Environmental and racial justice issues flare across the country

Peaceful Assembly

Law on "safe zones" in Ontario

On 25th October, Ontario’s legislature passed a bill that effectively creates a "buffer zone" around abortion clinics. The bill creates 50 to 150 metre “safe zones” outside the eight clinics in the state of Ontario, as well as around certain pharmacies that sell related drugs, and the homes of clinic employees where anti-abortion activists will not be permitted to protest.  Violators could face fines of up to $5,000 and six months in prison for their first offence. 

Large-scale, anti-racism protest and other demonstrations in Montreal

On 12th November, thousands of people gathered in downtown Montreal to protest against racism under the banner of “Large Demonstration Against Hate and Racism" with over 160 organisations, including women's rights groups, anti-globalisation movements and student associations. Many of the protesters, including those chanting "Everybody hates racists”, said they were there to also protest Quebec's Bill 62, which requires anyone giving or receiving state services to do so with their faces uncovered. A similar protest took place on 15th October, where hundreds of people participated in rally against racism in Toronto. The "Unity Rally to End White Supremacy" marched from Queen's Park to the Ontario legislature. It was one of many protests against discrimination and hate that have taken place across the country in recent weeks.

On 11th October, taxi drivers in Montreal protested a new deal between the state and a ride sharing company, saying it infringed on their ability to earn a living. Uber is reportedly threatening to leave Quebec unless a new deal concerning driver requirements is agreed upon, but the cab drivers union, RTAM-Metallos, protesting outside of the Transportation Minister’s office said the deal would hurt them financially. One driver, Hassan Kattoul, said if a new deal is reached, “taxi drivers deserve to be compensated for a loss of income and decreased value of their permits”.

Anti-immigration protest in Toronto

In a separate incident, at least one woman was injured and four people arrested during an anti-immigration protest in Toronto on 21st October. According to news reports, the group clashed with some anti-racism demonstrators and the police tried to keep the anti-immigration protesters and counter-protesters separate, but there were reports of fighting, bottles being thrown and smoke bombs going off. Authorities said one person was charged with assaulting a police officer; another demonstrator was charged with carrying a prohibited weapon, while another two face charges of causing a disturbance.

Protest in Newfoundland 

On 6th November, almost 60 people protested the government’s decision to reassign ferry boats around and near Newfoundland. Three days earlier, the Department of Transportation and Works announced the vessel, Legionnaire, will be used in Bell Island for several months while the Fogo Island ferry is out for repairs. Several Bell Islanders, including one man wearing a jacket saying “No go Fogo”, staged a demonstration to express their frustration with the plan, saying the replacement ferry is inadequate.

Protests in British Columbia 

In late October, RCMP arrested five people who had attached themselves to a large tanker in the Burrard Inlet as part of a flotilla protest against expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. About 100 people in 60 boats banded together and blocked the large tanker, as part of an effort to halt the pipeline project near Vancouver. They were later charged with criminal mischief. Critics of the pipeline have vowed to continue their efforts. Environmental groups and First Nations have filed for a judicial review, hoping to overturn the project’s federal approval.

In protest of a commercial oil tank farm expansion project in British Columbia, 15 people staged a “die-in” on 23rd October outside the Public Safety regional office. The demonstration was organised by Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion and included the sounding of an alarm, wearing contamination suits and acting as if a fuel tank had exploded. The goal was to get the attention of Ralph Goodale, the country’s public safety minister, and to urge him not to permit the expansion of the oil tank farm.

A group of First Nations people say they will continue to peacefully protest against a fish farm off the coast of Vancouver Island. The protesters, who have been protesting on or near Midsummer Island farm for two months, have said they will remain until British Columbia officials cancel the salmon farm’s License of Occupation. Marine Harvest Canada, which runs the farm, has asked the B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction to remove protesters, and a hearing for the injunction is set for 14th November. Molina Dawson, a protester with the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, said the group is concerned about the impact fish farms are having on wild salmon in the area. “Our culture is very much intertwined and reliant upon having these salmon and the rest of our wildlife. If we lose the salmon, we lose a huge part of our culture,” she said.

Expression

In recent weeks, two pieces of legislation, one that protects journalists' sources and another that involves access to information, have caught the attention of press freedom advocates. The first, the Journalistic Sources Protection Act (Bill S-231) amends the Canada Evidence Act, and was first introduced in November 2016 after it was discovered that Quebec and Montreal police had been spying on journalists to identify their sources. Under the new law, search warrants for a journalist’s source material will only be granted if a judge decides there is no other ‘reasonable’ way for them to get it or if the importance of the investigation outweighs protecting a journalistic source. It also amends the Criminal Code so that only a judge of a superior court may issue a search warrant against a journalist. The measure, which was unanimously adopted by the House and Senate, received a royal ascent on 18th October.

The other piece of legislation, Bill C-58, would update the Access to Information Act (ATIA) - the law governing the process Canadians’ must follow to request government documents.The proposed legislation insufficiently addresses the problems in the original law, say press freedom advocates. The Committee to Protect Journalists, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and their allies penned a letter on 28th September, asserting that the new law

“fails to address a number of serious problems in the Act, including the vastly over broad regime of exceptions, the broad discretion of public authorities to delay in responding to requests, the absence of any duty for public authorities to document important decision making processes, and the limited scope of coverage of the Act”. 

This view is shared by Suzanne Legault, the Information Commissioner of Canada, who authored a report asserting that: 

"The Access to Information Act needs to be modernized in a way that reflects the public’s desire for more transparency from government. The amendments in Bill C-58 do not achieve this goal".

A legal challenge to a new law banning anyone from covering their face while providing or receiving public services was filed 7th November in Quebec Superior Court. Under Quebec Bill 62, state employees like teachers and nurses, are prohibited from wearing any face covering while providing services. It remains unclear if people covering their faces for religious purposes would be allowed to ride a public bus. According to CBC News, the protest was organized by Québec Solidaire and promoted through social media. The National Council for Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Quebec Muslim resident Marie-Michelle Lacoste asked a provincial court to declare the law invalid, arguing that it discriminates against Muslim women and violates equality and freedom of religion protections in the Canadian and Quebec constitutions. On 22nd October, 70 people gathered at a Montreal metro station to denounce the new law.