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Alberta Union of Provincial Employees launches constitutional challenge against controversial blockade bill

AUPE calls new provincial law that cracks down on protesters ‘unconstitutional’
Bill 1 was designed to make it harder for protesters to block critical pieces of infrastructure, like rail lines. Alberta's biggest union says the law has a "chilling effect" on all forms of protest and it's taking the province to court. Fletcher Kent has more.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has launched a constitutional challenge against the UCP government’s controversial Bill 1.

Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, includes stiffer penalties for anyone trying to shut down critical economic infrastructure, including railways.

The penalties for individuals would be up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for each subsequent day a blockade or protest remained in place.

The bill also proposes making it easier for police to intervene in blockades rather than wait for a court injunction.

The bill was introduced in February, at the height of the rail and road blockades across the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who were protesting the construction of the Coastal Gas Link natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.

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READ MORE: Alberta legislature resumes with focus on jobs and blockade bill

In a media release Tuesday, the AUPE said Bill 1 “violates the rights of Albertans.”

“It is an attack on our freedom to take part in peaceful protests, which is recognized as an essential part of democracy,” AUPE president Guy Smith said.

“This is the kind of law we would expect to see in an oppressive dictatorship.”

READ MORE: University of Calgary law professors call critical infrastructure bill unconstitutional

In a statement of claim filed at the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Tuesday morning, the union claims Bill 1 breaches a number of Charter rights and that it will “substantially hinder AUPE’s ability to meaningfully engage in the collective bargaining process.”

“We will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court and we will defend any and all AUPE members or staff who are caught in the bill’s cross-hairs,” Smith said.

“In the past month, we have pledged to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Albertans and Black Albertans and we have always stood hand-in-hand with our fellow workers across sectors.”

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The AUPE also cites a lack of clarity around what constitutes “critical infrastructure.”

“Our members and all citizens deserve to know what the law is and what it means before the state starts punishing them for violating it. The lack of clear enforcement guidelines will create confusion and conflict, not prevent it,” Smith said.

University of Calgary law professors call critical infrastructure bill unconstitutional
University of Calgary law professors call critical infrastructure bill unconstitutional

The press secretary for the Alberta Justice minister issued the following statement to Global News regarding the constitutional challenge.

“The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act is clearly aimed at those who would block key infrastructure such as railways, bridges, pipelines and highways. If the union bosses at AUPE are planning on blocking railways, they should let Albertans know,” Jonah Mozeson said.

No one has been charged yet under Bill 1.

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The AUPE is the largest union in Alberta with more than 95,000 members.