Protest rights workshops about lawful assembly

A Protest Rights Workshop filled the Old Church last Wednesday night.

A Protest Rights Workshop filled the Old Church last Wednesday night.

About 40 people attended the event hosted by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

BCCLA Executive Director Josh Paterson gave legal information about making informed decisions when demonstrating. He said the purpose was to teach people about their rights and freedom of assembly to participate in lawful, democratic protest activity.

“Everyone has the right to express themselves and peoples’ right to do that is protected under the Constitution,” Paterson said. “The reason we came is because we were invited by local groups to give them more information about what their rights are when they are expressing themselves.”

He said he wasn’t surprised that most of the questions revolved around protesting Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.

“We know what part of the province we are in here and the people in this region have done an amazing job making their concerns heard very loudly across the province and across Canada.”

Paterson said he didn’t think the workshop will promote more protests.

“People in this region don’t need some group coming from Vancouver to promote them to do anything,” he said. “As you know, people up here have been deeply engaged in these democratic processes around these decisions for years. What this is, is simply a workshop to help people understand their rights a little better and I don’t think it will make one drop of difference in terms of what people do. Those are decisions people have been making here in the north for many years already, without our help.”

Some of the information given seemed obvious, for example what to bring and what not to bring to a protest. Weapons are a bad idea, cameras are a good idea. Other information, on the other hand, seemed new to most people in the crowd. For example, organizing a couple of people to be legal observers, separate from the demonstration. Paterson said that if things go side-ways, which is rare, he added, it’s important to have people taking notes and witnessing what is happening.

Smithers councillor Bill Goodacre said it was a worthwhile event to attend.

“I’m involved in various aspects of social activism,” Goodacre said. “It’s a vital aspect of democracy to have a voice when there are major issues in front of us. It was just the basic understanding that there is a framework of law that has to be respected when you are involved in any kind of demonstration of concerns, which of course we are faced with here with the ongoing issues around energy and energy projects, particularly Enbridge. We’ve had several marches over this, and gatherings. It’s all been incredibly peaceful and it’s good to know the basic rules about the orderly process. A lot of the stuff he talked about isn’t stuff you think about. It was interesting to learn things from people who have had a lot of experience and just an understanding of how the law works and we do have a civilized society and hopefully we continue to have one.”

The BCCLA is posting the presentation on their website for anyone who missed the workshop.