Likely still smarting from a rough week, the Alberta government tabled on February 25, 2020 Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, to protect critical infrastructure from disruptions such as the rail blockades that may have contributed to Teck Resources’ decision to shelve its proposed Frontier oil sands project in the province.
Protests have sprouted across Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders who oppose a natural gas pipeline through their territory in northern British Columbia. The message behind Bill 1 seems clear: there will be consequences for what the Alberta government regards as illegal disruptions involving ‘essential infrastructure’ — whether publicly or privately owned — that have significant public safety, social, economic and environmental consequences.
Bill 1 proposes designating pipelines, processing plants, refineries, roads, mines, oil production sites, oil sands sites, pits, quarries, storm drainage systems, telecommunication lines, transmission lines, waste management facilities, wastewater systems, watercourses, highways, transportation systems, railways, power plants, agricultural operations, dams, among other things, as essential infrastructure.
The Bill would create offences for, among other things, wilfully destroying or damaging essential infrastructure; wilfully obstructing, interrupting or interfering with the construction, maintenance, use or operation of any essential infrastructure; and gaining entry to any essential infrastructure under false pretences.
Individuals could be fined up to $10,000 for a first offence and $25,000 for a subsequent offence, and/or be imprisoned up to six months. Corporations could be fined up to $200,000 and the corporation’s officer, director or agent who directed or participated in the commission of the offence could be liable to the penalty provided for the offence. Each day that the contravention continues would be considered a new offence.
“Over the last number of weeks, Albertans have witnessed the level of economic damage that a small group of lawbreakers can cause through blockades and other illegal protests. Our government will not stand idly by and allow Alberta to be an economic hostage to illegal activity now or ever. The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act will help protect our way of life by ensuring the rule of law is upheld and the infrastructure that is critical to our province’s economy can continue to operate,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
However, in a tweet, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association noted that, legally, Bill 1 is “not worth the napkin it was written on.”
Speaking in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on February 26, 2020, NDP MLA Irfan Sabir seemed to concur, pointing out “the things that are included in this piece of legislation are already illegal, and the authority to enforce the laws rests with the law enforcement agencies: police, RCMP.”
Sabir also questioned the government’s broad definition of essential infrastructure. “Why do they need another provision that gives them almost unrestricted power to declare anything and everything in this province as critical infrastructure?”
Bill 1 includes a regulation-making power to expand the definition of essential infrastructure, if necessary.