Image shows three people dressed in winter gear looking towards and around a snow plow that has many cardboard signs and four flags on and around it, as part of the so-called "Freedom Convoy."

It’s one of the oldest plays in the book. A crisis is followed by new laws that are intentionally broad enough to be applied to just about anybody who’s considered inconvenient.

That’s what we’re seeing with the Ontario government’s Bill 100, Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act, a piece of legislation that could do little more than stamp out and criminalize many labour actions, like strikes and picket lines, and critically important demonstrations on issues including racial justice and meaningful climate action.

The legislation, which would permanently prohibit demonstrations and blockades on “protected transportation infrastructure,” like land or water border crossings and international airports, is, on the face of it, in response to the convoy from earlier this year. This has some superficial appeal given the havoc that things like the blockade of the Ambassador bridge and the occupation of downtown Ottawa caused.

The thing is, law enforcement already had all the tools they needed to disperse the blockades at their disposal. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act allows officers to remove a vehicle from streets; and the Criminal Code covers offences like mischief. Indeed, the major border blockades were cleared using normal legal tools before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.

So if this new legislation is redundant, what exactly is it for?

We’re worried that the answer is that this legislation will mostly end up criminalizing workers, Indigenous, Black and other racialized people who criticize the government, bad bosses, and the rich and powerful. And as hearings are held and written submissions are read at Queen’s Park about the bill, we need to be clear that Bill 100 must be stopped.

The legislation prohibits disruptions on protected transportation infrastructure if it could reasonably be expected to disrupt economic activity. But that’s exactly the purpose of a strike and a picket line, activities that some of us, and thousands of other Canadians, proudly take part in when the moment requires it. They are also constitutionally protected.

Moreover, it doesn’t even require a significant disruption of economic activity. Any non-trivial economic impact — and it’s an open question how you could even verify it has occurred — triggers the prohibition.

The legislation also says that the definition of “protected transportation infrastructure” could be expanded through a time-limited regulation. Needless to say that allowing a government the discretion to expand an anti-protest law through regulation sounds like a very effective way of silencing justified criticisms of the government.

You don’t need to stretch too far back in history to think about the kinds of protests that governments might use a bill like this to shut down: the Indigenous land defenders engaged in rail blockades near the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory between Toronto and Montreal in 2020; the climate activists demonstrating at the Toronto Pearson airport in the fall; the Ottawa airport cabbies demonstrating in 2015; or Black Lives Matter Toronto when they sent a delegation in support of Haitian migrants facing deportation at the Canada-U.S. border in early 2018.

Written by Moya Teklu, Cara Zwibel, and Fred Hahn. Click here to read the full article on The Hamilton Spectator’s website,