Is our right to peaceful protest disappearing?

Photo by Unifor: Some members of the Regina Police Service line up as they confront workers on Unifor’s picket line outside of the Co-op Refinery.

The right to protest is an important part of Canadian democracy and the right to free expression.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly. Protests are a way for people to express themselves for or against decisions made by government or other powerful institutions. People have taken to the streets throughout history to stand up for what they believe in.

But more and more, we are seeing examples of this freedom of expression being criminalized. Companies and corporations are obtaining court orders and bringing in the police, who are using physical force and arrests to criminalize dissent and silence protestors.

We saw it happen in Montebello, Quebec as thousands of people gathered to protest the proposed Security and Prosperity Partnership as then-prime minister Stephen Harper met behind closed doors with his U.S. and Mexican counterparts. We saw it in 2010 at G20 protests in Toronto as riot police used excessive physical force to round up and detain protestors. (And it’s worth noting that federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was Toronto’s chief of police during this time.) Indigenous Peoples have also faced police force when protecting land and water.

Right now, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and land defenders are protecting their unceded territory from construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which if constructed, would send fracked gas to a terminal on the coastal shores. Members of the First Nation have a right to say no to development, especially when it brings the threat of a spill that could result in serious environmental damage to the land and water. The Wet’suwet’en have a camp and buildings in the area, are hunting and trapping animals, and living off the land, peacefully occupying their territory.

The RCMP recently set up a perimeter and appears to be preparing to enforce a court injunction to evict these Indigenous Peoples from their land. One year ago, RCMP officers violently confronted Indigenous Peoples in the same location – and there is real concern in will happen again.

Then, this week in Regina, labour activists from Unifor who set up a peaceful and legal picket line in front of Co-op Refinery Complex were confronted by dozens of police officers from the Regina Police Service. Video of the confrontation show police forcibly removing protestors. There are also reports of one protestor being struck as police moved a vehicle. Fourteen people were arrested, including Unifor President Jerry Dias.

It was recently revealed the police action happened the same day the Regina Police Service received a letter from the head of the local trucking company calling for action.

“I’ve been walking picket lines for over 40 years and there is one common role for police and that is to ensure situations do not escalate,” said Dias the day after his arrest. “This is not what happened last night. As a matter of fact, police showed up and it was clear the sole purpose they were there was to escalate the situation and that’s what they did.”

He said more Unifor members and labour activists from other unions will be joining the line to fight for workers’ right to bargain. Co-op, a company that pulls in $3 million in profits every day, has locked refinery workers out after they refused to accept cuts to their pension plan. Unifor has vowed to stop Co-op from continuing work at the refinery and has set up a picket line to block the entrance. The company continues to fly scab workers and management into the facility by helicopter.

“Since the arrests last night, our members are flying in from across the country in droves to get here to Regina, because they’re not going to watch the police bully and push around our members,” Dias said in an interview with media.

According to the Regina Leader-Post, in a statement, Labour Relations Minister Don Morgan said he spoke to both sides in the labour dispute to convey that the government believes “the best agreements are reached through bargaining.” Unifor has stated it is prepared to return to the bargaining table – the company is not.

“While our government is concerned with the increasingly aggressive tactics being used in this labour dispute, we are encouraged by the Regina Police Service’s diligence in upholding the law and keeping the peace,” said Minister Morgan, giving tacit government approval for the police’s forceful actions.

The Council of Canadians is concerned with the growing trend of police force being used to disrupt or stop peaceful protests. Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination. Workers have the right to protect their jobs and benefits, to bargain disputes at the bargaining table – and when that doesn’t work, to strike. People across the country have the right to take to the streets to speak out against the actions – or inaction – of our governments and other powerholders.

Our democracy is at risk if our right to peaceful protest is taken away.



Unifor president Jerry Dias arrested at Regina’s Co-op Refinery

Union head among 7 taken into custody on picket line, police confirm


Unifor president Jerry Dias, left, and the union’s lead negotiator Scott Doherty. Dias was taken into custody by police on Monday amid a labour dispute at the Co-op Refinery in Regina. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Unifor national president Jerry Dias was arrested along with six other members of the union on Monday afternoon amid rising tensions in a dispute with the Co-op Refinery in Regina.

The arrests came after union members set up blockades outside the refinery, contrary to a recent court order.

“Unifor members had completely blocked the entrances/exits to the Co-op Refinery Complex, not allowing vehicles to enter or exit the property,” the Regina Police Service said in a statement.

Dias had said at a media conference that morning that the blockades were set up by members of other Unifor locals. He argued that they therefore did not violate the injunction, which bars members of Local 594 — which represents workers at the refinery — from blocking access to the facility.

“We’ll deal with that in court because our argument today is that we are not violating any injunction at all,” Dias said.

Jerry Dias@JerryPDias

We need thousands more members to come to Regina because @reginapolice have decided to side with @CoopFCL 


Once again the Regina Police are siding with greedy @CoopFCL #skpoli #canlab #cdnpoli #BoycottCoop #SupportUnifor594

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Police did not confirm who else was arrested or if any charges were laid.

Monday marked 46 days since Unifor members were locked out.

The blockades were taken down Monday evening.

The dispute mainly comes down to pensions. A previous deal included a defined benefit pension for workers. Now the refinery is moving toward a defined contribution plan.

The union says this amounts to taking away workers’ pensions. The refinery says it is trying to remain competitive.

“We are going to guarantee you that not one fuel truck is going to leave this facility. From now on we’re not going anywhere,” Scott Doherty, Unifor’s lead negotiator and executive assistant to the president, said.

The refinery said in a statement that the blockades were illegal and that it is exploring legal options.

“Unifor continues to use illegal blockades as a bullying tactic and has brought in extra people to help them to it,” the statement said. “Today’s actions by Unifor represent yet another violation of the court injunction.”

Regina police said they were monitoring the situation. In a statement, police said they were communicating with both sides to keep the peace and advising motorists to avoid the area of Ninth Avenue N., MacDonald Street and Fleet Street.

Police took Unifor members into custody after the union constructed blockades at the refinery. (Unifor/Twitter)

Before his arrest, Dias estimated that about 500 people were brought in from across Canada to Regina and said more are expected. Dias said the union also plans to increase the boycott of Co-ops across Western Canada if a deal isn’t made.

“Clearly the only place that this dispute will be resolved will be at the bargaining table,” Dias said.

The refinery previously said Unifor hasn’t returned to the bargaining table since September 2019.  MORE

Imagining Northern BC Without Oil and Gas

Tyee readers asked us to report on how to transition to a green economy without lost jobs. Here are some answers for one region.

The northern BC economy is heavily steeped in oil and gas jobs. But programs like the University of Northern British Columbia’s Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design program are training workers for a new economy. Photo courtesy of UNBC.

Last month’s massive marches to demand action on climate change showed the issue has become central to this election campaign.

But when we asked Tyee readers to guide our election coverage, they wanted to know how the parties would transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval.

It’s a critical question, especially for British Columbia’s north. As one of the fastest-warming regions in the country, it’s already feeling the impact of the climate crisis.

And with its reliance on resource industries — especially oil and gas development in the northeast, pipelines that carry products to the coast, and coming liquefied natural gas plants — it would be most dramatically affected by a transition away from fossil fuels.

That’s not the only impact. Traditional industries like fisheries and forestry are currently struggling and face an uncertain future, in part due to a warming climate.

What will the transition mean for the north?

The shift to a low-carbon economy has traditionally been touted as a choice between jobs and environment. But there’s a growing awareness that the outlook might not be so bleak. Exciting opportunities exist, not only in a post-carbon world, but in the journey to get there.

In August, Forbes touted the shift as “the single biggest business opportunity in human history.”

Experts interviewed by The Tyee about the transition to a post-carbon economy tended to make three points: It’s possible. It likely won’t be comfortable. And it’s going to take a lot of political will.

Marc Lee, senior economist with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says how easily we transition depends on how quickly we begin to move quickly to slash emissions.

“If you’re trying to get to zero next year, it’s going to be disruptive,” he says. “If you have two to three decades as the period to manage that transition, then it shouldn’t be a problem.” A 30-year transition — with steady progress during that period — puts us in line with current predictions for avoiding catastrophic climate change, he added.

Christopher Flury is a Fort St. John-based engineer and president of the local chamber of commerce. His income is entirely based on the natural gas industry.

“It’s a major portion of our GDP,” he says, estimating that up to 75 per cent of the local economy relies directly or indirectly on oil and gas.

851px version of OilGasWorkerPipes.jpg
A worker at a natural gas well near Fort Nelson, BC. The province has 4,000 direct jobs in oil and gas extraction, almost all in the northeast. Photo by Larry McDougal, the Canadian Press.

The region is seeing an increase in renewable energy projects, with eight wind projects currently proposed, he notes.

“I think a good mix between oil and gas and renewables is how things are going to transition in northeast B.C.,” he says. “If we transition away and completely shut down the industry, I’d say there are over 350 operators just in Fort St. John that would lose their jobs.”

B.C. has 4,000 direct jobs in oil and gas extraction, almost all in the northeast. In addition, last year there were 39,000 oil and gas jobs in engineering and infrastructure building.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, represents many of those workers.