Sask. education minister defends decision to call police on protesters

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill answers questions from the press after Question Period at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, October 12, 2023 in Regina.

RCMP were called in response to constituents protesting at Battleford MLA Jeremy Cockrill’s office Friday.

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill is defending a call he made to RCMP following a sit-in at his office in North Battleford over the weekend, saying protesters were being “disruptive.”

In a video posted to social media, approximately 12 people can be seen sitting and standing in Cockrill’s office, including a few elderly people and at least one child. The 18-second video shows the group slowly and quietly start making their way out of the building, zipping up backpacks and putting on coats.

Saskatchewan RCMP confirmed Monday that officers responded to a call concerning a group of individuals protesting in an office space in North Battleford on Friday at approximately 3:20 p.m. RCMP said once the officers arrived, the individuals left the premises without incident.

Cockrill told media at the legislature on Monday that he initially had a meeting set up with a teacher, but the group showed up demanding to talk with the premier on the phone before leaving.

“I conversed with the whole group for probably 15-20 minutes and they decided to stay in the office,” Cockrill said he tended to other meetings he had that afternoon in the meantime.

“There started to be a couple individuals exhibiting some disruptive behaviour and intimidating my staff and I think that’s really where I drew the line and asked the RCMP to come and remove these folks from the office,” said Cockrill.

He said protesters were taking photos of staff members and were “getting a little bit threatening.”

“I’m happy to meet with any constituent of the Battlefords, as long as we can have a respectful conversation,” he said, adding he was frustrated when an individual set up a meeting and then brought a group of people to “cause a disruption” at his office.

The protest comes after weeks of job action as both the province and Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) dig their heels in on how classroom size and complexity she be handled. The STF has continued to escalate strike action and sanctions as it fights for funding and language around those issues to be enshrined in a new collective agreement. The province has maintained they should be dealt with away from the bargaining table, but in ways the union argues do not hold the government accountable to long-term sustainable funding.

“All this dispute really comes down to is their refusal to make meaningful commitments that ensure students will be supported,” said STF president Samantha Becotte during a virtual news conference Monday. “I encourage him to recognize that there is a very easy path forward in this issue.”

She said current and retired teachers as well as students and members of the general public participated in the sit-in.

Cockrill’s constituency office declined to speak on the sit-in, instead directing the Leader-Post to the Ministry of Education for comment, which provided audio of a media scrum with Cockrill following question period Monday.