Stiff penalties could be coming to Manitobans who interfere in the operations of highways, railways, pipelines or utilities.
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said the province is examining a bill introduced in the Alberta legislature this week that would impose harsh new penalties on protesters who block "critical infrastructure."
According to Alberta's Bill 1, individuals could face fines of up to $10,000 and $25,000 for first and subsequent offences, as well as potential prison time of up to six months. Corporations that aid, counsel or direct the commission of an offence could face fines of up to $200,000.
"I’ve asked my officials to review the legislation that was tabled in Alberta earlier this week. Certainly we will look at that legislation," Cullen said when asked about it on Wednesday at a funding announcement.
Once the review is complete, the government will decide whether to bring forward its own legislation, he said.
"It’s something that we would obviously have to have a cabinet discussion about," he added.
Blockades erected in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline project in British Columbia have slowed grain shipments, prevented people from getting to work and cost others their jobs. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the situation "unacceptable and untenable," and called for the blockades to come down.
"The right to protest does not include being able to prevent your neighbours from getting to work and putting food on the table, or threatening their security," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement as Bill 1 was introduced. "Albertans expect their government to deal with lawlessness and stand up for the values that all law-abiding citizens share."
NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said the introduction of such legislation in Manitoba would be highly divisive.
Fontaine said it would do nothing more than deflect "from some of the really critical and important issues Manitoba is facing," such as the inability of northerners to receive bail and a dispute between the province and legal aid lawyers that has backed up the justice system.
"It just further entrenches a divide within our province. It does nothing in respect of bringing all Manitobans together. It does nothing in respect of the pursuit of reconciliation," Fontaine said of the possible introduction of legislation similar to Alberta's.
Cullen said these are challenging times, and Alberta has decided on a course of action to address the effects of protests on its economy,
"We will obviously review their legislation and see what steps we may or may not take into the future," he said.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Updated on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at 11:58 PM CST: Fixes typo.