Gary Mason lists the reasons he supports Alberta’s proposed legislation that would impose fines and/or prison sentences on protestors who disrupt “critical infrastructure.”

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • What are some reasons for and against Alberta’s proposed legislation “to crack down on demonstrators who imperil critical infrastructure”?

New Terminology:

Wet’suwet’en, infrastructure, Extinction Rebellion, Red Braid, anti-imperialist, indigenous,

Materials Needed:

Globe article, Internet links:

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

As anti-pipeline protests make the news daily, students are bombarded with opinions from both side of the dispute. Although the focus in recent weeks has been on the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s opposition to a pipeline project, based on unresolved sovereignty claims, the larger issue seems to revolve around the tension between our democratic right to protest and the economic rights of those impacted negatively by the protests.

Recently, Alberta introduced legislation that would impose stiff penalties on anyone who disrupts “critical infrastructure” (railroads, highways, etc.). Columnist Gary Mason argues in support of this move, suggesting that those who disrupt commerce ought to pay a price. Terry Mitchell, of Wilfred Laurier University, argues for the historical right to civil disobedience as a last resort to bring attention to injustice.

Students will work in groups to conduct critical readings of both articles to inform their opinions on the subject.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Start a discussion about the pipeline protests. Ask: How many of you believe the federal government should put an end to the protests, which are disrupting commerce for many Canadians? They may be surprised to learn that politicians do not direct the police on these matters in our democracy, as the prime minister noted in this Globe article:

Explain Alberta’s proposed legislation on protests: From Mason’s article, the province announced plans to crack down on demonstrators who imperil critical infrastructure, including major rail lines, which have been blockaded by protesters who have succeeded in halting the transport of vital commodities across the country. Under the proposed law, protesters who violate the statute face up to six months in prison and fines starting at $1,000 a day, but can be as high as $10,000 and increase to $25,000 for subsequent days.” Ask why Alberta, specifically, has a vested interest in this issue? (The pipelines represent a major source of revenue for Albertans).

Ask for a show of hands as to who supports the protesters and who does not. Provide students with the Mason article as well as the link to the article at The Conversation. Organize them into groups and provide them with this work sheet:

Work Sheet

  • Have members of your group read the articles aloud. As they read, have others note the points being made in favour of and against civil disobedience, as shown in the pipeline protests.
    • Evaluate claims that outside groups are taking advantage of the Wet’suwet’en protests to advance their own radical causes.
    • When you’ve finished, discuss your group’s support for or objection to Mr. Mason’s argument.
  • Next, read the article by Terry Mitchell at this link:
    • Note any mention of outside groups using the protests for their own purposes.
    • Mitchell says, “Civil disobedience is a time-honoured practice: a public act to bring attention to injustice when all other legitimate means to communicate and address the issue have failed.”
    • What legitimate means have been tried so far? Name one.
    • What is UNDRIP, and how does it apply to this issue?
    • Describe the Oka protests in brief. How does anything that happened in that 1990 conflict apply today, if at all?
  • Discuss: This article has changed/not changed my view of Mr. Mason’s article; note the reasons.
  • Finally, Professor Mitchell says, “Canada’s civil rights movement is awakening the country. Our resource-dependent nation must begin a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples: one that honours Canadian common law, Indigenous law and the international Indigenous rights standards our country has agreed to implement.”
  • Does your group agree or disagree with this statement? Give reasons and prepare to report orally to class.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students discuss their reports in class and compare their opinions at the outset with those they now hold.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can list some reasons for and against Alberta’s proposed legislation “to crack down on demonstrators who imperil critical infrastructure.”

Confirming Activity:

  • Students note media reports on the protests and their outcomes.