AUPE files constitutional challenge of Alberta's Critical Infrastructure Defence Act

Alberta's largest public sector union is challenging new provincial legislation enacted to prevent rail and road blockades.

Law limits right to peaceful protest, could hamper collective bargaining, union says

About 20 demonstrators blockaded CN's main rail line in west Edmonton earlier this year in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs' opposition to a natural gas pipeline project in British Columbia. The AUPE worries Alberta's Critical Infrastructure Defence Act which bans such protests goes too far. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Alberta's largest public sector union is challenging new provincial legislation enacted to prevent rail and road blockades. 

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which came into force on June 17, violates the rights of Albertans to peaceful protest and will hamper the union's ability to engage in collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike. 

The union is filing a statement of claim in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench Tuesday morning. 

"We will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court and we will defend any and all AUPE members or staff who are caught in the bill's crosshairs," AUPE president Guy Smith said in a news release Tuesday. 

Bill 1  was introduced by the United Conservative government in February in response to the blockades of CN rail lines by Indigenous protesters earlier this year. 

The bill levies hefty fines against individuals or companies found to have blocked, damaged or illegally entered any "essential infrastructure" including pipelines, rail lines, highways, oil sites, telecommunications equipment, radio towers, electrical lines, dams and farms. 

Fines for individuals are up to $25,000 a day and up to six months in jail; corporations found to have violated the legislation face a daily penalty of up to $200,000. 

Critics say the vagueness of the legislation mean people on public land, walking down a highway or next to a railway could potentially face fines.

Smith is equally concerned about the language.

"The lack of clarity in this bill causes us grave concern, particularly since the government can secretly expand the definition of 'essential infrastructure' without warning, and without democratic oversight," he said in the release.

Jonah Mozeson, press secretary for Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, said the bill came in response to the blockades that halted rail traffic across the country. 

"Bill 1 is clearly aimed at those who would block key infrastructure such as railways, bridges, pipelines, and highways," he said in a written statement. 

"If the union bosses at AUPE are planning on blocking railways, they should let Albertans know."