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Cockrill responds to sit-in at constituency office

Battlefords MLA gives his side of the story on why RCMP were called in to remove those staging an education sit-in at his office.
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill speaks to reporters regarding a sit-in at his constituency office.

REGINA - Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill provided his account to reporters Monday regarding a sit-in on Friday at his Battlefords riding office by supporters of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation job action.

Those involved in the sit-in were soon ordered to leave by Battlefords RCMP. Those supporters have since claimed the sit-in had been peaceful, and took issue with the RCMP being called in. One of the participants, Erik Hansen, was quoted by saying "I felt that we were actually disrespected," adding there was no need for the RCMP to come in.

At the legislature Monday, Cockrill offered a different view, saying the group had started to be disruptive to his staff members. 

“Yeah, so obviously a challenging situation at my local North Battleford constituency office on Friday. We had a meeting previously scheduled with an individual teacher, but instead a large group, I guess, a large group for the space showed up and demanded to speak with the Premier on the phone before they left. 

“You know, obviously Friday every MLA is at home, likely doing constituency business in their respective communities and constituencies. I listened to the group, probably conversed with the whole group for probably about 15-20 minutes, and they decided to stay in the office. I had other meetings that afternoon, so I continued on with my constituency business. 

“A fairly calm group, but then there started to be a couple of 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. Again, I spend a lot of my time when I am at home in the Battlefords meeting with constituents. I meet with constituents on the evenings and the weekends, teachers, grandparents, parents, all sorts of folks on all sorts of issues at home, and happy to have those conversations, whether I agree with people or not, as long as we have respectful conversations, I’ll meet with anybody. But from my perspective, it crossed the line too disruptive and intimidating to my staff, and that’s not some thing I’m going to tolerate.”

He confirmed that at least initially, he had agreed to permit the group to be inside his office.

“I said listen, we close at 5 o’clock, and if you’re here and quiet and respectful, that’s fine. But again, especially, I think about the two ladies I get to work with in North Battleford in my constituency office. They do really incredible work on behalf of myself in the government and for the constituents of the Battlefords and I don’t think it was right for people to start essentially intimidating my staff, and again, that’s where I drew the line.… 

“When you get to intimidating my staff, I’m sorry, I’m just not going to tolerate that. And I think that’s reasonable whether you’re a government MLA or an opposition MLA. At the end of the day, the staff that work for us, whether it’s here in the legislature, or at home in our constituencies, these are people who are trying to do their best for their constituents and if you’re going to intimidate the staff, that’s where I draw the line and ask you to leave.”

As for particulars as to what he meant by ‘intimidation’, Cockrill said “all I’ll really comment on that is several individuals taking photos of my staff, and my staff asking them not to do that, and them getting a little bit threatening after that. So that’s not right in my view.”

He later said that when the staff members asked those people to stop they were met with a reply of “what are you going to do about it.” 

“I mean, I would expect that’s not the type of behavior that I have going into anybody else’s office and I would expect the same for people coming into my office.”

Cockrill adds that what was “most frustrating for me as an MLA is that when an individual teacher had called on Monday asking to meet with me, I have not turned down any meetings with any of my local teachers in the Battlefords. Happy to meet with them. We’re not going to agree on everything, but you know what, they’re meetings that informs some of the decisions I make as an MLA, and as a Minister. And so obviously for an individual to decide to meet up and then not show up for their meeting and instead have some of their Teachers Association colleagues be there instead, and causing disruption, that’s disappointing. 

“Again, I’m always up for a respectful conversation. Absolutely. That is why I got into this role. I wanted to be an MLA, because I wanted to make the Battlefords a better place. That’s what I’m focused on, and listen, you’re not going to agree with everybody in your community but as long as you have a respectful conversation, I think that’s what it’s about at the end of the day.”

Opposition Education Critic Matt Love was also asked about the sit-in incident at the legislature, but said he did not have any information about it, other than from what he had heard it was “very peaceful, very respectful and that the folks who were there were surprised when the RCMP showed up.”

STF President Samantha Becotte was asked about the sit-in Monday on a call with media, and she called it “disappointing to see.” She added the following:

“The Minister needs to really start listening to the concerns of the people in not just his community but the people here in Saskatchewan, who continue to say that public education is a top priority. And if he’s not going to listen, then he is going to experience more instances where people are going to take a stand, and really push to make sure that their voices are heard.”