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Are RCMP highway checkpoints infringing on the rights of Labradorians?

By: | October 24, 2016

No clear statement of legal justification has been offered for the checkpoints

Jon Parsons
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RCMP shut down the highway to the Muskrat Falls main gate again on Monday. Photo credit: Twitter.

In the last few days the RCMP have set up numerous roadblocks on highways in Labrador. These roadblocks have restricted the ability of Labradorians to freely travel and are infringing on the constitutional rights to assembly and expression.

They have also infringed on the rights of reporters and journalists by holding them up at the blockades. Harrowing pictures of people climbing along the outside of bridges show the lengths Labradorians are going to in order to bypass the blockades.

Specifically, RCMP intends to prevent people from reaching and participating in the ongoing land protector camp at the gates of the Muskrat Falls project. They blockade bridges and road junctions, which are strategic chokepoints, and indiscriminately prevent people from moving. The RCMP blockades are at distances far removed from the gates of the Muskrat Falls site. The RCMP have offered no legal justification for their actions, other than saying they are preventing people from entering the area because of “public safety concerns.”

However, this is not a legal justification. A legal justification involves stating specific legislation. At some demonstrations, police may declare an assembly illegal (i.e. the riot act), and this is a legal justification to then make arrests or to restrict some rights.

There is also a court injunction in place, that says it is illegal to be on the side of the road next to the Muskrat Falls gate, but it is still perfectly legal to be on the other side of the road in the so-called “safety zone.” As far as I can tell, RCMP have not declared the assembly illegal, and the injunction only applies to a specific space, and so in my view there is no legal justification whatsoever to restrict movements of people, and most certainly not at distances such as where police currently set up blockades.

Over the last few days when I have raised this point, a number of people have said things along the lines of, “People broke the law when they cut the locks and opened the gate. That’s why the police are blocking the roads.” It is of course quite true that storming the Muskrat Falls site was a transgressive act. But that is still not a justification for the blockades. The actions of people who (bravely) transgressed the law cannot then be used as an excuse to restrict the movement of all Labradorians, because that is attributing intentions to people who have done nothing at all. Since anyone going to the site of protests can just as well be going to the “safety zone,” there is no justification for the blockades.

And in fact, it turns out the blockades really should be called checkpoints, because the RCMP are selectively allowing vehicles through, specifically service vehicles for companies working on the Muskrat Falls project, as Labradorians at the checkpoints have documented.

In the way they are operating, it looks to me as though the RCMP is infringing on the constitutional rights of every person in Labrador. When Labradorians and when the media have encountered the blockades, the RCMP simply repeat the line about “public safety concerns,” but never state the law that allows them to do so.

My one question, and the question I think needs to be answered for all Labradorians: What specific legislation allows the RCMP to set up these checkpoints and restrict the free movement of people on highways?

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