Bill 1, also known as the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act had its introduction on February 25. The bill protects an extensive list of “critical infrastructure” from barricades, vandalism, and protests. The Bill classifies a broad range of properties as critical infrastructure-both private and public.
There are many vocal individuals terrified of what the Bill could mean for activism, protests, and freedom of speech. Others are supportive of the Bill, as they foresee the positive outcomes of protecting critical infrastructure and the economy.
One major issue with how Albertans approach this bill is this: the moment an individual becomes extremely opposed to or extremely supportive of a specific cause, credibility is at risk. Why? Extremism involves a significant amount of emotional investment, and emotions-in politics especially-can erase any chance of agreement from the other side. Emotions trivialize opinions, making it harder for an individual of another perspective to pick out what they might partially agree with. Professionalism and moderation is the key to finding a middle ground. Without it, understanding is at risk.
If you look at media coverage of Bill 1, some of the first articles you will come across are harsh criticisms of the Bill; claims of the bill being unconstitutional, predictions of Alberta becoming a “Police State”, and the like. However, upon looking at the Bill 1 pdf (found on assembly.ab.ca), there doesn’t seem to be prohibitions as extreme as they are painted in media coverage. This is not to say that it should be passed as it reads today, but that the prohibitions seem somewhat within reason; don’t vandalize, don’t interrupt economic infrastructure.
To look only at the prohibitions, it would seem that the Bill is only intended to address legitimate concerns about critical infrastructure defence-of course with some clauses that are possibly flawed-which we’ll get to later.
However, I was taken aback at the penalties of committing Bill 1 offences, which consist of a fine “not less than $1,000” and “Not exceeding $200,000”, depending on whether it was a first offence, or if the protest was organized and carried out by a corporation. Penalties also include potential jail time of up to six months.
Now the concerns brought up by the opposing NDP seem rather reasonable (despite being called “ridiculous” by Conservative MLA Todd Loewen). The language in the Bill is vague, which means it very well could be used against protesters participating in peaceful protests with little to no physical impact or interruption of a critical infrastructure’s functionality.
Considering the steep fines and vague language, can Alberta really be sure that the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act is really about protecting critical infrastructure?
With such vague language, how is Alberta going to protect its activists? How is Alberta protecting, or even hearing, the voices of Albertans-and considering the origin of Bill 1-the voices of Indigenous people?
When I think about the origin of Bill 1, which was a response to CN Rail Line Blockages near Edmonton, I think of The Oka Crisis.
If you need a quick refresher, The Oka Crisis (1990) came about when Mohawk people set up barricades to prevent a golf course and condominiums from expanding onto Mohawk burial grounds. Previous to the barricades, Mohawk people had been attempting to get their rights to the land recognized by the government, and their pleas were met with silence. The barricades were first set up without hostility or violence, but we all know that it eventually escalated, leading to the death of Corporal Marcel Lemay.
The crisis resulted in the government purchasing the land in order to prevent the golf course expansion.
The Oka Crisis exemplifies the relationship between First Nations people and the government quite well. Despite recent improvements, the relationship between First Nations people and the Canadian government have not changed drastically, nor has the relationship with First Nations people and the justice system. If Indigenous issues are met with silence or ignorance, how can one say that Indigenous people have a voice, or that Indigenous voices are being heard?
If the Mohawk people hadn’t desperately fought to keep their barricades up and protect land seen as sacred to them, they wouldn’t have been able to prevent the construction of the golf course. Their ancestors would become the foundation of condominiums.
What can be said then, in consideration of Oka, about the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, protesters, and supporters of the CN rail line blockage near Edmonton?
Both sides of the argument have valid points:
Alberta’s economy hasn’t been booming in recent years, so what we have, we must
The miniscule amounts of land First Nations people have, we must protect as well.
It’s the same vein for any other act of protection or activism; everyone should have the right to protect what is sacred and important to them.
The condition and clauses of Bill 1 are bound to evolve as it continues its readings and is yet to receive Royal Assent. What Alberta needs to work on, is finding a middle ground that will protect Alberta’s economy, and for once, protect and listen to the voices of our First Nations people, as well as protect the voices of activist groups.