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Saskatchewan won't investigate protest that disrupted legislature

REGINA — Saskatchewan legislature members have decided not to investigate the cause of a protest that disrupted the legislative assembly.
Dozens of protesters fill the entrance to the Saskatchewan Legislature calling for a ceasefire and disrupting the legislature, in Regina, in a still frame taken from video made on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. Saskatchewan legislature members have decided to not investigate the cause of a protest that disrupted the legislative assembly in mid-November. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeremy Simes

REGINA — Saskatchewan legislature members have decided not to investigate the cause of a protest that disrupted the legislative assembly.

Jeremy Harrison, the Saskatchewan Party government house leader, says his caucus decided not to pursue the investigation because it would have taken significant resources.

In mid-November, dozens of protesters shouted from the galleries and called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, halting assembly business for about 40 minutes.

The disruption prompted Harrison to move a motion that would have kick-started an investigation.  

He had alleged some Opposition NDP members were involved in orchestrating the protest, an accusation the NDP says is false.

Meara Conway, the NDP's democracy critic, says Harrison's decision not to investigate shows he misrepresented facts. 

"What we've seen is a huge about-face from the government house leader, a complete U-turn," Conway said Wednesday.

"He knows that the NDP had nothing to do with this. He knew it wouldn't be the outcome of this investigation."

Some NDP legislature members said they met with some protesters days before the disruption to hear their concerns, but the party did not organize it or urge them to disrupt proceedings.

The government's move not to investigate came after legislature members met during a committee meeting. Harrison moved a motion to condemn the "organizers and the perpetrators' actions," and to commend security. 

The motion also called on the legislative security team to review the disruption and develop a proposal to prevent something similar from happening again. 

The motion passed 4-2, with four Saskatchewan Party members voting in favour and two NDP members against.

Conway said she and another member voted against the motion because, even though they had concerns about the disruption, they did not want to condemn free speech. 

She said when protests against masking occurred outside the legislature more than a year ago, the NDP did not try to suppress that speech. 

"We worry that the contents of this motion and the approach of this government is further dividing the communities of our province that need to be brought together at a difficult time," Conway said during the meeting.

Harrison said he thought the motion was balanced.

"We literally could have put whatever we so desired into the motion," he said. 

"I thought it was quite balanced. I thought it was actually something the NDP might be able to support."

After the disruption, NDP member Jennifer Bowes apologized for liking an Instagram post containing a video of people chanting "from the river to the sea."

It has been a popular refrain among pro-Palestinian protesters raising concerns about the Israel-Hamas war, but some view it as antisemitic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press