Saskatchewan’s legislative assembly has voted to start an investigation into a protest that disrupted proceedings earlier this week, and those who oversee security in the building are temporarily limiting access.
The assembly voted 39-14 Wednesday for an inquiry into what happened on Monday when protesters, who called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, shouted from the galleries and halted assembly business for about 40 minutes.
All Saskatchewan Party government members voted in favour and Opposition NDP members voted against.
Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison, who moved the motion for the investigation, told reporters Wednesday the disruption was significant.
He said he’s considering the investigation be done by an independent officer of the assembly.
“The most sacrosanct thing we do in this chamber is our business,” Harrison said.
“Being precluded from doing that, whether it’s by groups from whatever side of the political equation that you’re coming from, that is the most significant.”
Meara Conway, the NDP democracy critic, told reporters the Opposition voted against the motion because Harrison described the protest as an “occupation.”
“That’s a loaded word. This was not an occupation, this was a peaceful disruption. There were no arrests and I’m not aware of any security threats,” she said.
Conway said it’s perplexing the government is going to spend lots of money, time and energy on a group of protesters.
“I think they’re desperate to change the channel,” she said.
“In my view, this is an attempt to distract from the issues that are facing Saskatchewan people: the redlining of our health-care system, cuts to classrooms, the cost of living crisis and serious questions about this government’s handling of public money.”
Harrison said he would have been prepared to amend his motion to change the word “occupation” to “grave disorder.”
He said no date has been set for when the investigation is to start, but added he expects it could last months.
Meanwhile, the legislature’s security team made changes to limit public access to the building in light of the disruption.
In an e-mail obtained by The Canadian Press, security director Dani Herman said only 20 people at one time can access the galleries, unless it’s for scheduled tours approved by her.
Herman said people and groups must pre-register with their names and addresses to attend, and that she must receive their forms at least 72 hours in advance.
Herman said people who walk in and don’t register won’t be allowed into the galleries, unless she grants them permission.
She said the new protocols are to be in effect until Nov. 30, and could be changed back after that date, subject to review.
Paul Merriman, the minister who oversees security in the building, said Herman’s team is responsible for the decision.
He said the security team won’t be doing background checks of people who want to come to the building.
Last year, the Saskatchewan Party government overhauled security operations.
The Speaker’s office, an independent body, was responsible for security before the changes. The sergeant-at-arms remains responsible for security on the floor of the assembly only.
Conway said she worries the changes will limit public participation.
“We should not be in the business as legislators of deterring people from participating in their democracy,” she said.
“We should be in the business of encouraging participation in one’s democracy.”
Earlier this week, Harrison and Premier Scott Moe accused NDP member Jennifer Bowes of orchestrating the disruption.
Bowes denied the allegations.
She said she knew one of the organizers, and encouraged him to come, but did not tell the protesters to get up from their seats and shout.
Moe also accused Bowes for making what he called a lewd gesture during Tuesday’s question period.
Bowes apologized for the gesture in the assembly on Wednesday.
Harrison also apologized Wednesday for his remarks when he accused two NDP members for orchestrating the protest.
Even though he said sorry, he still believes they were involved.
“I hope I’m wrong. I actually do hope I’m wrong that their members were not involved in organizing this,” Harrison said.