Alberta cops want talks on Idle No More demos

Aboriginal protesters affiliated with Idle No More try unsuccessfully to stop a truck from breaking through their blockade as they block Highway 2 North near Gateway Park in Edmonton, Alta.

Credits: Codie McLachlan/Edmonton Sun/QMI


EDMONTON -- Police in Alberta will be speaking with the solicitor general this week about Idle No More and the threat of blockades on the highway leading to the oilsands.

Jonathon Denis was scheduled to meet with Edmonton and Calgary's police chiefs on Monday, along with the province's RCMP commissioner, but the meeting was cancelled due to scheduling conflicts. Individual conversations will now take place throughout the week.

"I support the right to peaceful protest, but also the right to mobility," Denis told QMI Agency last week, adding police need to strike a balance between the right to peaceful protest with what's in the best interest of public safety.

Last week, demonstrators choked off traffic on the northbound lanes of the QE2 Highway into Edmonton as part of the Idle No More national day of protest. Protesters also vowed to shut down Highway 63 -- the main road used to carry workers in and out of the oilsands region.

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht couldn't comment on what would happen if the highway was shut down since its RCMP jurisdiction. But he said the police chiefs requested the meeting with Denis to inform him that police in Alberta were working collaboratively with respect to Idle No More and there is a "positive" relationship with organizers.

"It is important to the EPS (Edmonton Police Service) that we work with our colleagues from other police services," Knecht said, noting EPS worked with the RCMP and sheriffs in the most recent demonstration, and may have to share resources for other protests.

"In future events, we could be supporting other jurisdictions."

From his discussions with policing colleagues across the country, Knecht said each Idle No More protest is different and requires a specific response.

Knecht said there are a number of factors that impact a response from police, such as the type of roadway, traffic relief options, the number of demonstrators and the ability to negotiate with those present.

"It may be better to spend 15 minutes for people to discontinue the roadblock or respectfully move them as opposed to arresting 20 to 30 people and shutting the roadway for several hours," Knecht said, noting public safety is first and foremost. "We do not want anyone hurt and we have to enforce the law. It is no simple task."

Authority to arrest when a roadblock continues and impacts on public safety comes from two sections of the Criminal Code: Intimidation by blocking or obstructing a highway, or mischief.

- with QMI Agency files

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