By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has introduced a bill that proposes tougher fines and possible imprisonment for people interfering with critical infrastructure.
Justice Minister Cameron Friesen says the Progressive Conservative government is looking for a balance between the rights of people to protest and the need to maintain infrastructure.
“The intent there would be to allow for people to gather, allow for their voices to be heard but to keep them and everyone safe while ensuring the unfettered operation, construction or use of that infrastructure,” Friesen said Monday.
The bill, if passed, would allow an owner or operator of infrastructure be able to apply for a court order to create a temporary protection zone.
Included would be oil or natural gas pipelines, provincial highways, courthouses, hospitals and animal-processing facilities.
If a person were to go into the area, he or she could be fined $5,000 or jailed for up to 30 days. A corporation could be fined up to $25,000.
Each day a person didn’t follow the court order, the fine could be imposed again.
A court would be able to designate an area where people could protest.
“There would be no desire to see the voices of Manitobans diminished in any way,” Friesen said.
A bill targeting protesters became law in Alberta last year following cross-Canada demonstrations in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia who were opposed to pipeline construction in their territory.
That legislation forbids anyone from wilfully damaging or interfering with essential infrastructure and also brings in fines and jail time.
It is facing a constitutional challenge from an Alberta labour union.
Friesen said Manitoba’s proposed legislation is different. The minister said the Tory bill doesn’t just target those protesting the oil industry and is clearer about what constitutes critical infrastructure.
Nahanni Fontaine, justice critic for the Opposition New Democrats, said the large fines could be devastating for people standing up for their rights. She accused the Tories of proposing legislationl to silence anyone who didn’t agree with them.
“It’s important for Manitobans and Canadians to have that opportunity to express their displeasure at whatever the issue may be,” she said.