Alberta’s Women & Bill 1 – Critical Infrastructure Defence Act
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Earlier this year, you’ll remember the upheaval caused when First Nations demonstrators blocked railways and highways in an attempt to bring attention to pipeline projects going through traditional territories. To prevent this from disrupting the economy and Alberta industries again in the future, the UCP government introduced Bill 1 to make these sorts of protests illegal. (I should mention that this bill passed.) If you get caught now, you could be jailed for up to six months and face up to $25k in fines.
Why Albertans Would Want to Protest
I can understand why the disruption of rail or highways is a problem. They are horrific for the country’s economy, businesses, and agriculture — many of whom have nothing to do with the protest or the thing being protested. With some companies losing millions and others watching their livelihoods being put at risk, I can see why it is unfair and devastating.
However, this isn’t the first time First Nations people have tried to stop the government and the energy industry from doing whatever in the hell they want with indigenous land. They didn’t put themselves in danger and stand in the middle of a railway just for fun. It was a last-ditch effort to have some say over their own land and convince the people (who should have listened to them the entire time) to pay attention finally. It’s a logical reaction.
The issues of poverty, clean drinking water, housing, healthcare, and many other long-term problems on top of the daily racism they have to tolerate, in addition to a lack of representation, would be enough to make the most patient person absolutely irate. They don’t have generations to wait to stop a pipeline. Meanwhile, they have to stand idly by while politicians spout talking points about equality and reconciliation year after year.
I can’t imagine the level of frustration and defeat many of them must feel. After all, someone is profiting off all of this, and it certainly isn’t those standing on the tracks or highway. They have a right to be angry. They have a right to be heard. Government officials and energy companies left them with no other choice.
Having said that, I don’t want to discuss First Nations vs the energy industry as it’s a long, complex topic on which many other people are in a far better position to discuss than I. What it does make me think about is this: What happens the next time they need to protest? What happens when women, our kids, or our neighbours reach a point where they feel standing on a highway is the only way they’re going to be heard? This bill gives the government the option to turn marginalized people into criminals.
Bill 1 Limits the Ability of Women to Fight Back
Many of the bill’s critics pointed out that anyone participating or organizing protests or marches on sidewalks, streets, alleys, or other such infrastructure would now violate the law. Anything that isn’t covered by this expansive definition can still be committing a crime since this bill also includes anything the government wants to deem as part of a “transportation facility” or “transportation system.”
Essentially, if the government can find a way to carry an apple across it, even if it’s by bike, skateboard, or by foot, they can deem it as part of the transportation system or a transportation facility. In other words, they have the legislation needed to make any protests illegal should they feel the urge. And that thought is terrifying.
As a Canadian, this law directly violates my right to peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, expression, belief, and opinion, as well as my freedom of association. These are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which make up the foundation of our society. If I feel strongly enough to protest something, you can bet I will be doing it. Illegal or not. And I feel like this urge may not be all that far away, given the way things are going. Women marched in Alberta in 2017. If Alberta women continue to be ignored, subjected to sexist bullshit, and purposefully disadvantaged, it will happen again.
Do I think the government is likely to start charging people for protesting a local development or mill rate change? Of course not. Will they charge First Nation’s people the next time they protest? Not unless it’s worth the political and legal backlash, but that’s what scares me. The government has reserved the right to pick and choose who can and can’t speak out against them and how they can do it. They can silence anyone who disagrees with them, and they love to do that:
Even if it’s illegal:
Except when the shoe is on the other foot:
This bill and law is a disgrace to Canadians and Albertans — not just women. However, given the number of issues women continue to face, this is bad news and a failing grade on the part of the UCP government to address the needs of marginalized groups. I have the right to express my views. In fact, I’m going to exercise my right to do that now:
If and when I feel the urge to tell you that you’re wrong, I will do so. And I will do so in a way that I feel is appropriate. You, nor the NDP, nor any political party, government, or institution will ever tell me I cannot.