Public sector employees vow to protest restrictive legislation in Canada

Association

Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions announced that they would challenge a recently passed bill that caps public sector employee raises at one per cent per year. Bill 124, passed by the government in November 2019, affects more than a million workers at universities and colleges, hospitals and other groups. The unions say that the legislation violates two sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of association, limiting their right to collective bargaining. “The point of the challenge is that when we sit down to bargain we bargain through discussion and dialogue. This government is choosing to bargain through regulation and legislation,” said Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association President, Liz Stuart. Several other provincial unions representing thousands of employees have also vowed to join the campaign against Bill 124.

On 25th November 2019, a week-long strike ended after the union representing 3,200 rail workers reached an agreement with the Canadian National Railway Company. Thousands of conductors and railyard workers had participated in the strike because of chronic overwork and unsafe working conditions. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union says union members still have to vote on the deal, which can take several months to complete. François Laporte, the Teamsters’ Canada president, praised the administration for giving them time to reach a tentative agreement. “Previous governments routinely violated workers’ right to strike when it came to the rail industry,” he said. “This government remained calm and focused on helping parties reach an agreement, and it worked.”

Peaceful Assembly

Police prepared to use snipers against Indigenous protesters

On 20th December 2019, The Guardian released documents showing that police in 2018 were preparing to use snipers on Indigenous protesters who were peacefully demonstrating against a natural gas pipeline in British Columbia. The documents include notes from a police strategy meeting where officers argued for “lethal overwatch” of the site. Officers were also instructed to use “as much violence toward the gate as you want” in order to remove a roadblock. Ron Mitchell, a leader of the Wet'suwet'an, said he was disturbed by the report because the police “assured us that they were there to protect everyone, including us.” The Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller has called for a review of police tactics concerning Indigenous people and lands. "There are a number of very deeply concerning words, phrases and terms used in a situation that is immensely delicate," he said.

Peaceful protests

On 21st November 2019, about 700 people gathered outside a Calgary hotel, where provincial leaders were holding a party meeting, to protest a recently passed bill that will reduce jobs and benefits for public sector employees. A video of the protest shows people holding signs and making calls for a general strike in protest at the bill, which they say will result in job losses and cuts to post-secondary education. While the hotel was closed for the conference, a group of protesters reportedly entered the hotel lobby to sing “Solidarity Forever” before being escorted out. "This is our moment to stand up and push back, and that's exactly what we intend to do,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Across Canada, a number of protests were held during Black Friday to draw attention to the climate crisis. On 29th November 2019, Extinction Rebellion staged protests against consumerism in Montreal and other cities. In Vancouver, environmental groups organised an event called Futurefest, where residents could trade and barter for clothing. "I think it's really cool to be here, especially on Black Friday, especially downtown, because there is such a capitalist culture here that youth are trying to counter," said high school student Leah McKinney. In a related story, on 18th November 2019, charges were dropped in the case of 20 people who blocked a bridge in Toronto as part of a climate protest. As previously reported on the Monitor, the protesters peacefully blocked traffic on the Bloor Viaduct bridge on 7th October 2019 as part of a global day of action.

In December 2019, dozens of people attended rallies in several cities to protest against the new Citizenship Amendment Act in India, which excludes Muslims. Protests outside the Indian Consulate in Vancouver and Toronto, and others led by students in Montreal and Ottawa, were held to voice opposition to the new law and National Register of Citizens. “The heartbreak felt by many South Asian immigrants to Canada over what's occurring in the subcontinent is finally being acknowledged,” said Charlie Smith, a local activist. A small number of counter-protestors who support the legislation were also present at some of the larger protests.

On 4th January 2019, dozens of people gathered near the U.S. consulate in Toronto to express support for the U.S. airstrikes that killed an Iranian general in Iraq. Many who attended the rally were Iranian-Canadian and applauded the drone strike that killed Gen. Quassem Soleimani, chief of the Iranian Quds Force. A group of counter-protestors who condemn the killing gathered on the opposite side of the street. Anti-war protests were also held in Ottawa and other cities.

Restrictions on protest

On 17th December 2019, the Ontario Court of Appeal heard the case of a man who claims the police unlawfully searched his bag, detained him and seized his swimming goggles while he was trying to join a protest in a public park. In 2010, Luke Stewart went to Toronto during the G20 summit to protest in Allan Gardens, but was subjected to a bag inspection before he could enter the park. “Peaceful protest is a form of expression protected by the Charter and CCLA believes that any police powers that restrict this freedom must be justified,” the Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote in support of Stewart.

A bill designed to limit animal rights activists from targeting animal farms has been introduced in Ontario. If passed, the Security from Trespass and Animal Safety Act would increase penalties for anyone trespassing on farms and make it illegal to obstruct trucks carrying farm animals, a common tactic used by protestors. Bill 56 would also allow a court to order restitution for any injury, loss or damage caused as a result of an offence. Critics argue that the law makes activists, journalists and employee whistleblowers vulnerable to charges for attempting to expose what goes on in farms. “It’s extremely draconian. It’s couched in language of ‘trespass’ and ‘biosecurity,’ but what it’s actually designed to do is conceal pretty egregious animal cruelty,” said an animal rights activist. Alberta introduced similar legislation after a group organised a protest on a turkey farm in September 2019. Alberta’s bill proposes increased trespassing fines and would send repeat offenders to jail for up to six months.

Expression

As of 16th December 2019, Calgary’s post-secondary institutions have introduced free-speech policies as directed by the new conservative provincial government. The government asked colleges and universities to set policies “that align with the principles of the University of Chicago Statement on Free Expression” by 15th December 2019 or face possible sanctions. Schools submitted their own policies for approval. The provincial directive drew some criticism from students and academics who argued the principles are too rigid and don’t do enough to prevent discrimination and hate speech.