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Members of Unifor Local 594 hold signs during a rally outside the Co-op Refinery in Regina on Dec. 5, 2019.

Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

Leaders in Saskatchewan are urging both sides in a labour dispute at an oil refinery to resume talks after comments by Regina’s police chief that the escalating fight is holding the city hostage.

Premier Scott Moe said Tuesday the government is mindful of public safety concerns and continues to support police in upholding the law.

“Our government asks that both the union and the [Co-op Refinery Complex] follow the law, remain peaceful in their actions and return to the table to reach an agreement,” Mr. Moe said in a letter.

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More than 700 workers were locked out in early December after they voted in favour of a strike and Unifor issued notice. One of the main issues in the dispute is pensions.

Last month, Co-op was granted a court injunction restricting Unifor from stopping vehicles trying to get in and out of the refinery to no more than 10 minutes or until a driver declines information on the dispute.

Police charged 14 people with mischief after access was blocked to the plant late Monday. Unifor had announced that it was going to prevent fuel trucks from leaving and wouldn’t allow in traffic or replacement staff in an effort to shut down the refinery.

Regina police Chief Evan Bray said about 50 officers were called to maintain public safety and saw people breaking the law.

“The question is, is it legal to completely barricade a business in our community? It’s a yes or no answer.”

Chief Bray said he isn’t picking sides, but feels the use of police resources isn’t fair to the city’s taxpayers.

“Both sides are essentially holding our city hostage a little bit,” he said.

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A Co-op spokesman said it continues to explore legal options.

“We are still barricaded and using helicopters to get people in and out,” Brad DeLorey said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

The union’s national president, Jerry Dias, was among those charged. On Tuesday, after he was released from custody, he said he is required to stay at least 500 metres away from the refinery.

He accused police of escalating the situation.

“I’ve never see a police department in any city in this country behave the way the Regina police did last night,” Mr. Dias said.

“Since the arrests last night, our members are flying in from across the country in droves to get here to Regina, because they are not going to watch the police bully and push around our members.”

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Chief Bray said his officers acted professionally and police will be deciding whether more charges should be laid.

Padlocks were found on some emergency entrances, he added.

Regina fire Chief Layne Jackson said the fire marshal issued an order to the union to ensure emergency vehicles had clear access to the refinery. A chain of vehicles and fencing was being used to obstruct entry.

On Tuesday afternoon, union members had erected fences and parked vehicles with deflated tires to prevent entry to the refinery.

Unifor has argued that blockades are being set up by members of the national union, not local members, so they don’t violate the judge’s court order. Most of those arrested Monday are not from Saskatchewan. They are to appear in Regina court Feb. 26.

At a rally outside the refinery, the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour called on more people to join union members on the picket line.

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Justice Minister Don Morgan said in a statement that the government will monitor the situation.

“While our government is concerned with the increasingly aggressive tactics being used in this labour dispute, we are encouraged by the Regina Police Service’s diligence in upholding the law and keeping the peace.”

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