Security changes, investigation coming after Gaza protest at Sask. legislature

‘This is very corrosive, if you allow these sorts of things to continue along,’ said house leader Jeremy Harrison.

Article content

Fallout from a protest that saw Saskatchewan’s legislative assembly pause earlier in the week has culminated in stricter security for public galleries, and commitment to an investigation into the incident.

Monday’s daily sitting was disrupted for about half an hour, as security removed more than 100 protesters calling for the Sask Party to join calls for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

On Tuesday, legislative security introduced new “temporary mitigation measures” capping the number of people allowed in the legislature’s public galleries.

Details provided by the Ministry of Policing, Corrections and Public Safety, which oversees security as of last spring, say that public gallery access is now limited to 20 people at once, with the exception of pre-scheduled tour groups.

Individuals or groups will be required to pre-register before attending, and “walk-in” access will be at the discretion of the security director.

Anyone wanting to sit in the public gallery will be asked to provide their name and address at least three days in advance. The press gallery is exempt.

Minister Paul Merriman said the change is to “make sure that what happened on Monday does not happen again.”

“That was a challenging situation for everybody,” he said, adding it wasn’t his direction but a suggestion from the security officers in the interest of being able to “best manage” the building’s safety.

“We’re not precluding anybody from coming into the building,” he said. “This is not restricting anyone’s access.”

Advertisement 3

Article content

Opposition democracy critic Meara Conway, in contrast, said the new measures raise alarms about the “erosion of democracy.”

Registration requirements limit the Opposition in “being responsive” to the issues of the day,  Conway said,  while questioning whether making people provide personal information in advance will have a “chilling effect” on the public’s interest in participating in the democratic process.

Asked if the security office will use the notice period to conduct background checks on potential gusts, Merriman said no.

The new requirements will remain in place until Nov. 30, and will be reassessed then.

Related Stories

A motion brought forward Wednesday by house leader Jeremy Harrison seeking an investigation into Monday’s protest also passed.

The motion called the disruption a “breach of privilege,” in that MLAs were “forced to vacate the House instead of fulfilling their duties,” when the room was cleared by security for a recess of about 30 minutes.

Advertisement 4

Article content

“Groups of school children were in attendance of the west gallery while the occupation took place,” he said.

Prior to debate on the motion, Speaker Randy Weekes ruled a section of the motion specifically naming Saskatoon University MLA Jennifer Bowes and the Opposition caucus as having “aided and abetted the protest and subsequent occupation” be struck.

The vote on the amended motion passed with all NDP members voting against. The Standing Committee on Privileges is to begin at its next sitting an investigation of the incident and its circumstances.

Harrison estimated the investigation will take several months, with a report to be delivered at the conclusion.

Asked by reporters in the rotunda, Harrison added he “absolutely” does still believe that the NDP, and specifically Bowes, were complicit in Monday’s events, despite the Speaker having nixed the claim.

He added he was “surprised” by the NDP’s votes against, “if there really is nothing to be concerned about on their part.”

Official Opposition Critic for Democracy and deputy leader Meara Conway
Official Opposition Critic for Democracy and deputy leader Meara Conway speaks with reporters at the Legislative Building on Tuesday, July 26, 2022 in Regina. Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Leader-Post

Conway said the Opposition’s reception room was used as overflow once gallery capacity was reached, at the request of security, and NDP members did know some guests because they were constituents.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“There’s no factual basis to that allegation, that we were aware or encouraged or organized” Monday’s disruption. she said.

Harrison said his preference would be to see a third-party investigator take the lead, as “this is a matter that is of significance and gravity.”

“The most sacrosanct thing we do here is the business we do in the chamber,” he said. “This is very corrosive, if you allow these sorts of things to continue along.”

Conway said the Opposition voted against the motion because it’s extraneous and because it called the demonstration an “occupation.”

“That’s a loaded word. This was not an ‘occupation,’ this was a peaceful disruption,” she said.

“The idea that we’re now going to be expending public resources, time and energy on an investigation of protesters is perplexing to me, given all of the things that we’re facing as a province,” she added.

Bowes was also made to offer an apology for having made a “lewd gesture” on Tuesday, following a ruling from Weekes. Harrison was called to apologize as well, for making “personal attacks” towards Conway and NDP deputy leader Nicole Sarauer.

[email protected]

With some online platforms blocking access to the news upon which you depend, our website is your destination for up-to-the-minute news, so make sure to bookmark and sign up for our newsletters here so we can keep you informed.

Article content

  1. Best gifts for kids, from infants to pre-teens

    Our top picks for infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers and school-aged

    We’ve compiled a list of our favourite kid-approved gear.
  2. Canadian concert tours: Hottest tickets in 2023

    Blake Shelton, Eagles, and Mariah Carey are on sale now

    Blake Shelton: Back To the Honky Tonk Tour
  3. Advertisement 2

  4. The best early Black Friday deals in Canada

    lululemon, Silk & Snow, Frank And Oak and Best Buy, to name a few

    This week in Canadian ecommerce deals.
  5. This It girl brand just launched its Black Friday sale — here are the styles you’re not going to want to miss

    Reformation is offering a rare 25 per cent off all of its thoughtfully created styles through Nov. 27.

    The Reformation Black Friday Sale finds includes the Tate Regenerative Wool Dress.
  6. Top gifts for the men in your life

    For the gamer, techie, coffee connoisseur, sports fanatic and more

    What to get the men on your list.