Article by PBI-Canada

Photo of a round dance on a CN railway track in Edmonton, Alberta in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders; February 2020. Photo by Postmedia News.

The legislation is being proposed in Manitoba as well as Montana, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Kansas that would further criminalize peaceful protests against oil and gas infrastructure (including pipeline construction sites) and mines.

Similar legislation already exists in Alberta as well as fourteen American states.

This legislation appears to be in reaction to the solidarity protests against the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory in Canada as well as the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Access fracked oil pipeline in North Dakota.

An article in the Huffington Post begins with the story of Indigenous land defender Dawn Goodwin who recently participated in a protest in Minnesota against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline being built by the Calgary-based transnational corporation Enbridge.

It reports: “Without realizing it, she’d stepped over an invisible border and had officially trespassed into a construction site. Had any of her fellow activists caused even minor damage to equipment at the site, [the proposed bill in Minnesota would mean Goodwin could have faced] up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.”

The article further notes that the legislation in Arkansas proposes up to 6 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for people who enter or remain in a fenced-off area associated with natural gas and oil production and storage designated as critical infrastructure.

It is also conceivable under that bill that painting protest slogans on construction materials at a pipeline construction site would be seen as causing “damage” and result in up to 20 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

The legislation in Montana proposes up to 6 months in jail or a $1,500 fine and then quickly escalates to up to 30 years in jail and a $150,000 fine (or both) if (the vaguely defined offense of) “tampering” with the facility is involved.

The article highlights: “State disclosure records routinely show lobbyists for companies such as [Calgary-based] Enbridge, Exxon Mobil Corp., Koch Industries, and Marathon Petroleum consulting lawmakers on the legislation.”

The Act means that a blockade or protest against pipelines, oil and gas sites or mines, could result in 6 months in jail and fines ranging up to $25,000.

Similarly, the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition has noted: “The provincial government introduced Bill 57, the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act, on November 2, 2020… The bill aims to further criminalize people participating in protests that block roads, railways, and potentially other infrastructure deemed critical.”

The text of Bill 57 will reportedly not be available until the spring session of the Manitoba Legislature later this year.

In stark contrast, Global Witness has highlighted that governments should: “guarantee that defenders’ human rights are protected”, “legally legitimize the role of land and environmental defenders” and “safeguard the rights of defenders and protesters to free assembly and speech, as well as potential recourse to civil disobedience.”

The UN Human Rights Council has also passed this resolution that affirms: “Environmental human rights defenders must be ensured a safe and enabling environment to undertake their work free from hindrance and insecurity, in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfill their obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

PBI-USA expresses the concern that the legislative acts being proposed and passed undermine fundamental human rights and further criminalize and put at risk land and environmental rights defenders and their allies.