Online or in the streets - Canadians are vocal for change

Peaceful Assembly

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline

Protests in support of and against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project continue in Canada. As reported before on the Monitor, initial protests took place in December 2017 and have continued as follows: 

At the prime minister’s request, protesters were removed by police from a town hall meeting in Vancouver Island, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was defending his government’s decision to support the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline through British Columbia. "Will you please respect the people in this room?" the Prime Minister asked one woman interrupting his remarks. When she shook her head, he said, "Then please leave. Goodbye. … Yes, we are asking the police to remove you". While dozens of people protested outside the town hall, a group of indigenous peoples staged a walkout from the auditorium as Trudeau expressed support for the project.

A week later, a man and woman were arrested for protesting at a Kinder Morgan construction site near Vancouver. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the man was released without charge and the woman faces one charge of mischief for locking herself to heavy machinery. 

On 23rd February, about 80 people stood outside of the office of a local member of parliament in Calgary to show support for the pipeline expansion. Those connected to or supportive of the energy industry say it is time to end the numerous legal challenges to the expansion of the pipeline and start construction.

Women's rights related protests

Marking its 27th anniversary, thousands of people took to the streets of downtown Vancouver for the Women's Memorial March on 14th February to honour the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada. Premier John Horgan and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser issued a joint statement about the annual event, stating that: "It is with heartfelt regret that we cannot physically be there with you today. We stand with you in heart and spirit. We want to affirm that these women and girls are not forgotten”.

On 20th January, thousands of people participated in rallies across the country on the anniversary of the Women's March. In Ottawa, at least 6,000 people participated and about 5,000 gathered in downtown Vancouver to protest against the “rise of white nationalism, misogyny and xenophobia,” according to the organiser’s website. At least 40 other protests were held across the country.

Environmental-related protests

On 18th January, indigenous leaders, environmentalists and former nuclear scientists spoke out and marched through downtown Ottawa to decry a plan to dispose of nuclear waste near Chalk River in Ontario. At a press conference, Patrick Madahbee, the grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation, described the plan as “insanity,” and voiced the fears and concerns many residents have about the proposal. In 2014, the federal government gave Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) control over nuclear operations at Chalk River. They are seeking a 10-year license to build a permanent operation at that site. Another group at the march, the Ottowa Riverkeeper, also spoke out against issuing the license to CNL.

On 24th January, a coalition of nearly 20 environmental and fisheries groups protested a proposal that would allow energy regulators to participate in environmental assessments of offshore oil and gas projects in Halifax. Citing potential conflicts of interest by the regulators, the Offshore Alliance held a news conference to voice their concerns and deliver a letter to the Prime Minister Trudeau. Among the group protesting were the activist group The Raging Grannies.

Labour rights related protests

On 21st February, about 200 people gathered outside of a Service Canada office in New Brunswick to protest so-called “black holes” for seasonal workers receiving employment insurance. According to CBC, “black holes refer to the gap between when insurance benefits run out and regular seasonal work begins, which is an issue in the east and northeast of the province”. The Action Committee on Employment Insurance for Seasonal Workers, which organised a number of similar of protests across the province, said they have met with provincial officials since September 2017 but have not seen much progress.

On 28th and 29th February, federal public employees held rallies in the capital to protest their frustration with a recently-implemented government payroll system. Held outside the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in Ottawa, the rallies took place the same week the federal budget provided more money to address problems with the Phoenix payroll system and to study the possibility of finding a replacement system. Similar protests were held in Montreal and other cities due to the widespread complaints over what they consider an ineffective and costly system.

Environmentalists, workers from the manufacturing sector, and trade unions took to the streets of Montreal to protest negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). On 27th January, a protest organised by Réseau Québécois sur lintégration continentale, an environmental group, voiced concerns that only corporate interests are being served under the agreement. A few days before, workers with Unifor, the largest union representing the private sector in Canada, held a rally at Dorchester Square, claiming that NAFTA has harmed the Canadian manufacturing industry.

On 19th January, people rallied across Ontario and in other cities to criticise a popular coffee chain restaurant’s decision to cut workers’ hours and benefits after the province raised its minimum wage to $14. Protests were held outside of Tim Hortons in Ontario, Calgary, Halifax, Saskatoon, Regina, and Vancouver. The rallies were organised by the Fight-for-$15 movement, the Ontario Federation of Labour, and Lead Now.

Challenging government policies and actions

Protests were held in multiple cities, including Ottawa and Toronto, as hundreds of Asian-Canadians demanded an apology from Prime Minister Trudeau for denouncing an alleged attack by an Asian man on an 11-year-old girl in Toronto, which turned out to be false. Toronto police investigated the incident, in which the girl claimed a man tried to forcibly remove her hijab with scissors, and determined that the attack did not happen. In Ottawa, anti-immigrant or white nationalist groups, including La Meute and the Storm Alliance, participated in the rally and criticised Trudeau’s rush to view the alleged attack as a hate crime. The police made several arrests after counter protesters pushed past police lines that divided the different groups.

On 20th February, about 200 people marched through downtown Vancouver calling on the government to decriminalise drugs as a response to the opioid crisis. Jordan Westfall, executive director of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs, were among the event’s speakers.

On 23rd January, about 30 people demonstrated outside the offices of the Ontario Housing Ministry to protest the province’s new housing requirements for developers. Carrying signs critical of the plan ("Liberals In Bed With Developers" and "Affordable Housing Now"), they voiced concerns over the proposal’s rules that favour developers at the expense of low income residents. The protest is related to the new rules proposed by the Ontario government as part of its Fair Housing Plan that would allow municipalities to require developers to sell 10 percent of units in a new development at below-market rates. The municipalities would have to cover 40 percent of the price differential.

On 10th February, several people demonstrated outside the Maniwaki, Quebec courthouse demanding justice for an 18-year-old who was shot in the head by a special constable. Steven Bertrand was set to appear in court in January when he became involved in a scuffle with the officer who shot him. His supporters seek improved training for court officers to prevent similar incidents from occurring again.

On 27th January, people gathered in front of the parliament building in Ottawa to urge Canada to reject Turkey’s ongoing military operation in a predominantly Kurdish city in Syria. Demonstrators waved Kurdish flags and shouting slogans, such as “The Kurds, united, will never be defeated!” The Kurdish-controlled city of Afrin in Syria was attacked by Turkish jets on January 20, causing many civilians to be killed and injured.

In the wake of two non-guilty verdicts in separate deaths of indigenous people, large protests were held in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and other cities. The protesters expressed frustration with the judicial system following the verdicts in the cases of a man accused of fatally shooting Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan, and a man accused of second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. In Edmonton, at least 300 people marched in on 25th February. Hundreds turned out in Vancouver on 10th February and again on 24th February after each verdict was announced. One of the attendees, David Dennis, described the protests as a way to let the public know that indigenous people were "not going to sit on their hands on issues like this". Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash and Ontario Senator Kim Pate attended a large rally in Ottawa. In Calgary, a few people set up tents and prepared to camp outside the city’s courthouse to express solidarity with a similar protest that started in Winnipeg.

On 4th February, dozens of people gathered in downtown Halifax to celebrate the removal of a bronze statue of Edward Cornwallis from a park bearing his name. Just days before the event, Halifax councilors voted to remove the monument to the British officer who founded the town and had placed bounties on native peoples in the area. “It was empowering to know our collective efforts were successful and that we were able to stand in the place where a genocidal statue used to stand,” said one of the demonstrators.

With concern over the lives of Toronto’s police officer because of under-staffing and other recent changes, dozens of family members and supporters of police officers demonstrated outside of the city’s police headquarters on 19th February. Despite widespread criticism directed toward him, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders met with a wife of an officer who spoke out at the protest. Also in attendance was Sahar Bahadi, the mother of a man shot and killed by a police officer in 2013. "I'm here today to support police family, despite that my son was killed by the police — was murdered by the police — it doesn't mean I hate police," she said.

Animals rights related protest

As part of national Anti-Fur Day, on 10th February animal rights activists held demonstrations in Ontario and other cities to protest a jacket producing company’s use of coyote fur and goose down in their products. Aabout a dozen individuals held signs with slogans such as “your fur had a face” and “no excuse for animal abuse” during a protest on University Avenue in Charlottetown.

Protests related to LGTBI issues

On 16th January, dozens of people attended a school board meeting in Chilliwack, British Colombia to protest disparaging comments made by one of the school’s trustees about transgender students. Chilliwack School District trustee Barry Neufeld first drew attention last October when he described the trans-friendly curriculum as "biologically absurd” in an online post, although he later apologised. The protesters, mostly parents of students at the school, rallied outside of the meeting, waving rainbow flags and holding signs saying, “Love For All”.


On 1st February, about 25 members of the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) stood outside the newly-created buffer zone surrounding a medical clinic that provides abortions in Ottawa. The CLC members had gathered to denounce the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, which created the buffer zones, claiming that it violates their right to free speech. “They want us out of sight, out of mind,” CLC spokesperson Johanne Brownrigg told the people who had gathered outside of the clinic. Anyone violating the safety zone could be fined  or face prison time, as previously reported on the Monitor.

On 9th February, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s order that would have forced the CBC to remove articles from its website that identified a 14-year-old murder victim. The articles were posted online several days before a publication ban was issued. Before the Supreme Court’s decision, the CBC refused to take down the articles and the government sought an order against the broadcaster for criminal contempt. The Court found that any potential harm to a fair legal process by not removing the information was outweighed by CBC’s right to publish. CBC was also found not guilty on the contempt charge by a lower court.

A coalition of media and distribution companies calling itself “FairPlay Canada” is lobbying to implement a website blocking regime to prevent unlawful downloads of copyrighted works. It has petitioned the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to create an agency that would receive complaints from various rights holders alleging that a website is “blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged” in violations of Canadian copyright law. Critics of the proposal say it could threaten freedom of expression by creating a mechanism to antagonise websites for materials they publish or host. Responding to the proposal, OpenMedia, a digital rights advocacy group, held a national ‘Day of Action’ against website blocking in Canada and received over 30,000 comments in opposition to the proposal.

A Saskatoon judge is reviewing an appeal from a nurse who was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Saskatchewan Association of Registered Nurses (SARN) and fined. In 2016, SARN sanctioned Carolyn Strom after she criticised her grandfather's palliative care in an online post. The case drew widespread attention, with hundreds of people across Canada and the U.S. signing an online petition calling for the SARN to reverse its guilty verdict and not punish Strom for comments she made in her private life. Strom's lawyer argued that the SARN “breached the nurse's rights of thought, belief, opinion and expression”.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) says existing digital-privacy laws grant citizens the right to force websites to remove inaccurate information about themselves from search results. In a policy paper released 26th January, the OPC says provisions in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act can be interpreted as a right to request information about oneself to be de-indexed. The OPC’s stance is similar to the “Right to be Forgotten” that exists under European law, which drew widespread criticism from free speech advocates and technology companies.

Claiming that Ontario’s new campaign finance law stifles free speech, the Working Families union coalition filed a lawsuit to challenge it. The new law limits when and how much third-party groups like unions can contribute to candidates in the months leading up to an election. In its suit, Working Families said that the amended Elections Finances Act “violate[s] the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.