Protesters who blockade rail lines or highways in Alberta could face up to $25,000 in fines under a bill tabled by the UCP government Tuesday.
Blocking railways is already against federal criminal law, but Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, introduced in the legislature after the throne speech, would give police and prosecutors the power to hand out more provincial penalties.
“Apparently those disincentives haven’t been strong enough for some people,” Kenney said at an earlier news conference. “Albertans and Canadians respect our constitutionally protected freedoms of expression, of assembly, and to protest but blocking railways, roadways, and commuter trains and critical infrastructure is simply and plainly illegal.”
Kenney again blamed Teck’s withdrawal of its application for the $20 billion Frontier mine on Sunday in part on “virtual anarchy” and “chaos” caused by nationwide protests support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are opposed to the Coastal GasLink project in northern B.C.
“If this carries on it will have devastating impacts on our economy here in Alberta and in the rest of the country. Albertans will not tolerate this kind of lawless mockery of our democratic principles and this attack on our nations and our province’s prosperity.”
Bill 1 builds on the UCP’s fall legislation that increased the maximum penalties for trespassing and made it harder for trespassers to sue landowners or tenants for death or injury.
If passed, the law would create bigger fines and prison terms of up to six months. Unlike those of previous trespassing laws, Bill 1 would create fines that could be newly applied and added to previous fines every day that a protest continues.
It would apply to a long list of “essential infrastructure,” publicly and privately owned, including oil and gas production and refinery sites, telephone lines, water utilities and dams.
“Each day that (this) goes on, it would be a new offence, so the fines would compound over time … We want to send a clear signal that this will not be tolerated,” said justice minister Doug Schweitzer.
Fines would start at $1,000 and could go up to $25,000 as early as day two of a blockade. Corporations could also be fined up to $200,000, including for aiding, counselling or directing blockades.
The bill could also apply to massive convoys that disrupt traffic, such as the trucker convoy that ended in Nisku in December 2018 with a speech from federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer. Traffic westbound to the airport on Airport Road was disrupted and there were traffic delays throughout Nisku and the Leduc North Business Park.
Whether or not the law would apply to such protests would be left up to the discretion of police on the ground, Schweitzer said.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley criticized the bill, saying it could be expanded to shut down protests by groups such as teachers and nurses that the government simply doesn’t agree with.
“Bill 1 should have been completely focused on jobs, and as we know when it comes to protesters that this premier claims to be concerned about, the law already prohibited that kind of work and the law already allowed for them to be arrested,” said Notley.
Schweitzer called on the federal government to and adopt similar legislative action. “Follow our lead,” he said.