New anti-protest laws to protect “critical infrastructure” could see more environmental activists in jail in Canada, the US, the UK

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Violet Coco

BBC News reports: “For 28 minutes in April, Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco blocked a single lane of rush hour traffic on the [five lane] Sydney Harbour Bridge [in Australia], calling for greater action on climate change.”

“Those 28 minutes would cost her a 15-month jail sentence.”

That article adds: “She is among the first to be sentenced under new state laws which introduced harsher penalties for protests on critical infrastructure – like roads, rail lines, tunnels and bridges. Earlier this year, Victoria and Tasmania also introduced laws increasing jail sentences and fines for some kinds of obstructive protests.”

The Guardian also reports on other activists facing jail time in Australia. It highlights: “In Victoria, forestry activists will soon face up to $21,000 in fines and 12 months in prison for protesting near logging areas. Laws passed in Queensland in 2018 mean even those found possessing devices used in disruptive protests face two years in jail.”

Deutsche Welle also notes concerns about a proposed law in the United Kingdom and activists in jail in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Italy.

It reports:

This week two Just Stop Oil protesters were sentenced to 21 and 28 days in prison for trespassing at an oil depot in April. The organisation, which demands an immediate stop to all new oil and gas licences in the UK, says that 24 of its supporters are currently in prison.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to support the police and grant them new powers to crack down on climate protests. …The new Public Order Bill would punish the act of gluing oneself to objects or buildings, or blocking transport, by six months in prison.

In Bavaria, where laws allow for longer pre-trial detention than other states, at least two activists from the group called ‘Letzte Generation,’ or Last Generation, will spend Christmas behind bars, having been placed in custody since July, when they blocked a motorway in Munich.

A Dutch court handed down two two-month sentences to climate activists who daubed Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ with tomato soup in a museum in The Hague.

In Spain, two activists from Vegetable Future, a group that demands an end to government livestock subsidies, face up to three years in prison for sticking themselves to paintings of Francisco de Goya in Madrid’s Prado museum.

Euractiv also recently reported: “Conservative opposition parties CDU and CSU tabled a motion in the German parliament titled ‘Harsher punishments for road blockers and museum rioters – protection people and cultural goods from radical protest’. But representatives of the three governing parties dismissed the opposition’s demands. There are already sufficient means to punish those ‘transcending the borders of peaceful protest,’ Bijan Djir-Sarai, the general secretary of the liberal FDP – worried about ‘the continuing radicalisation of the climate movement’ – told Tagesspiegel.”

In the United States, the Huffington Post reported in February 2021 on proposed “Harsh New Penalties For Protesting Fossil Fuels.” Their headline continues: “Industry-designed bills to silence climate protests are under consideration in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota and Montana. More are likely to come.”

At that time, it was reported the law in Minnesota could mean up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines for activists.

In September of this year, the Minnesota Reformer reported: “24 states have considered harsher penalties for pipeline protesters since DAPL [Dakota Access Pipeline] standoff.”

The #NoDAPL standoff began in April 2016  on the Sanding Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. It opposed the pipeline (partially owned by Calgary-based Enbridge and financed by Canadian banks Scotiabank, TD and RBC) threatening ancient burial grounds, cultural sites and the region’s water. The protest ended in February 2017 with a militarized intervention by the National Guard and police forces.

In Canada, The Narwhal reported in 2021: “Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party is proposing to amend Canada’s Criminal Code to stop protests that disrupt key infrastructure such as pipelines or railways — a federal election proposal that many say will unfairly target Indigenous land defenders.”

The Conservative Party platform says (on page 33): “Last year’s rail blockades [in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders] demonstrated the importance – and vulnerability – of the infrastructure that ties our country together. Canada’s Conservatives will amend s. 431.2 of the Criminal Code to create an offence of interference with an infrastructure facility or a public transportation system punishable by either summary conviction or indictment, depending upon the severity of the offence.”

We have also previously noted the Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act (which became law in April), the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act (passed in Alberta in June 2020) and the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act in Manitoba (shelved in September 2021).

CBC has explained that the legislation in Alberta “allows hefty penalties [up to a $10,000 fine and six months in jail] against any person or company found to have blocked, damaged or entered without reason any ‘essential infrastructure’. The list of possible sites is lengthy and includes pipelines, rail lines, highways, oil sites, telecommunications equipment, radio towers, electrical lines, dams, farms and more, on public or private land.”

The Conversation adds: “Those who violate the act can be arrested without a warrant, fined between $1,000 and $10,000 for a first offence and serve up to six months in jail. The fine would increase for second offences, amounting to $25,000.”

We continue to follow this troubling trend of harsher sentencing measures for environmental defenders as the climate crisis deepens.

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