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Rail blockades spark debate over policing and politics



Protests that have shut down most of Canada’s rail system have opened a debate about the intersection of politics and policing — with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisting government must remain hands-off and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer insisting it’s time for the PM to direct the RCMP to end the blockades.

On Friday, Scheer held a news conference in Ottawa and called on Trudeau to direct the national police force to “enforce the law” and end the “illegal” tactics.

“Democracy and the rule of law are fundamental pillars of our country, and it’s time they are enforced,” he said.

“If they are not, the Trudeau Liberal government will set a dangerous precedent that a small few can have a devastating impact on countless Canadians.”

Trudeau rejected Scheer’s demand. “We are not a kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” he said today following a security conference in Germany.

A statement from the office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who oversees the RCMP, said “police independence is crucial to public trust in our institutions.”

“The minister of public safety does not direct police operations. The minister may not attempt to influence in any way an investigation, or direct the conduct of specific police operations,” says the statement provided to CBC News.

“Our government is committed to protecting the constitutional right to lawful peaceful protest, keeping Canadians safe, and upholding the rule of law.”

‘Weasel words’

But some policing experts say an elected government does have the authority to direct police to act in the public interest.

Rick Parent is a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University who spent nearly 30 years as a municipal police officer. He said there’s a difference between interfering in a criminal investigation and responding to a politically-motivated demonstration. Governments represent the public but sometimes try to “pass the buck” to police in controversial situations like this, he said.

“I think it’s an easy way out to say that the police are independent. I think those are like weasel words in the sense that we’re trying to pass the buck on to the police and hold them accountable for this, when in fact … it is a political thing,” Parent said.

“It’s not a crime against an individual that’s occurring.”

Parent said court orders must clearly state what powers the police are permitted to exercise in a specific situation, and any government direction must be in line with that court order.

According to the RCMP Act, officers are to “enforce all Acts of Parliament and regulations and render assistance to departments of the government of Canada as the Minister directs.”

A ‘political issue’

Christian Leuprecht, a Royal Military College professor who has written about the RCMP’s structure, said that while police must be independent when it comes to criminal investigations, government intervention in this case would not amount to political interference in an investigation.

“The federal government does have options, contrary to what it is claiming,” he said. “But it has chosen not to exercise those, likely for political reasons. Because this is, of course, the government that has staked much of its political fate on reconciliation …

“I think the uniforms, whether it’s federal or provincial, feel it shouldn’t be their responsibility to resolve what is ultimately a political issue.”

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is ‘not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Munich before returning home to Ottawa on Friday 3:15

Memories of Ipperwash

Governments may be reluctant to get involved in such protests, given that memories of 1995’s deadly confrontation in Ontario’s Ipperwash Provincial Park are still fresh. After members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the park to assert their claim to nearby land, then-premier Mike Harris told the Ontario Provincial Police he wanted the protesters evicted. During the subsequent confrontation, protester Dudley George was killed by a police officer.

Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said Friday it’s up to the federal government to show leadership and reach out to the protesters to bring about a swift resolution. But she agreed with Trudeau that the government should not interfere with police operations.

“It would be inappropriate for a government to direct a police force,” she said, pointing out that the court has issued an injunction against the Mohawk protesters behind an illegal blockade near Belleville, Ont. that is snarling rail traffic.

Ontario Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney spoke to reporters in Toronto after a Federal-Provincial meeting 1:09

Police discretion

OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said police use their discretion as “a valid, appropriate approach to de-escalating situations such as this” — and that should not be confused with a lack of enforcement.

“The OPP calls on those involved to abide by the court injunction and to not put public peace or anyone’s safety in jeopardy. The OPP respects the right of everyone to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but we also recognize the rights of the general public, local residents and businesses to a safe environment,” he said.

Dickson said the OPP will continue to follow its Framework for Police Preparedness for Indigenous Critical Incidents, which he said provides guidance on a “measured and sensitive response.”


People stand near a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ont. on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)


That document outlines the approach to be taken by various levels of government to resolve critical incidents that may erupt over land claims, self-determination or treaty rights.

“A range of possibilities exists as to how the critical incident may evolve — from a passive demonstration to one where the public is significantly affected, (such as) blockage of transportation route,” the document reads.

“It is imperative for police to ensure all parties to the critical incident have the opportunity to contribute to strategies for resolution. Employees will rely on established relationships for effective communication between themselves and persons involved in the critical incident as well as the other members of the community.”

Mohawk activists who have set up camps on key rail lines in eastern Ontario have said they won’t end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en in northern B.C.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders had been blocking road access to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.

While much of the police action near that road ended Tuesday with multiple arrests, the RCMP still has officers stationed near the pipeline construction site.

Scheer said the blockades are being staged by anti-energy activists who are “ideologically motivated” and that they must not be allowed to “run roughshod over the rule of law.”

“Radical activists, many of whom have no connection to the Wet’suwet’en people, are holding our country’s economy hostage. Meanwhile, the prime minister has been out of the country on a vanity project to win a vote at the UN, neglecting his duties here at home,” he said.

Scheer said it’s time that Trudeau “pick up the phone” and tell Blair to “put an end to the situation.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should call on the RCMP to clear protests that are crippling Canada’s rail network. 0:45

While every person has the right to freedom of speech and protest, Scheer said, they don’t have the right to block people from getting to work or to prevent businesses and farmers from getting their goods to market.

“These blockades are illegal. So far, the prime minister has refused to come out and call them that himself,” he said.

Asked if police intervention could escalate an already tense situation, Scheer insisted the risk of escalation is greater if nothing is done.

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Alberta First Nation monitors hundreds for COVID-19, sets curfew – Canada News –



A First Nation in southern Alberta has implemented a curfew as its health workers monitor more than 200 people for signs they may have developed COVID-19.

Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot said in video messages posted on Facebook that as of Thursday there were 21 known COVID-19 positive cases with links to the community west of Calgary, and that five separate and unrelated case clusters had been uncovered in the previous 12 days.

Crowfoot said that as of Wednesday, 258 Siksika Nation members were under “active investigation and daily followup” by the community’s health services team — a number he said had quadrupled in only three days.

On Friday, councillors approved a temporary curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time, with exceptions that Crowfoot said can be made on an as-needed basis for work or other reasons.

Crowfoot encouraged Siksika Nation members to co-operate with health officials if they call, and to avoid non-essential travel to nearby cities.

He said the risk of community transmission is high and that each new case cluster makes it even harder to contact trace and isolate people fast enough.

“We realize you have freedom of choice but we don’t have freedom of consequence. If we choose not to follow these guidelines, the consequence may be that we contract the virus and spread the virus further through our community,” Crowfoot warned in a video message posted Thursday.

In a message posted Friday, Crowfoot said his community had met meeting with federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Alberta Indigenous Affairs Minister Rick Wilson to address shortfalls in resources for dealing with the pandemic.

Crowfoot said the community’s annual Sun Dance ceremony was continuing, but that each participant was being tested prior to entering and that health workers were screening people as they came and went.

“It is understandable that people may feel anxious regarding this current situation, but if we continue to stay vigilant to the public health measures and do our best to limit travel and to avoid gatherings we have a chance to slow down the spread on our nation and also give our health team a chance to do their job,” Crowfoot said.

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Alberta set to resume public mask distribution program on July 13 –



The province is set to launch its non-medical mask distribution program again, following a pause after the first round of handouts.

Starting July 13, Albertans will be able to once again pick up free non-medical masks at A&W, McDonald’s Canada and Tim Hortons locations.

Albertans are encouraged to wear the masks in public as part of the ongoing effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Twenty million masks were handed out during the first phase of Alberta’s mask program, which ran from June 8 until June 22.

“The first phase of free mask distribution in Alberta was a huge success and the response was an incredible show of community support,” said Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s minister of health. “Thank you to all Albertans who are doing their part to keep each other safe as we move through Stage 2 of relaunch.”

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Another 20 million masks will be handed out in the second phase.

Read more:
Phase 1 of Alberta mask program complete, 20M more coming in July

While the province has not made wearing non-medical masks mandatory, it is strongly recommended to wear one when you cannot maintain a physical distance of two metres from others.

Alberta closely watching research on masks and COVID-19

Alberta closely watching research on masks and COVID-19

Along with the restaurant distribution program, the province is also providing masks directly to some organizations and groups, including municipalities without access to a restaurant location, First Nations, seniors’ facilities, shelters, places of worship and transit services across the province. The government also said it has partnered with 7-Eleven Canada to ship the masks out to transit services.

Alberta is distributing free non-medical masks at drive-thru locations.

Alberta is distributing free non-medical masks at drive-thru locations.

Kevin Jesus, Global News

Albertans can contact 211 if they need help getting a mask. More information is also available online. 

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Alberta restocks supplies of non-medical masks at A&W, McDonald's and Tim Horton's – CTV News



Albertans looking for non-medical masks will be able to pick them up again at drive-thrus at a number of businesses throughout the province later this month.

Officials say the personal protective equipment (PPE) will resume distribution on July 13 after another supply of 20-million non-medical masks became available.

Alberta’s Minister of Health Tyler Shandro called the first phase of the project a “huge success.”

“The response was an incredible show of community support. Thank you to all Albertans who are doing their part to keep each other safe as we move through stage two of relaunch,” he said in a release Sunday.

The first phase of mask distribution saw 20 million masks given to Albertans in June.

In addition to the new supply at drive-thrus, the government says it is also providing more PPE to the following locations:

  • Municipalities without easy access to a restaurant partner location
  • First Nations and Metis settlements
  • Places of worship
  • Transit services province-wide, including in Calgary and Edmonton – 7-Eleven Canada is providing no-cost shipping of masks from the government’s warehouses to transit system operators across the province
  • Seniors organizations and independent living facilities
  • Long-term care and supportive living facilities
  • Women’s shelters, homeless shelters and street outreach programs
  • Addiction treatment centres
  • Other organizations that have highlighted a need for masks

The first supply of non-medical masks began distribution on June 8. They were available, free of charge, at A&W, McDonald’s and Tim Hortons locations throughout the province.

Officials say the masks are intended to be given out equally to all Albertans and it relied on the ‘honour system’ to ensure all residents had a fair chance at receiving one.

It cost the province approximately $15 million to acquire the supply of masks, but Shandro said during the initial announcement that Alberta could not come up with an “unlimited” amount of masks.

“I encourage all Albertans to source their own supply of non-medical masks from local retailers or to consider using a homemade mask when they’re out in their community,” he said. “This allotment of four masks should be considered a supplement to store-bought or homemade masks.”

The City of Calgary also signed onto the plan when it announced it would be distributing a supply of masks through a variety of its partner agencies including the Calgary Police Service, Calgary Transit, and Calgary Housing, among others.

There is no exact number on how many masks will be distributed through those channels this time.

Masks not mandatory

While debate about the effectiveness of masks has been raging ever since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in Canada, the province has stood by the decision not to make them mandatory in public spaces.

“They are an option for situations where maintaining a distance of two metres is not possible,” said a release.

Premier Jason Kenney has also said he would not sign off on any legislation that would require Albertans to wear masks.

“I’ve thought long and hard about it and I really don’t want to end up in a situation where police or bylaw officers are ticketing or arresting people for not wearing a face covering,” he said. “The implications of that are deeply problematic.”

He did, however, recommend people wear them to protect others from becoming infected.

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