Calgary

Calgary student concerned by email from MLA's office stating Bill 1 is now law, when it isn't yet

A Calgary constituent says she was concerned when she received an email from her MLA's office stating that a bill had officially passed into law, when it hasn't yet.

Spokesperson for justice minister says email was a mistake and bill is expected to receive Royal Assent soon

Emily Macpherson says she was concerned after receiving an email from her MLA's office stating Bill 1 is now law, when it hasn't yet received Royal Assent. She worries that the bill could stifle protesters' rights, and that the email could have deterred some people from speaking up. (Submitted by Emily Macpherson, CBC)

A Calgary constituent says she was concerned when she received an email from her MLA's office stating that a bill had officially passed into law, when it hasn't yet.

University of Calgary student Emily Macpherson lives in Calgary-Elbow, which is the riding held by Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.

She's opposed to Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which could see people arrested, fined up to $25,000 or jailed if they are found to have blocked, damaged or entered "essential infrastructure" without reason, for example, people who protest on a highway.

She said she is passionate about her right to protest, and recently attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Calgary, so she and some of her friends from university emailed their MLAs to voice their concerns.

"It propelled a lot of us to send emails to our specific representatives, just stating that we oppose the bill and believe it infringes on our rights as Canadians to be out and vocalizing what we believe in," she said.

But she was surprised by the automatic response email she received from Schweitzer's office.

"If you are emailing about Bill 1, it has passed and received royal assent today in the Legislature. Our government supports the right to protest peacefully. But that should in no way justify political violence, including anarchy and looting that in many cases is destroying minority owned businesses and neighbourhoods," the email, sent June 4 from the Calgary-Elbow constituency office, read.

Macpherson was confused, as the Legislative Assembly's website states Bill 1 passed its third reading on May 28 but has not yet received Royal Assent, the sign-off from the Lieutenant Governor that would officially bring the bill into law.

So her friend, Cierra Clark, emailed her MLA in Calgary-North West to clear things up.

"We just wanted a clarification," Clark said, adding that she and Macpherson were concerned the false information could discourage some from speaking out against the bill if they were made to believe it had already completed the legislative process.

"Bill 1 has passed third reading and is currently awaiting Royal Assent ... I am not sure why your friend received different information," read a response from Calgary-North West MLA Sonya Savage's office.

A spokesperson for Schweitzer said the email mistakenly confused the final vote in the Legislature with Royal Assent, and that as the bill has passed its third reading, Royal Assent is expected to take place soon.

The email was later corrected, according to an automatic response sent to another constituent a few days later.

Macpherson said other than that automatic response, she hasn't heard back from the MLA's office.

"As someone who lives in [his] constituency I feel lied to," she said. "I would like to see any acknowledgement of the misinformation he's spreading, and I'd like to see an apology."

Royal Assent usually guaranteed, but not always

While it's rare for a bill not to receive Royal Assent once it has passed its third reading, it has happened. 

The most notable, and first instance of Royal Assent being withheld happened in 1937, when Lieutenant Governor John Bowen refused to sign off on three bills — bills that would have given the then Social Credit government unprecedented authority over what newspapers could publish and force them to reveal their sources — until the bills could be reviewed by the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court ruled the bills unconstitutional and the government later eliminated Bowen's official residence, car and staff, a move that was widely viewed to be in retaliation for his lack of cooperation.

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