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Taken at the walkout for climate change action on Sept. 27, 2019 at City Hall in Calgary. // Photo by Mariah Wilson.

Bill 1: A critical infrastructure defense act or a violation of the Canadian Charter?

By Duhaa Rahamatullah, July 21 2020—

To some, Bill 1 is an enforcement of the rule of law, the protection of public safety and the economy. 

To others, Bill 1 is an insult to democratic rights, an attempt at a dictatorship and a threat to Indigenous Peoples’ and other minorities’ way of life. 

Photo taken at the “Hands Off Our Education” rally at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Nov. 29, 2019. // Photo by Mariah Wilson.

It would seem that the United Conservative Party introduced Bill 1 to the legislative body at the height of the rail and road blockades because of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who were protesting the construction of the Coastal Gas Link. In fact, premier Jason Kenney dismissed the Indigenous community’s protests as a “mockery of the principle of rule of law.” Thus, on June 17, Bill 1 came into force to “protect essential infrastructure from damage or interference caused by blockades, protests or similar activities, which can cause significant public safety, social, economic and environmental consequences.”

The term ‘essential infrastructure’ includes a laundry list of sites, including highways, railways, pipelines, oil/gas sites, power plants, farms, public land, private land, radio apparatus and more. The Act includes a fine of up to $10,000 for first-time offenders and $25,000 for repeated offences, along with up to six months of prison time. In other words, to combat the ‘mockery of the rule of law,’ the bill jeopardized the rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens.

“Allowing the bill to pass serves to erode individual rights, unfairly targets Indigenous Peoples, and has no place in a democratic society,” says Marlene Poitras, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Alberta. In light of the construction of the Coastal Gas Link Pipeline through Indigenous territory in Northern British Columbia, and the lack of Indigenous input that the government has taken into consideration, the Indigenous community relies on expressing their perspectives through protests in their province. By imposing monetary fines and prison time for such acts, the government has opened the door to a massive abuse of power by violating the community’s right to life, liberty and security, as well as their freedom of speech.

In fact, University of Calgary student Yasmin Samantar says “the introduction and enforcement of the Bill is intended to further the government’s agenda in filling their own pockets and silencing the Indigenous community.”

Photo taken at a Black Lives Matters protest held on June 3, 2020 in downtown Calgary. // Photo by Mariah Wilson.

In addition, according to Global News, an analysis by professors of law at the University of Calgary found that the bill was in violation of five different fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians, including the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, the right to liberty and the right to equality. Considering the clear-cut violation of the Canadian Charter and the suppression of marginalized Canadian voices, why then do we suppose Kenny’s government continues to support the enforcement of the Bill? Perhaps it is the gradual decline of our democracy and the shift towards a dictatorship in which an abusive government implements legislation “as a scare tactic,” as Hamzah Naeem, a student at U of C says.

To combat the Canadian government’s violation of the Charter, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) has decided to take the government to court, hoping to have the legislation thrown out. AUPE believes Bill 1 breaches the freedom of expression, assembly, and association, which should all be protected by the Canadian Charter! Peaceful protest and the Canadian Charter are the cornerstone of our democracy and must be protected at all costs. 

Photo taken at the LGBTQ+ student rights supporters protest at City Hall on June 9, 2019. // Photo by Mariah Wilson.

The government must understand that the implementation of Bill 1 is a disgrace to our nation. It means that the Indigenous community may no longer have the voice protect their land, that Black lives may continue to be abused and disposed of, that the LGBTQ+ community may not receive the rights and recognition they deserve, that racism may never be acknowledged, that senseless allocation of government funding and environmental concerns may never be dealt with and that true justice may never prevail. 

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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