Unions say Bill 1 could make Alberta a 'police state'

Statement from union presidents asserts Bill 1 will limit freedom of assembly and freedom expression for workers as well as environmentalists and indigenous people

EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour’s Executive Council, representing the majority of the elected union leadership in the province, has released a statement on Bill 1 – the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act. It is the position of the AFL and its affiliated presidents that Bill 1, if it becomes law represents a step away from a free and democratic Alberta, and a step towards a police state. Recent comments by Energy Minister Savage applauding emergency measures to limit public gatherings, which caused international embarrassment for our province, only heighten the Alberta labour movement’s concerns that the UCP is intent on limiting democratic rights enshrined in the Constitution related to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

Here is the statement:

Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, if it becomes law, will bring Alberta closer to a police state than perhaps it’s ever been. The Alberta Federation of Labour asserts that the Bill aims to make strikes and protests illegal for trade unions and our allies.

Bill 1 seems to encourage police to arrest and charge people and have them punished for standing up for ideals that are important to them. Union picketing is generally limited to public spaces next to the private property of an employer – a sidewalk, boulevard, ditch or parking lot. Through Bill 1, these places – trails, roads, alleys, squares, sidewalks, boulevards, ditches – will be deemed “essential infrastructure” where legal picketing could be punishable by fines and jail time.

Debate in the Legislature around Bill 1 has given us no comfort that this is anything but a police-state Bill designed to punish perceived enemies of conservative governments. Conservative MLAs have described protesters who care about environmental and indigenous issues as “radicals” who need to be targeted and controlled. Conservatives have also pointed to union protesters and strikers when explaining why they think the Bill is needed.

For example, Devin Dreeshen, Agriculture and Forestry Minister, said Bill 1 would be used against indigenous Albertans teaching their history and culture to their community in forested areas if the activities of those citizens “interferes with commerce.” “No one is above the law,” said Dreeshen before the law has even passed.

Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda said that Bill 1 is needed because, he alleged, “protesters and illegal blockaders were actually aided and enabled by leaders” like federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

MLA Brad Rutherford, a former police officer, suggested that police are looking to politicians about whether or not to break up protests – and he said that’s why Bill 1 is needed.

Alberta recently received a black eye from international observers when Energy Minister Savage suggested that the public health response to the global pandemic limiting crowds makes it a “great time to be building a pipeline.” Our international reputation has suffered because of this government’s cavalier attitude to basic, constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. Bill 1 – and the rhetoric the UCP has used to justify it – will lower the opinion of our province even further in the eyes of the world.

If Bill 1 becomes law, we expect the Kenney government to encourage the police to act sooner and more aggressively to limit unions’ freedom of assembly and expression. This will exacerbate and lengthen labour disputes or protests.

We urge all Albertans to join us in opposing this fundamentally undemocratic and unconstitutional law. It is a dangerous step down the road to the kind of right-wing authoritarianism we see taking hold in other parts of the world like India, Brazil, Hungary and even the United States under Donald Trump. For the sake of our democracy, we need to say ‘no’ to Bill 1.

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Ramona Franson
Director of Communications, AFL
rfranson@afl.org