Rally at Alberta Legislature to protest passing of controversial Bill 1

About 200 protestors gathered outside the legislature, masks on, social distancing where possible against the bill.

A couple hundred people gathered outside the legislature to protest the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act

Although Bill 1 has passed into law, a small group of demonstrators met outside the Alberta Legislature on Saturday afternoon to protest — act that critics say the bill suppresses the public's right to do.

About 200 protestors gathered outside the legislature, masks on, social distancing where possible, to rally against the bill.

The bill was first introduced in February, following rail blockade protests across Canada in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of the Coastal Gas Link natural gas pipeline through their territory in B.C.

Bill 1, also known as the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, came into force on June 17. It allows hefty penalties against any person or company found to have blocked, damaged or entered without reason any "essential infrastructure."

Essential infrastructure includes a long list of sites including highways, pipelines, oil sites, dams, farms and more. 

Those who violate can be fined up to $25,000 or sentenced to six months in jail or even both.

Critics say the vagueness of the legislation could mean potential fines for people on public land, or who walk down a highway or next to a railway.

Stephanie Gravel, Alberta member of Animal Rebellion, a global animal and climate justice movement and organizer of Saturday's protest, says they decided to come out to show the UCP government this bill is not what Albertans want.

"We hope that the government hears Alberta voices today and sees that this is not something that the people are wanting," she said. 

"Hopefully, we can request or encourage them to repel the bill or at least amend it so that its appropriate."

She said it was important for them to be there because they believe the bill ends their constitutional right to protest.

"So basically what they are trying to do is silence opposition and criticism. And that is not okay," she said. 

A sign at Saturday's rally at the legislature to protest Bill 1, Alberta's Critical Infrastructure Defence Act. (Scott Neufeld)

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) was also invited to speak at the protest. Guy Smith, president of AUPE, said they were there because they are also very concerned about the effects of the bill on their ability to peacefully protest.

"To picket, to take action when we need to to protect jobs in the public service and protect services for the people in the province, Bill 1 basically criminalizes that action in a democratic society," he said. 

On June 23, AUPE filed a statement of claim in the Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench against Bill 1. 

Smith said he recognizes that the legal challenge won't get sorted for a number of years. 

"The government of Alberta needs to respond to our statement of claim and court hearings in the province need to be set up. And then various levels of appeal," he said. 

"Depending on what happens there, I think this is going to end up at the Supreme Court of Canada."

He said because he believes the process will be lengthy they decided to take action now. 

"Because our members are not going to stand back and watch public services dismantled," he said.

Smith said the bill had not affected them yet, mostly because the pandemic had put a stop to the levels of action they would normally undertake.

"We have been preparing our members for the fact that if they wanted to defend their jobs, they wanted to defend services to the province, we'll see how aggressively they enforce Bill 1 and start arresting people," he said.

"At that point we will obviously see injunctions."