Conservative MP’s private member’s bill could be used against pipeline protesters

6 12 2014

Justin Ling, Special to National Post | December 5, 2014 12:24 AM ET

RCMP officers take protesters into custody at an anti-pipeline demonstration in Burnaby, B.C., on Nov. 20, 2014.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward RCMP officers take protesters into custody at an anti-pipeline demonstration in Burnaby, B.C., on Nov. 20, 2014

OTTAWA — A private member’s bill backed by the minister of justice taking aim at industrial thieves could be used to punish environmental protesters, lawyers say.

The bill, introduced by Conservative MP Wai Young on Wednesday, would slap harsh penalties on anyone who damages or interferes with “critical infrastructure.”

While Bill C-639 was originally intended to beef up fines for anyone caught stealing wire from power facilities, the language in the legislation goes further. It creates a new Criminal Code offence for anyone who damages, destroys, incapacitates, “obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation” of any critical infrastructure. The mandatory minimum prison terms range from two to 10 years and the fines from $500 to 3,000.

The bill defines critical infrastructure as any “publicly or privately owned facility, network, service or asset,” including energy and telecommunication assets.


“The bar is set quite high,” said Ms. Young, adding that it could be applied to hackers who take down digital networks.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the bill is consistent with the government’s agenda. “I applaud MP Young for introducing this bill,” he said in a news release.

Ms. Young said she introduced the bill at the behest of industry, notably the Canadian Electricity Association and railway companies who’ve recently had a problem with thieves stealing rail spikes.

But when Toronto lawyer Ed Prutschi read the bill, his first reaction was: “Is this about pipeline protection?”

Mr. Prutschi said the fact that energy infrastructure was included has one obvious purpose.

“It would have application for pipeline protests,” he said, noting that the legislation doesn’t require damage to be done — to be convicted, you would just need to be in the way of critical infrastructure.

He said the bill could almost certainly be applied to the current protests on Burnaby Mountain blocking Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Ms. Young’s Vancouver South riding is adjacent to the mountain.

Ms. Young wouldn’t confirm the bill would be used to prosecute protesters who were, for example, blocking a railway, a common target during First Nations’ Idle No More protests.

“If some protesters are blocking access to a hospital where victims or people don’t have access then, yes, that’s critical infrastructure,” she said, adding that “in some very small communities, they may only have one road or airport. So that would certainly be critical infrastructure.”

Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt agrees with Mr. Prutschi.

“It’s unnecessary, it stifles expression and it’s really just puffery,” said Mr. Spratt, pointing out that tampering with rail lines is already a specific crime in the Criminal Code.

The mischief section of the Criminal Code — which this bill would add to — already makes it illegal to damage property. It slaps on tougher penalties if the property damage is valued over $5,000, or if the mischief puts someone’s life in danger.

The Canadian Electricity Association supports the changes, saying the current law doesn’t take into account the seriousness of this sort of theft. Though it notes that this bill goes well beyond what it was seeking.

Geoff Smith, director of government relations for the group, said the current law treats stealing a bike the same way it punishes stealing critical infrastructure that could damage power facilities — like one substation in Hamilton that “flashed over” after $1,800 worth of wire was stolen. He said the association wanted to address that gap in the law.

“We were never calling for a mandatory minimum, throw-the-book-at-them approach,” said Mr. Smith.

National Post




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