July 1, 2020
By: Abbie Seto
While the rest of the world protests against racism, fights for human rights, and speaks up about injustices, the Bill 1 law was passed on June 17th, 2020 in Alberta. This bill worked to spark controversy amongst Albertans and Canadians. Bill 1 is also known as the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act and was initially proposed on February 25th, 2020 by the Albertan Premier, Jason Kenney. After passing three readings and receiving the royal assent by the Lieutenant Governor on June 17th, 2020, it is now an official law in Alberta. It was initially introduced in response to a series of protests against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project. Now it will allow for the Albertan government to reprimand people who blockade, damage or interfere with any infrastructure that the bill deems “essential” while protesting or doing similar activities. Anybody who violates this law will be charged with either a severe fine or could even be sentenced to jail time. Evidently, there are many questions and issues that this law brings up concerning the rights of Indigenous people as well as a person’s freedom to protest in Canada. We can look at this law from many different lenses.
This law can be seen as a double-edged sword. On one side, understandably, the government wants to maintain the safety of people, the smooth functioning of society, and Alberta’s economy. However, on the other hand, the maintenance of normal society operations also comes at a price for people’s freedom of speech and democratic values in the country. This law has been seen to have violated five fundamental human rights and freedoms; freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, the right to liberty, and the right to equality. Hence, this brings up the question of “to what extent should people have the right to protest?”. Many argue that protests will only be effective if essential infrastructures are blockaded and disrupted, as it will then force the government to hear their voices. However, by enforcing these stricter restrictions, people’s voices are stripped and important issues will not receive as much attention as they need. It will allow for the Albertan government to make more decisions without considering the opinions of their people. Additionally, what infuriated people further was the ambiguity and futility of this bill. Though the government responded by stating that they are still in support of legal protests, many are worried about and fear the specificities of this bill, including the definition of a legal protest and the definition of essential infrastructure. Some legal experts have also stated that a lot of these new outlines in the Bill 1 law are already covered in other laws such as the trespassing law. Eventually, this law will allow for the Albertan government to have an unnecessary increase of control and too much power over people's voices however they desire, including putting a stop to peaceful protests. As a consequence, this may also constrict people’s ability and willingness to express their opinions over their fear of the law, which goes ultimately against the values of Canadian society.
Earlier on when I mentioned that this law brings up a whole plethora of issues, not only with regards to the infringement of people’s basic rights but it also highly infringes on Canadian Indigenous rights. While the rest of the world fights for the oppression of people of color, Alberta’s Premier decides to enforce a law that may threaten the rights of the Indigenous people in Canada. Looking at the roots of this issue, it stemmed from the protests started by the Wetʼsuwetʼen hereditary chiefs in British Columbia. Instead of progression towards reconciling with Indigenous people, we can see Canada taking steps backward to when historically, Indigenous people were seen as a threat to national security, and many laws were put in place to suppress their freedom. This shines a light on the underlying colonialism that still exists nowadays in modern society. This law contravenes the values and treaty agreements of the Indigenous population. Taking the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project as an example, this project has struck up many objections over the past while especially amongst the Indigenous population, mainly due to the environmental concerns. But with the implementation of this law, their concerns won’t matter as much as the ideals of the Albertan political parties, which is putting the rest of Alberta’s social and economic interests as a priority.
While acknowledging the concerns of politicians to maintain the economy and civility of the Albertan society, there must also be a balance and fine line drawn between the interests of the people and the interests of the government. The government should seek ways to protect the safety of people while ensuring that they are not infringing on people’s rights and freedoms. This should be done as opposed to severely criminalizing people for speaking out against injustices and using the privilege of their voices. Currently, there’s still a long way to go on the path to seeing progressive movement, especially in terms of reconciliation because in the end, if we consider both parties in this situation, the Albertan government has crossed a line.
If you would like a deeper read on Bill 1 please click here
Alberta's Bill 1 is bad law, bad theatre and an unconstitutional attack on the fundamental rights of citizens.