Bill 1 and Freedom of Assembly

What do the Wet’suwet’en First Nations blockades have to do with Alberta’s Budget 2020?

Everything. The blockades are the rationale (flimsy as it is) for Bill 1, Critical Infrastructure Defence Act which the Kenney government will use to quell protests when Albertans experience the full impact of Kenney’s budget cuts.  

Is this far fetched? No, let me connect the dots.

The Budget

Budget 2020 is a flawed budget relying on ridiculously optimistic forecasts for employment rates, GDP growth and (my personal favourite) the West Texas Intermediate crude price which is supposed to magically rise from $47 to $58 in time to save the UCP government from disaster.

The 2019 budget kicked off the first round of public sector cuts; Budget 2020 will go deeper and if the economy fails to reach Mr Kenney’s unrealistic goals, he’ll keep cutting until we get there or die trying.    

The list of public sector employees impacted by Mr Kenney’s fantasy budget includes doctors, nurses, teachers, people working across the government and at its arms length agencies. The list of impacted Albertans includes children, seniors, students, the sick, the vulnerable, the homeless; well, everyone.

Protest on the steps of the Legislature

And “everyone” is no longer prepared to sit around saying “this is great, more please”. 

The protests

Last week over 13,000 Albertans attended a rally in Edmonton, yesterday thousands more protested in Calgary. Ms Soapbox and her husband attended the Calgary rally. They were struck by two things: (1) the crowd was diverse: young and old, professionals and trades people, union and non-union, public sector and private sector, and (2) the crowd was defiant, fearless…and willing to talk about a General Strike.  

Mr Kenney knows the spectacle of a General Strike will do nothing for his image as a wise leader steering the province through tough economic times. Quite the opposite, it will make him look like a bumbling fool.      

So, Mr Kenney latched on to the Wet’suwet’en blockades to justify legislation he said will strengthen penalties against protesters who jeopardize public safety and damage the economy by blocking critical public infrastructure.   

The Bill   

Notwithstanding its title, Bill 1 does not address critical infrastructure, it focuses on essential infrastructure which is defined to include infrastructure relating to pipelines, coal and oil facilities, oil sands, highways, railways, hydro projects, public utilities, electrical and gas utilities, dams and radio infrastructure and the land on which the infrastructure is located and any land used in connection with such infrastructure.

While it’s easy to see how these things would support Alberta’s economy, the same can not be said for section 1(1)(a)(xvi) which is a basket clause that gives the government carte blanche to declare any “building, structure, device or other thing prescribed by the regulations” to be “essential infrastructure”, regardless of who owns or occupies it.

What’s curious about the basket clause is it doesn’t require the building, structure, device or thing to have any nexus with the economy. Mr Kenney could declare my house to be essential infrastructure if he wanted to.  

Given the basket clause’s lack of connection to the economy, anything including parks, university quads, city streets, and the steps of the Legislature, could be declared essential infrastructure by an order in council (ie. Cabinet meeting behind closed doors).

Carte Blanche

Is there a reasonable explanation for the carte blanche basket clause?

Well, let’s see what the government has said about it so far.  

Mr Panda, the minister of Infrastructure, says private infrastructure is just as important, maybe more important, than public infrastructure. He says protestors behaving responsibly and exercising their democratic right to protest peacefully will be fine, however, “if we see any more disturbances or…harm to Albertans” he won’t hesitate to amend Bill 1. Note: Mr Panda didn’t tell us why the carte blanche basket clause exists but he did give us a clue about the threshold for government intervention—it’s dropped from “harm” to “disturbance”, whatever that means.  

Given that all that’s required to contravene Bill 1 is to set foot on, obstruct or damage “essential infrastructure” which can be defined by the government as anything, and given that anyone contravening Bill 1 is subject to arrest without a warrant, and if convicted, will face fines and/or incarceration, the fact that Bill 1 can be amended by Cabinet behind closed doors is a huge red flag for anyone who cherishes democracy.  

Freedom of assembly

Constitutional lawyers Jennifer Klinck and Madelaine Mackenzie recently published an op ed about the Wet’suwet’en resistance to Coastal GasLink. Their comments are equally applicable here.

They said freedom of assembly is one of our fundamental constitutional rights. “It gives marginalized groups a way to make themselves heard.” Furthermore, to respect freedom of peaceful assembly, “governments and the community must tolerate a degree of disruption, because it is the disruptive nature of public protests that amplifies their messages.” Where people choose to protest may be significant specifically because it’s publicly inconvenient. And the police’s response must be proportionate and “seek to uphold, not suppress, peaceful assembly.”   

So guess what, Albertans will continue to exercise their constitutional freedom of assembly, even if Mr Kenney scoops up every square inch of public and private land and targets every single instance of disruption, because we do not live in a police state.

Not yet, not ever.

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40 Responses to Bill 1 and Freedom of Assembly

  1. Your blogs are great, Ms Soapbox – I love it that you’re reporting from the front lines.

  2. Deb says:

    This Bill 1 seems to be unconstitutional.
    What will it take to challenge this legislation?

    • Deb:
      David Climenhaga, a well respected Alberta blogger, wrote a piece on Bill 1 a few weeks ago. He quoted Simon Renouf, Q.C., a leading Alberta lawyer, as saying Bill 1 is “almost certainly unconstitutional” and that he, together with many defence lawyers, looks forward to attacking Bill 1 in court. Renouf said “the government’s advisors have presumably told them this legislative attempt to invade federal jurisdiction and quash dissent is unconstitutional, therefore illegal [and yet] the government moves ahead. What happened to the ‘rule of law’”? Renouf put it very succinctly when he said “I’m sorry, but streets, squares and sidewalks? Is this a police state?”
      Bottom line, the way this will move roll out is people will protest, the government will send the police to arrest some of us, lawyers like Renouf will defend us, and eventually Bill 1 will be tossed out by the courts. It will be a costly and stressful process. And it demonstrates this government has no respect for the rule of law.
      Here’s the link to Climenhaga’s post:

  3. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. I was patiently waiting for this, and it came. I can conclude that Jason Kenney and the UCP are living in a fantasy world. I have been paying attention to oil prices, and they are going down, not up. They are going down faster and faster, and were in the $45 dollar a barrel range, as of Friday. I have a very strong hunch oil prices will go down even further. When the price of oil goes down to $40 a barrel, and even lower, what will Jason Kenney and the UCP do? The UCP’s budget is a nightmare and is certainly attacking the vulnerable, and essential workers, such as nurses and teachers. This is a return to the dark days of Ralph Klein, which we still can see the adverse effects to the present juncture. Ralph Klein also behaved like a bully and a dictator, and did things without putting them on a the election platform, like the foolish and risky moves of privatization of liquor stores, and registries, the very costly electricity deregulation mistake, the flat tax failure, and so on. He would also degrade the homeless, and Opposition MLAs. Jason Kenney is also acting like a bully and a dictator. Firing the Elections Commissioner speaks volumes. Also, it was not in the UCP’s platform to change AISH payment dates, alter senior’s drug benefit coverage, take over teacher’s pensions, and place them in a very risky pension fund, among other nasty things. This budget from the UCP will not save Alberta money. It will make things worse. The Alberta PCs contributed to this mess we now see, when they turned away from the excellent things Peter Lougheed did, and did the most costliest debacles repeatedly, and neglected essential services, while failing to see that oil is a volatile commodity, as Peter Lougheed, who had oil industry experience was aware of. Since triple digit oil prices have vanished, as of 6 years ago, and Jason Kenney’s nearly $5 billion in corporate tax cuts are just a drain on Alberta’s finances, this will all be very bad. The UCP can’t blame the NDP for this, nor can they blame anyone else. I hope anyone that cast a ballot for the UCP, (even though I have my doubts that the UCP was elected by honest and legal means), can accept the results of what has transpired. The sad thing is that many Albertans won’t.

    • Dwayne, you make a very good point when you say that many of the things the UCP are doing now were not in their election platform. If they were honest about how they were going to achieve the savings (ie cuts) and balance the budget one year before the NDP promised to get to balance, people may have been less sanguine about voting for them. Now all the UCP is left with is blaming the NDP for messing up the economy, but as you pointed out, the NDP were in power for 4 years, the PCs were in power for 44 years. It’s time the UCP took responsibility for their own decisions, which appears to be recycling policies that failed in other jurisdictions.

  4. Thank you, Susan on the Soapbox, for putting into words what I wish I could say so succinctly.

    • Snowbird, I only wish I was wrong, and frankly if someone from the government would like to point out the language in Bill 1 that limits the reach of the carte blanche basket clause I’d be happy to post their analysis.

  5. Reblogged on

  6. Pingback: Bill 1 and Freedom of Assembly — Susan on the Soapbox – Snowbird of Paradise

  7. Christina says:

    With his stupid buffalo proposal he doesn’t want people, natives, nor anyone else protesting his dictatorship. Well too bad. Call the election.

    • Christina, the Buffalo Declaration really takes the cake. Kenney has danced around it since it surfaced. When asked if he’d sign if he waffled and blathered on about how it reflects the growing frustration of Albertans. But he’s not doing anything to alleviate that frustration, he’s making it worse by pitting groups against each other. That is not the mark of a create leader.

  8. Paul "kill the black snake"Armstrong says:

    well, I for one am willing to test Bill 1’s stink test!! I guess I’ll have to get arrested for peacefully protesting (maybe I’ll shout too loud and disturb the peace? This new bill needs severe challenging, as in, many thousands of people being arrested. I’m old and crotchity so I have nothing to lose…but a constitutional challenge?? I can hardly wait..bring it on Jason!!!

    • Paul, I had exactly the same conversation with a friend over lunch. There are many of us who are prepared to test this Bill. And after we’re tossed in jail because we refuse to pay the fine our kids and our parents will join the protest in our place. Can you imagine the headlines “Kenney jails protesters; Alberta, a great place to invest?”

      • Paul "kill the black snake"Armstrong says:

        Susan, you’ve hit the nail on the head…again. I’m in BC now, but will be back in early May. (I’m likely going to get arrested here..for a sit-in at a TD bank, but I”m not particularly worried about it. We should get a gaggle of us and demonstrate at the McDougall Centre…or the Legislature in Edmonton. I know there are many lawyers waiting to challenge this…maybe pro bono? Who cares? We’ll show the “Emperhorror of the West” that he has no clothes. He thinks he’s omnipotent….he’ll learn otherwise.

  9. CallmeHal2000 says:

    Justice has to be seen to be done, and the same goes for democracy. Jason Kenney and his UCP are taking government behind closed doors. This is not democracy. Seems like his plan to balance the budget will come from substantial fines issued for unconstitutional laws. At this rate, we could be arrested without cause or warrant for tweeting or blogging opinions from the sanctity of our own homes. This is a step too far. This government is out of control. “Lock them up” might be his next campaign slogan, if there is another election, which I am beginning to doubt.

    Child care accreditation being cancelled April 1, because who cares about society’s most vulnerable? Mothers forced out of the workplace — perfect! Jobs for men.

    BTW, anyone who needs routine medical tests, like mammograms, do it before April 1. Who knows what else will be axed.

    Covid-19 outcomes should be the perfect storm by April 1. It’s coming, now deaths in Washington state. Following the American model of pandemic containment, patients will be made to pay out of pocket for their own tests. We’re in for a very rough ride, Alberta.

    • CallmeHal: these are excellent examples of how the Kenney cuts affect everyone. Kids get whacked because the childcare centres lose the subsidy that enabled them to offer higher quality care, poorer working families get whacked because they can’t afford the increased cost of childcare after the the childcare centres raise costs to cover the loss of the subsidy, people needing routine medical tests get whacked because the government decided they’re not essential tests, and we all get whacked if and when Covid-19 comes home to roost because the healthcare system will be stretched to breaking point when fed up healthcare professionals have had enough and bail.

      • CallmeHal2000 says:

        With accreditation gone for child care centres, how do we know that children will be safe physically and hygiene practices followed? How will we know if staff have any training, and if they’ve undergone vulnerable sector record checks, to prevent predators and abusers from harming children? Alberta is a province where children just don’t matter any more. Disgusting to think that UCP mothers and fathers are putting other people’s children in harm’s way. Callous. Brutal. Soulless. Reprehensible.

      • Withheld says:

        The response to Covid-19 is very simple. If you catch it, make an appointment to meet with your UCP MLA and give them a big sloppy kiss and tell them you forgive them for badly damaging the ability of the public health system to test for it quickly and for driving our most talented doctors and nurses out of the province. But do not wear a mask, lest Bill One gets you! If they will not see you, you can always meet with the nearest UCP supporter and give them the same message.

  10. GoinFawr says:

    “The list of impacted Albertans includes children, seniors, students, the sick, the vulnerable, the homeless; well, everyone.”

    That last word, “everyone” sums it up nicely.

    So just who IS JKenney working for then? Other than himself (by looking to legalize campaign practices that ought to be illegal, not to mention firing the investigator investigating him), Used Car Parters (who would otherwise have to disclose that the vehicle they are trying to sell you was totaled in an accident), private insurance companies (may thank him for losing that 5% rate cap), or oil co’s (who really didn’t even want him to bother), I mean.

    Is it just my browser, or does anyone else’s abbreviate the title of this blog in the comments list to something kind of funny. Puerile of me to notice, I am sure. But “Freedom of A…” is important, I agree.

  11. GoinFawr, “who is JK working for?” It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. Seems to me it’s any corporate interest that’s prepared to support him at election time. That certainly seemed to be the case with the used car companies and the car insurance companies. When Kenney first came to power I thought his agenda would be driven by an unwavering conservative ideology, but that proved not to be the case. You can see the aberration here in Bill 1. This bill allows the state to declare private property to be “essential infrastructure”; I’m pretty sure the conservatives fight to prevent government from infringing on their property rights, they don’t pass legislation allowing the government to send the police on to their private property whenever it suits them.
    This is a huge deviation from the conservative norm and yet none of the conservatives are talking about it. Tribalism writ large.

  12. Dave says:

    I understand there is a certain populist appeal to Bill 1 as the blockades are not that popular with the public, especially as jobs and essential supplies are disrupted. However, it is really a matter for the Feds to deal with so with Bill 1, populism really is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

    I suspect Bill 1 is just part of the ongoing Kenney play book – distract and try blame others for the problems he is unable to resolve. Personally, I don’t always have high expectations of governments – I realize they can’t fix everything and sometimes the best that can be done is just not to make things worse. However, I think Kenney fails here too. Cutting government spending is not going to perk up our languishing economy. It will just further weaken our already fragile economic confidence. It is no coincidence that Edmonton now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and unfortunately things are not improving in Calgary either.

    Unfortunately, Kenney is a rigid ideologue, so I doubt he will easily change course even with all the evidence that his approach is not working – the deficit has gone up from 2018-19 and jobs have gone down. It will take a strong and united approach by Albertans to get him to reconsider his approach. Perhaps the 13,000 people in Edmonton and thousands in Calgary might get his attention and possibly get him to start thinking – the first step.

    I always thought Kenney’s plan was to go back to Ottawa, but that window of opportunity may now be closed for him. If he doesn’t want his long political career to end abruptly in a couple of years here in Alberta, he needs to be more flexible in his thinking and approach. His austerity medicine is really not helping our economy. I am sure it will be quite a battle and take much resolve to get someone as self assured as Kenney to rethink or revise his approach. I suppose all we can do is keep on trying to get through to him.

    • Dave, just to pick up on your last point, some people are speculating that Jason Kenney endorsed Erin O’Toole in the federal conservative leadership precisely because he’s playing the long game and wants to return to Ottawa. This would imply he thinks O’Toole won’t win against whoever replaces Trudeau when the Liberal government falls under a vote of nonconfidence (names being bandied about to replace him include Chrystia Freeland and Mark Carney). In that case, O’Toole would be toast and there would be another leadership race and guess who just might be willing to step up and save the conservative party.
      Lord only knows if this is true, but it’s interesting to note that when Kenney endorsed O’Toole, he took a shot at Peter MacKay with the comment, “No one will have their deeply-held beliefs dismissed as ‘stinking albatrosses’ under Erin O’Toole’s leadership.” Kenney shouldn’t be picking fights with the guy many conservatives think has a good shot at becoming the CPC leaders and eventually prime minister, If this comes to pass Kenney will need MacKay in his corner when he trots off to Ottawa with his Fair Deal demands.

  13. Amy says:

    Kenny is taking some very big risks and the only thing that will save him is a huge increase in the price of oil. Regardless of what he does, the government will always be blamed for the economy. If the economy improves he will be cheered, if not, he will be voted out of office. When he is voted out the next government will set about undoing all the damage. In the meantime lawyers have great job security.

    • GoinFawr says:

      Kenney isn’t taking the risks, Albertans are.

      And, in my opinion, fewer and fewer of them are caring less and less what will “save” Jason Kenney.

    • Amy, I agree. Kenney is risking Alberta’s economic future as well as the people of Alberta (as GoinFawr points out). We’re the ones who have to cope with the chaos he’s creating by starting a fight with the doctors, the nurses, the teachers, and the vulnerable. In the meantime, as you say, the lawyers will have more than enough work to keep them busy. It’s sad that more Albertans don’t understand what’s happening to them.

  14. CallmeHal2000 says:

    Between all the Kenney/pandemic doom, Hal decided to take the dog for a walk. “Quick, get to the dog park, or the park down the street before Jason Kenney sells it,” advised a member of the household. True story.

    • GoinFawr says:

      The Jason Kenney’s of this world get into power by braying,

      “Gov’t is no good at business, so elect us!”

      And if by chance the hypocrisy and irony of such a platform is so completely lost on an exceptionally stupid electorate, so that it somehow actually works, the Jk’s of this world proceed to starve of funds and otherwise undermine every useful publicly funded program ever legislated into existence.

      Once the Jason Kennies of this world wreck these public institutions so thoroughly that they are wholly dysfunctional and unrecognizable from their original, successful, forms, they tell their armies of unquestioning dupes that the only saving option is to simply sell every lucrative public asset right out from underneath their constituents at or near a market bottom, proving that ‘Gov’t is no good at business’ by self fulfilling that prophecy.

      And then they pat each other on the back for being so, uh, right.

    • Hal, one of the Calgary Herald’s opinion columnists, Licia Corbella, just did a piece telling Albertans to keep their hair on because “not one square centimetre” of Alberta Parks are for sale. I don’t know where she gets her information. Other media describe Kenney’s announcement as (1) he’s closing or partially closing 20 provincial parks and (2) he’s selling off 164 others to be managed by third-party private companies. This sounds like privatization (ie sale) to me.
      Apparently we can’t afford to spend $5M/year to keep them going, but we can afford to spend $30M/year on the war room, and god knows how much on the Fair Deal panel, and privatizing healthcare (private clinics performing operations paid for by the public will jump from 15% to 30% by 2023).

  15. Judy J. Johnson says:

    Thanks again, Susan, for another good read. Last Saturday’s turnout at City Hall in protest of Kenney’s policies, presumably designed to eliminate years of provincial deficits, suggests that Alberta’s biggest deficit is Kenney himself. Is he driven by the delusional belief that Leduc #1 is just around the corner, or does he have a pathological mix of malignant narcissism and psychopathy? Or something else? Whatever it is, I can imagine Kenney, or (and this is more likely) one of his minions starting a vicious bertherism conspiracy theory that Justin Trudeau was born in Germany of Nazi parents and adopted by Pierre and Margaret on Christmas Eve.

    • Paul "kill the black snake"Armstrong says:

      or that Jason Kenney is the product of two dinosaur siblings?? You’re pretty funny, Judy. Keep it up!! We’ll get arrested together…just for KKKenneys’ head spin…likein the Exorcist.

    • Judy, I went to a U of C Policy School panel on the budget. One of the panelists said Budget 2020 is based on the assumption that we have one more boom in us and we’ll have a softer landing when it’s all over. That’s also known as basing Alberta’s economic future on a hope and a prayer.
      Oh, and on an quasi related point about conspiracy nuts, there are a bunch of conspiracy theorists out there who believe the medical profession is telling us we can reduce our risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus by washing our hands with soap because they’re trying to kill us by steering us away from handiwipes. Why someone is trying to kill us, and who this someone is, continues to be a mystery. Wow!

  16. jerrymacgp says:

    Serious question: is freedom of assembly under the Charter vulnerable to either the “reasonable limits” or “notwithstanding” clause? Does the language of Bill 1 contain the notwithstanding clause?

    • Jerry, Bill 1 does not contain a “reasonable limits” or “notwithstanding” clause (thank god for small mercies). Also I read somewhere that even the notwithstanding clause has some limits, but I don’t know what they are and will do some more research on the topic.

    • Anonymous, this was hilarious. I especially liked the end: “These slackers [nonprofitable wildlife] never show up to work to entertain their clients and want us to keep their habitat nice and tidy? This wildlife welfare has to end.” However, the UCP reassured the public that it will continue to heavily fund and protect its most vulnerable species, oil and gas CEOs.”
      This sums it nicely.

  17. lindamcfarlane says:

    Great commentary 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

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