Prejudice in Legislation: Alberta's Critical Infrastructure Defence Act
Today’s post will explore new legislation in Alberta, and how it may be targeting Indigenous rights and way of life.
On June 17, 2020, a controversial Act came into force in Alberta. Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, was introduced by the Alberta government to “protect essential infrastructure from damage or interference caused by blockades, protests or similar activities, which can cause significant public safety, social, economic and environmental consequences.”
The Act defines ‘essential infrastructure’ as “pipelines and related infrastructure; oil and gas production and refinery sites; utilities (electric, gas and water); telecommunications lines, towers and equipment; highways; railways; mines,” and “allows regulations to expand the definition of essential infrastructure in the future if necessary.” There are severe penalties for violating the Act, including fines of up to $10,000 for a first offence, up to $25,000 for subsequent offences, and possible prison time of up to six months.
This legislation was introduced in the midst of demonstrations across Canada opposing the Coastal Gas Link pipeline. On February 19, 2020, demonstrators rallied at an Edmonton CN Rail site in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Bill 1 was introduced on February 25, 2020. This timing was intentional. The government made it clear that they did not want Indigenous land defenders standing up for their interests, if those interests conflict with governmental and broader societal interests.
The broad list of areas, both public and private, that are deemed ‘critical infrastructure’ by the Act coincide with areas that are subject to development that may impact the environment. Utility and telecommunication lines, highways, railways, and mines in Alberta are often constructed across Treaty lands. While the government has an obligation to consult First Nations prior to construction on these lands, the environmental impact is not always respected.
Last week, we discussed the duty to consult, and how it has not been fairly or appropriately applied in governmental decision-making around natural resource and land use. Demonstrations by land defenders, Indigenous communities, and supporters are a way to have their voices heard when the government has not adequately consulted with them. Any demonstrations in the province take place on traditional land, and therefore the Act could be interpreted as impeding the right to gather on the land.
The Act has the potential to criminalize environmental demonstrators and protesters. In 2022, protests across Canada denounced “the role of colonialism and capitalism in contributing to climate change.” Climate change has a disproportionately high impact on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, and is an area where ongoing protest is expected. The Act threatens to silence the voices of those who want to promote positive environmental change.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2022, two years after the Act was introduced, a series of protests erupted across the province, protesting a federal vaccine mandate for truck drivers to cross the border back into Canada. A blockade at the Canada-U.S. border in Coutts, Alberta was not met with the type of police intervention that the Act would expect. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan believes that this is proof that the Act was racially motivated.
Legislation in Alberta, and across the country, is created to apply to everyone equally. It should not be created to retaliate against actions of racialized groups of people, and shouldn’t be applied differently based on race, culture, or social values. If the Act is not going to be applied the same way to a largely white, colonizer protest as it is to Indigenous demonstrations, it should be repealed. Indigenous peoples in Canada have a right to protect traditional lands.
Until Next Time,
Team ReconciliACTION YEG
 Government of Alberta, “Protecting critical infrastructure” (last visited 27 Mar 2023), Government of Alberta, online: <www.alberta.ca/protecting-critical-infrastructure.aspx>.
 Wallis Snowdon, “Court grants CN injunction against rail blockade in west Edmonton” (19 Feb 2020), CBC News, online: <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/rail-blockade-wet-suwet-en-edmonton-1.5468200>.
 Morgan Lowrie, “Climate protests held in cities across Canada: ‘Don’t be a fossil fool’” (25 Mar 2022), Global News, online: <globalnews.ca/news/8711063/climate-change-protests-canada/>.
 Shari Narine, “Lack of action at truckers’ blockades shows racist intent of Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, says chief” (3 Feb 2022), Toronto Star, online: <www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/02/03/lack-of-action-at-truckers-blockades-shows-racist-intent-of-albertas-critical-infrastructure-defence-act-says-chief.html>