Alberta’s largest public sector union taking government to court over Bill 1, claiming it violates Charter of Rights and Freedoms

AUPE president Guy Smith. DAVID BLOOM / Postmedia, file

Alberta’s largest public sector union is taking the government to court, claiming that legislation passed to keep protesters away from critical infrastructure goes too far and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) filed the statement of claim in the Court of Queen’s Bench Tuesday. It says Bill 1, The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which came into force on June 17, breaches freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association, all rights protected by the charter. The union wants the court to throw out the legislation.

“As we know, peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, keeps our democracy active, and it should be protected,” he said. “And here you have those folks being turned into criminals and having their life, liberty and justice or security denied them.”

Bill 1 was tabled in February following weeks of cross-country protests supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia including a west Edmonton protest that blocked railway tracks for 12 hours.

Premier Jason Kenney blamed mining giant Teck’s decision to withdraw from its $20-billion Frontier oilsands mine project on “virtual anarchy” and “chaos” stemming from the protests.

The act prohibits individuals from entering, damaging, obstructing, or interfering with “essential infrastructure” and imposes stiff fines or jail time on those who break the rules. The union says what qualifies as essential infrastructure is too broad.

Along with railways, oilsands production sites and other locations, the definition of essential also includes any road, trail or sidewalk.

“So that opens the door to a massive abuse of power,” Smith said.

The union’s case also alleges that imposing jail time for an offence under Bill 1 violates a person’s right to life, liberty and security.

Smith says the legislation, and the ability for the government to add to the definition of essential infrastructure via regulations, means union members could find themselves in trouble for actions like protesting or handing out leaflets in front of their workplace.

In a written statement Tuesday, Jonah Mozeson, press secretary for Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, said the bill is aimed at those who block key infrastructure such as railways, bridges, pipelines and highways.

“If the union bosses at AUPE are planning on blocking railways, they should let Albertans know,” he said.

Appeals all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada will likely take years.

In the meantime, Smith said that while the union is not holding any mass gatherings right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will happen again and the union has a legal fund to help anyone who is arrested and charged.

“The union is there for its members and obviously will protect them if something happens as a result of this piece of legislation,” he said.

The union is not the only group to complain about Bill 1. In February the Assembly of First Nations called on Kenney to rescind the bill.

SOURCE

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