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Erin O’Toole says that if he were to become prime minister, he would make it a criminal offence to block major railways, ports, bridges and highways through new legislation and without the need of a court injunction.
The Conservative leadership candidate would introduce a government policy where blockades are quickly cleared by police so it doesn’t get to the stage where “clearing them risks violence”.
“Peacefully protesting is a key type of speech that our government must protect,” read an O’Toole campaign statement, released on Thursday. “Intimidation and physically preventing people from going about their lives is different. It is a form of common law assault and should, in the appropriate situations, be treated as such.”
O’Toole’s new plan has come out at the same time that rival Peter MacKay deleted a tweet supporting Albertans who took it upon themselves to take apart a blockade. In the heavily criticized tweet, MacKay said he was “glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years.”
The tweets that MacKay posted after deleting his original showed a softened stance on the issue compared to the first, saying things like, “peaceful removal of debris deliberately placed on a railway that posed a threat to public safety.”
The plan released by O’Toole on Thursday blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the current state of the blockades that were started to show support for the Wet’suwet’en community.
“The Liberals are the party that began the Shut Down Canada culture by cancelling pipelines, banning tankers and bringing forward Bill C-69 over the objections of a majority of provinces,” noted O’Toole’s statement. “The illegal blockaders took their cues from the Trudeau Liberals.”
He added that Trudeau’s “weakness and indecision” led to the blockades. He also said that Trudeau has “made it crystal clear that he will not stand up for the rule of law but will instead bow down to those who want to shut down our economy.”
According to O’Toole, his plan will “get our economy moving and ensure that any group with a grievance will not be able to shut it down again at a moment’s notice.”
He noted that he would bring in legislation titled the Freedom of Movement Act as prime minister. This legislation would call transportation routes such as inter-provincial railways, national highways, international bridges and ports “Critical National Infrastructure to make it clear that the federal government takes responsibility for keeping them open.”
The legislation would make blocking “a railway, airport, port, or major road, or to block the entrance to a business or household in a way that prevents people from lawfully entering or leaving” a criminal offence.
Police would also be able to clear blockades without the need of a court injunction.
“Organizations should not have to wait for the courts and then see them ignored or have to endure more intimidation and loss before an injunction is enforced in order to simply continue operating legally.”
Courts would need to believe that the legislation goes hand in hand with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for it to be introduced.
O’Toole also said that he would “amend the tax code to remove charitable status from any group that has accepted foreign funds and has engaged in action related to the offences outlined above for blockading critical public infrastructure” and he would make the necessary efforts to “improve trust between Indigenous communities and law enforcement by creating and funding a specialized RCMP Aboriginal Liaison Officer position.”
He would also introduce a pilot program that will “deploy these specialized officers to communities that have high levels of off-reserve Aboriginal populations and/or a high number of missing or murdered Indigenous women cold cases.”