Hundreds turned out to protests in Calgary and Edmonton on Saturday, calling for the Alberta government to repeal Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act.
The bill, which passed on May 28, protects essential infrastructure by creating offences for trespassing, interfering with operations or causing damage, according to the province.
The government said the bill builds on existing trespassing laws with a few changes:
- legally defining essential infrastructure to include public and private infrastructure
- allowing regulations to expand the definition of essential infrastructure in the future
- creating new offences, such as willfully entering, obstructing and destroying infrastructure
- introducing penalties
“Albertans have the right to peaceably assemble, and that has not changed. Bill 1 protects critical infrastructure on both public and private land, like railways and roadways, from blockades that would have significant public safety, social, economic and environmental consequences,” said Christine Myatt, a spokesperson for the premier, in a statement on Saturday.
“In fact, there have been a number of public gatherings on public spaces since Bill 1 passed, showing that their concerns are unfounded.”
‘Clamping down on dissent’
More than 200 people rallied at the legislature in Alberta’s capital Saturday.
Organizer Stephanie Gravel said Albertans want to keep the ability to express themselves.
“We want to maintain our constitutional freedoms of peaceful expression and peaceful assembly,” she said.
“So we’re hoping that this sort of show of community wakes this government up to see that this is not what Albertans want.”
Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said Bill 1 impacts people’s ability to peacefully protest, picket and take action to protect public service jobs.
“Bill 1 basically criminalizes that action, and in a democratic society, we believe not only is that completely wrong but it’s also unconstitutional. So we have actually filed a legal challenge against Bill 1,” he said, noting that there are no set court dates yet.
“We have to stand up to this legislation now, in the streets, worksites, and at demonstrations like this around the province.”
Smith said the legislation takes away the fundamental rights of workers to protest outside their workplaces.
“It goes much further than we’ve ever seen anything in Canada before when it comes to clamping down on dissent,” he said.
“That’s what this government wants. It wants to crush any opposition to its agenda. Obviously, they’re doing it through the legislature, using the power of the state to take away basic fundamental democratic rights to citizens.”
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said we can’t take democracy for granted.
“We can no longer be complacent based on what we’re seeing from the Kenney government, and it’s not just one piece of legislation — it’s many,” he said.
‘An attack on democracy’
More than 130 people gathered at Calgary’s city hall to protest the bill Saturday, with members from Indigenous communities, Black Lives Matter, doctors, nurses, unions and citizens in a non-partisan gathering.
Bobby-Joe Borodey, an AUPE vice-president who represents the Calgary region, wants the “unjust law” reversed.
“We want to make sure that Jason Kenney and his government recognize that we’re not just going to sit down and allow them to move forward with something like this without any opposition at all,” she said.
The combination of Bill 1 and Bill 32 — which proposes changes to union strike rules — means the government is intimidated by anyone who speaks in opposition to its actions, Borodey said.
“They’re hoping that they will be able to intimidate us and stop us from moving forward in the future and what we want to make sure they recognize is that’s not the case,” she said.
“If anything, it enrages us more and will definitely send us to the streets.”
Irfan Sabir, NDP MLA for Calgary-McCall, said Bill 1 infringes on constitutional rights and is designed to maintain the status quo.
“Literally, under this piece of legislation, they can declare even this footpath as something that is a critical part of infrastructure and you can’t protest here. So that’s clearly infringing on people’s constitutional-protected rights.”
Attendee Michelle Robinson said the bill directly targets Indigenous people and draws on historical precedents, like how they currently live under the Indian Act.
“With that in mind, they can deem whatever they want as public infrastructure and that’s why they have no problem,” she said, citing this year’s Wetʼsuwetʼen protests.
“Today is the 30th anniversary of the Oka Crisis or what we call the siege of Kahnawake and that’s an example of them determining — it doesn’t matter if it’s Indigenous land; it’s public land and they want to do what they want.”