FCL.

“Co-op locked out over 700 people. Co-op is flying in scabs by helicopters. Co-op is in the group that is in complete control of situation. We could resolve this situation today if in fact they have a desire to do that. I’m here for that reason. If they want an agreement, they have my phone number,” Dias said.

Dias reiterated that they will not walk away from the bargaining table without a direct benefit pension plan.

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Both sides have said they are willing to return to the table, but remain far apart on the pension plan.

Fire and EMS access

EMS had to be called to the scene last night, and the ambulance was let through the picket line. According to Bray, it was to handle an emergency on the refinery grounds. The chief said a padlock did have to be cut off the emergency entrance gate. Police have asked that gate not be locked in the future.

Regina Fire Chief Layne Jackson said the fire marshal issued an order to Unifor to make sure there is clear access and egress from the Refinery. He said this was due to vehicles and fences being used to block gates.

The Regina Fire Department continues to monitor the situation.

Police have a “handful” of labour dispute related criminal investigations going on outside Monday’s escalation. Bray said these investigations include mischief and threats. He added it is a challenge to sift through the social media chatter in this emotionally charged situation.

Unifor represents some Global News employees.

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