Winnipeg rally against proposed critical infrastructure act

25 March 2021

Photo: Mike Bagamery (MEJC)

“Who gets to determine what’s critical infrastructure?  What’s critical for me is water, air, the land I’m walking on.  That’s critical.” - Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie (speaker at the rally)

On 23 March, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) joined 200 people outside the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg to protest Bill 57, an act that would criminalize many forms of peaceful protest and disproportionately target Indigenous Land Defenders and Water Protectors.  CPT was among the many groups represented at the rally and also had a hand in planning the event.  Other groups involved included Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, and Idle No More Northern Manitoba.

Bill 57, or the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act (PCIA), was tabled by the Manitoba Government in the last quarter of 2020.  However, the Bill’s contents were only made available to the Opposition and the public last week.  By releasing the Bill’s text mere days before the second reading, the government left the Bill’s opponents with minimal time to refute the legislation.  This undemocratic process, combined with the Bill’s controversial contents, led many groups to take to the streets on Tuesday.

According to the PCIA, “critical infrastructure’ is infrastructure that “makes a significant contribution to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Manitobans.” Critical infrastructure would also include “land or premises on which critical infrastructure is located,” as well as infrastructure under construction that would meet the definition of “critical” once completed.  This broad definition encompasses a wide range of infrastructure, including highways, railways, and pipelines.

Bill 57 would allow owners and operators of “critical infrastructure” to ask the provincial court to restrict protests that interfere with that infrastructure.  Should the court decide to issue an order, individuals could be fined up to $5,000 or given 30 days of jail time for entering a restricted zone or helping another person do so.  For corporations, the fine could be as steep as $25,000.  

Bill 57 is deeply concerning to CPT because it aims to target peaceful forms of protest that have become especially integral to Indigenous peoples’ assertion of their sovereignty and rights.  The PCIA would criminalize interference with resource extraction projects, and would stifle movements similar to the ongoing Indigenous-led resistance to Line 3 in Minnesota.  The PCIA would penalize railroad blockades, which were crucial to the protests in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders last year.  Bill 57 would further entrench the Doctrine of Discovery logic by reifying the false notion that colonial powers have underlying title to the land and its resources.

This past Monday, the Provincial Opposition announced they would block Bill 57 until the fall session.  While this delay is certainly something to celebrate, the Bill still remains on the table.  In the months leading up to the second reading, CPT is committed to speaking out against this legislation.  Nonviolent direct action is critical to the work of CPT and its partners, not only on Turtle Island but also worldwide.  

To read CPT’s full statement in opposition to Bill 57, click here.