This article was authored by Nick Nesbitt, Peter Hillson, and Max Christie
The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act (CIDA) was recently passed by the Government of Alberta in response to protestors blocking rail traffic in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en community in British Columbia. Learn more about the Wet’suwet’en community and the history behind their movement from our resource here. The CIDA was introduced as an attempt to safeguard capital and commerce, however, may be a violation of Albertan, Canadian, and International Rights and Freedoms. Here is a summary of the act and what it means for Albertans:
1. The act broadly defines “essential infrastructure” to include oil and gas facilities, railways, and highways, defined as areas where the public is able to use for the passage or parking of vehicles, including surrounding sidewalks or ditches (1). This definition of “essential infrastructure” areas under CIDA criminalizes many locations currently used for protest (2).
a. Section 5 of CIDA states that “[The Government of Alberta] may make regulations
prescribing buildings, structures, devices or other things as being essential infrastructure
(2),” meaning that this definition may evolve and potentially further limit areas available
for protest, without needing approval of the legislature.
2. Any person in direct violation of the act may be punished with fines up to $10,000 ($25,000 for multiple offences) and 6 months imprisonment (2). This may include a peaceful protestor or people encouraging people to protest.
a. Every day a person violates the act will count as a separate offence (2).
3. The CIDA may impact energy development plan consultations necessitated by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (3) and limits Indigenous peoples’ ability to contest resource extraction that damages traditional territories and impedes traditional use of the land. Aboriginal title and Aboriginal rights are also protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (3).
4. Canadians’ rights to freedom of thought, belief, expression, and peaceful assembly are protected by Section 2(b), 2(c), and 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As CIDA will limit areas available to use for assembly, some legal experts believe that this act may infringe on Albertans’ right to peacefully protest on public land (4). Arguments on the contrary include that not all public lands are protected under CIDA, and citizens maintain their ability to protest if it will not hinder essential business.
a. Private companies maintain the ability to apply for injunctions to remove protestors
from their land (5). As such, provisions under CIDA regarding private property may serve
to increase the legal repercussions for those protestors (5).
As many environmental activists’ express opinions via peaceful assembly, some believe the CIDA may have the potential to impact future capacity to advocate for the environment and climate change. It is important that the environment remains a governmental priority at the national and provincial level, and that citizens maintain their ability to demand government action.
If you are looking for more information on CIDA, there are actions you can take to get involved in the ongoing discussion regarding CIDA below:
1. For Albertans, call or email your MLA
2. For other Canadians, contact your local representatives and urge them to get in contact with Albertan officials regarding the CIDA.
3. Use social media! Contact legal experts and research the details of the CIDA.
[Note: Since the CIDA has gained royal assent so recently, no legal challenges have been filed yet. However, organizations such as the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations have expressed their opposition to the act. We will be updating this page as legal challenges continue, and you can see the links to statements by organizations opposed to the CIDA below.]