Alberta plans to tighten penalties for blockades

Province has introduced legislation that would slap protesters who impact critical infrastructure with stiffer sentences

The Alberta government plans on increasing penalties for people who create blockades or trespass on critical infrastructure.

Tabled in the legislature Feb. 25, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act aims to prevent protesters from setting up blockades, protests or similar activities on infrastructure that’s deemed essential.

If passed, it would mean higher fines and potential jail time for people who block such infrastructure.

The measures come after numerous blockades were set up across Canada.

They were established in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who oppose a new LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia, but they have crippled the country’s rail network and, in effect, parts of the economy.

“This is not legitimate and lawful protest. We respect the right to assembly and protest, but blocking critical infrastructure is simply and plainly illegal,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, speaking with reporters before tabling the bill.

“It mocks the principle of the rule of law, which holds us together as the central principle of a democratic society, but it is also inflicting massive damage on the Canadian economy.”

The measures would mean trespassers would face a minimum fine of $1,000 and up to $10,000 and $25,000 for first and subsequent offences, respectively.

As well, they could face up to six months jail time, or a combination of jail time and fines.

This would apply to people who willfully enter any essential infrastructure, even if they obtained permission under false pretenses; willfully destroy or damage essential infrastructure; and willfully obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the construction, maintenance, use or operation of any essential infrastructure that would render it dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective.

Critical infrastructure includes rail lines; pipelines; oil and gas production and refinery sites; mines; utilities; telecommunications lines, towers and equipment; highways and dams.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the fines would compound over time.

For instance, there would be a minimum fine for the first day of a protest blocking critical infrastructure. On the second day, the same protesters would face a subsequent and higher fine.

“We want to send a clear signal that this won’t be tolerated,” Schweitzer said.

“We wanted to make sure that as each day goes, the fines and ramifications go up.”

Kenney said the legislation could cause potential protesters to think twice before setting up a blockade or trespassing on critical infrastructure.

“We trust professional police services to use this as an additional tool to maintain public safety, maintain the rule of law, protect infrastructure and protect jobs and the economy,” Kenney said.

Schweitzer said it signals to law enforcement that they are able to move in on potential trespassers of critical infrastructure at any time, arguing that injunctions may not be necessary.

As well, corporations fall under the new rules.

If a corporation commits an offence, it would mean the officer, director or agent of the corporation who directed, authorized or participated in the offence would be liable to penalty.

If they offend, corporations would face a minimum fine of $10,000 and up to $200,000.

Schweitzer encouraged the federal justice minister and justice ministers in other provinces to put forward similar legislation.

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