Protesters decry proposed bill that would limit protests in the name of protecting infrastructure

The Progressive Conservative government has drawn fire for its Bill 57, which would protect "critical infrastructure" from protests that could shut it down.

About 200 people at rally say Bill 57 would criminalize activists and 'silence our voices'

Approximately 200 people took over an intersection Tuesday, but new legislation could limit such protests if the street was declared "critical" by the courts. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC )

Bill 57 might keep oil flowing or electricity transmitting or trains running, but for some it strikes at the heart of their right to protest.

Approximately 200 people shut down the intersection of Memorial Boulevard and Broadway in front of the Manitoba legislature Tuesday evening to show the Progressive Conservative government their opinion of the legislation.

"We know that instead of regulating polluting companies, this government is busy criminalizing activists and Indigenous people with bills like the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act," Silas Koulack, a member of the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, told the crowd. 

Bill 57 broadly defines infrastructure as everything from agricultural processing facilities to pipelines and power lines and dams, hospitals, courthouses and airports. 

An owner or operator of the facility may apply to the Court of Queen's Bench for an order to stop attempts to interfere with its infrastructure.

Idle No More organizer Lisa Currier says legislation would force protesting voices to convenient corners and away from the issues. (Darin Morash/CBC )

That could result in a court order creating what the bill calls a "critical infrastructure protection zone," and might stop protesters from "interfering or blocking others from accessing the zone."

The proposed legislation says infrastructure is critical "if it makes a significant contribution to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Manitobans."

"The Manitoba government recognizes the rights of citizens to express views on issues and engage in peaceful protests," then Justice Minister Cliff Cullen told The Canadian Press late last year.

"Those rights must be balanced with the right of Manitobans to enjoy their property and preserve their livelihood and access necessary services," he said. 

The bill would allow intervention in blockades like one that materialized at a rail line just outside Winnipeg last winter in support of the of the Wet'suwet'en in British Columbia, whose hereditary leaders were fighting construction of a pipeline through their traditional territory.

The crowd that gathered at the legislature Tuesday said the PC government is focused more on infrastructure and less on democratic rights to protest.

"[Bill] 57 would silence our voices and just make us conveniently protest over there in the corner far away from where the heart of the issue is," said Lisa Currier, with Idle No More and an organizer of the protest against the legislation.

Organizers asked the crowd to get involved in the legislative process of the bill by registering to speak at the committee that will examine its contents. 


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