Trudeau's Trumpishness bulldozes Indigenous rights

Considering the sick political calculus that rules Ottawa's backrooms, it is not inconceivable that the bubbly was pouring in Liberal circles with the stateside election of Donald Trump. Indeed, after having enjoyed a year-long honeymoon as the anti-Harper, Trudeau and his aides likely saw this new development as a gift that extends the honeymoon under the guise of being the anti-Donald.

In a tribute to the relentless spin that long ago replaced any semblance of reasoned political discourse, Trudeau (like most Liberals who replace hated Conservatives) is getting away with policies that continue the Harper legacy (attacking pensions, privatization, an ongoing love affair with the tar sands, a refusal to return door-to-door postal delivery, signing the Saudi weapons deal, keeping intact the repressive C-51, and utter contempt for Indigenous peoples). Such behaviour indicates his relationship with Trump may not be as frosty as many predict.   

Indeed, under the deceptive banner of "Canada is back" world benefaction, the Trudeau Liberals are clearly intent on the delivery of a Trump-like policy platform that, despite the fancy rhetoric, denies climate change, runs roughshod over Indigenous rights, pursues massive new outlays of war spending, values corporate rights over human beings, and defends a state security apparatus that continues to be deployed against anyone who objects. Significantly, behind the smiling selfies and the "thank the goddess we're not like them" incense that continues to stink up the cold Canadian air, Global TV reveals 76 per cent of Canadians polled support Trump-like policies.

This reality is reflected in Trudeau's unhealthy pipeline addiction, as well as his Trump-like relationship with Indigenous peoples. In the same manner that Trump tweets out "I love Hispanics" while calling Mexicans rapists and promising to build his border wall over which he plans to deport millions, Trudeau's self-proclaimed love for Indigenous peoples comes with a similar disconnect. No finer example is available than his government's continued refusal to abide by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order of January 26, 2016 to end racial discrimination against 163,000 Indigenous children. Despite two subsequent compliance orders and a unanimous House of Commons motion November 1 calling on his government to comply (which the Trudeau Liberals supported), the basic requirements to meet the Tribunal's original ruling go unmet almost one year later.

Failure to seek and receive consent

Similarly, the Trudeau government was roundly applauded for signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) "without qualification" last May, a cornerstone of which is the guarantee that signatories will receive the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples "prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources." But no sooner was the ink dry on the document than Trudeau's regime started adding in qualifications. Tellingly, when NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced Bill C-262, (An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), no Liberal would co-sponsor it.

The utter contempt for Indigenous peoples that underlies such hypocrisy was revealed again when Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr boldly stated that despite Canada's UNDRIP commitments, he will not seek such consent for the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline. His bulldozing comment followed a month of government actions that underlined the extent to which Indigenous peoples and their lands remain national sacrifice zones in the interests of corporate capital.

Indeed, at the end of September, Trudeau's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna proudly announced approval of the Petronas LNG pipeline, a carbon bomb whose 10 million annual tonnes of pollution is the equivalent of adding 2 million cars to the road. The project would inevitably wipe out critical salmon habitat and destroy the foundation for thousands of years of Indigenous heritage and culture, which would constitute an act of genocide as described by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: the "destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group."

In response to the LNG approval, three judicial review applications were filed by the Gitwilgyoots and Gitanyow tribes as well as the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. Among the reasons the groups will argue that the approval is unlawful is that "The Crown failed to properly consult with all Aboriginal groups asserting rights or title," a legal error that failed to consider last June's Federal Court of Appeal decision quashing approval of the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline because "Canada has not fulfilled its duty to consult" with Indigenous groups.

Groups also argued that the precautionary principle was flushed down the drain when, in the course of only one day, Catherine McKenna received the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's (CEAA) approval report which, given its acknowledgement of "significant adverse environmental effects," was referred to the Governor in Council, who determined those effects were justified. This short turnaround prevented any meaningful dialogue with affected groups.

Shifting definition of Indigenous peoples

In addition, court documents point out that "between 2013 and 2016, the Gitanyow's requests for Crown consultation were repeatedly denied," while McKenna and her predecessors "unilaterally shifted the scope and definition of Indigenous peoples" to justify this denial. In addition, the CEAA "failed to differentiate" between different Indigenous groups in "assessing adverse effects," while seriously underestimating the "devastating impact on the Gitanyow social organization" by the potential destruction of their main salmon stock, which the agency downplayed as a "moderate cumulative impact."

On the East Coast, another looming act with genocidal implications in the form of methyl mercury poisoning received the blessing of the Trudeau government when it provided a $3-billion loan guarantee for the Muskrat Falls dam project in Labrador. It's been the focus of an inspiring land and water protection campaign, with Innu, Inuit, Métis and settlers joining together in nonviolent resistance to the project, which in flooding traditional territories will unleash a tide of methyl mercury poisoning that will poison the food supply that underpins, as in B.C., thousands of years of Indigenous heritage and culture. Also of immediate concern is the complete lack of protection from a catastrophic dam break that could drown hundreds downstream of what's known as the North Spur. As hydropower consultant Jim Gordon writes, the North Spur is no place for a dam wall given its location is not on solid rock, but rather on material that:

"[i]s moving and alive. It is underlain by quick clays that can liquefy when saturated or disturbed…. If the North Spur dam fails, there is the likelihood of loss of life in Goose Bay and Happy Valley, and the river will divert to flow through the breach in the Spur."

The boondoggle of a project continues to balloon in costs and, no doubt, profits for one of its main contractors SNC-Lavalin, the corruption-tainted corporation that made illegal contributions to the Liberals and Conservatives and was charged with fraud and corruption in 2015. Even the World Bank, no friend to the world's poor, has blacklisted 115 SNC-Lavalin affiliates for a decade due to fraud and corruption.

In October, following numerous arrests at the main gates of Muskrat Falls, dozens broke through a fence and occupied company offices, with the support of many of the workers on site. Three individuals went on a nationally publicized hunger strike and, while a temporary truce appeared to have been achieved following an all-night meeting at the premier's office, many are unsatisfied with the results. While trials are expected from the last round of arrests and defiance of a court injunction, land and water protectors continue maintaining a camp at the Falls, with the best coverage of the crisis courtesy of The Independent, an excellent source of Labrador news, one of whose reporters, Justin Brake, faces contempt of court proceedings for covering the site occupation.

Meantime, land defenders like Vanessa Gray, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe'kwe from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, located in the infamous chemical valley near Sarnia, Ontario, face serious charges, along with co-defendants Sarah Scanlon and Stone Stewart, for shutting off a valve on the Enbridge Line 9 last year.  One of those charges, "mischief endangering life," carries a potential life term in prison upon conviction, yet has never been laid against the oil and chemical company executives whose operations have produced high rates of cancer and environmental degradation on traditional First Nations lands.

A flowering of resistance

In some respects, the current political climate is reminiscent of the early 1980s, when another Trudeau, in concert with the reactionary Reagan administration, brought cruise missile construction and testing to Canada, igniting a broad-based anti-war reaction of mass demonstrations and civil resistance that was subjected to the kind of illegal RCMP surveillance, infiltration and disruption that is now authorized by the notorious C-51.

While the threat of nuclear catastrophe still remains, the major grassroots efforts already underway to resist the current Trudeau regime's very clear intent to ignore the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (as well as its own commitments under the Paris Climate Accord) are miles ahead of the early 1980s resistance movements.

But then as now, anyone who stands up for life will be subject to the telescopic eye of the state, emboldened by its series of so-called anti-terrorism measures enacted under both Liberal and Conservative governments; in reality, they are nothing more than punishing tools to hammer anyone who interferes with the economic security of Bay Street.

Under C-51, land and water protectors are likely to be the first to be considered for "Undermining the security of Canada," which speaks to any "interference" related to government operations including "intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada." Under this absurdly broad definition, those facing possible charges could include organizers of a national day of action that involves economic targets, nonviolent railway blockages, freeway occupations, or sit-ins that stop business as usual in government offices. Given that pipelines and dispossession of Indigenous lands remain cornerstones of Canadian "economic security," any such interference is likely to be treated with the full weight of the law. 

Indigenous internment list

Indeed, the RCMP is already in negotiations with pipeline companies to prepare for the expected exponential growth of direct actions as Trudeau likely gives the go-ahead to more pipelines, including the Kinder Morgan. And while the Liberals continuously reaffirm their pledge that peaceful resistance will not be the subject of C-51 and state intrusion, their recent reaction to -- and support of -- the RCMP's Project SITKA indicates exactly where they'll be standing when it comes to the criminalization of land defenders.

SITKA is essentially an Indigenous internment list created by the RCMP during 2014-15, one that surveilled 313 Indigenous and non-Indigenous "activists," of whom 89 were found to "meet the criteria for criminality." The report also investigates a series of groups ranging from the Council of Canadians and Unfuck the World to Idle No More and those calling for an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, while coming up with protester profiles that fall under the categories of Passive, Volatile, and Disruptive, along with Suspects, Persons of Interest, and Associates.

The "Protester Target Profile" produced by the National Intelligence Coordination Centre uses photos, date of birth, age, weight and height along with comments on mobility and "involvement" as part of its surveillance work. It then creates a report card on commitment level (a spectrum that includes "soft," "very," and "Anarchist Oriented"); attitudes towards law (abiding, resisting, violence-prone); the nature of an individual's involvement in networks; the type of language one employs (emotional, dramatic, inflammatory, nonviolent disruptions); level of "violence" (a concept which here is undefined); relationship to social media (seeks media attention, widespread use of Internet, dramatic words and symbols, "staged media stunts," critical of peaceful protesters, video record of actions); and "other protest tactics" ("outrageous demands," "wild accusations," "provokes police reaction," "solution-oriented," "linkages to common fears," "broad mix of tactics").

Such breakdowns are useful in the divide-and-rule approach traditionally taken to resistance. Some of SITKA reads like the boilerplate analysis of so-called "radicalization," in which young Muslims are spied on to see if they are watching certain YouTube channels and being unduly influenced by scenes of torture and murder committed overseas by Canadian, American and British occupation authorities. Indeed, the Mounties warn of the "external, non-Aboriginal influencers" who can allegedly have a major impact on land rights gatherings.

It's typical of the patronizing attitude throughout the report, which, in the tradition of residential schools, treats Indigenous people as naïve souls who are unable to do things for themselves and must be assisted by the wise and kind parental figure, the Mounties. "The RCMP work with Aboriginal protesters to facilitate peaceful protests," they write, as if their absence would result in total chaos. Indeed, their role is to neutralize "threats posed by individuals to Aboriginal occupations and protests," as if the Mounties themselves (and their undercover operatives, who are nowhere mentioned in this report) pose no such threat.

Notably, SITKA admits that it does not analyze why such gatherings take place -- "Causation is beyond the scope of this study" -- which makes it easier to tar them as potentially volatile criminal events.

While SITKA concludes that there is no national network of protesters working toward a collective goal, and "no apparent link between individuals and affiliated groups in providing criminal motivation, support or financing in association to Aboriginal public order events," it nonetheless treats Indigenous gatherings as "Aboriginal public order events." The Mounties warn that some individuals who attend "have been shown to travel to public order events outside of their communities." In other words, human solidarity becomes a security threat.

The spectrum of what, for the RCMP, constitutes a public order "event" includes "speaking tours, disruption of political proceedings, and direct action training camps." Among the dangerous protest types identified by the Mounties, "natural resource development … anti-capitalist protests … Demands for Missing and Murdered Women Inquiry, Land Claim issues … [and] Idle no More."

Defenders use social media!!!!!

The RCMP also notes with alarm that protester networks are employing Facebook and other social media platforms "to create private chat restrictions, and allow limited viewing to posts without police detection." The Mounties believe that "volatile protesters" exist to supply misinformation, "and wild accusations, particularly against police to provoke a crowd response."

For the dangerous 89 on their list, this core group was found to attend "a higher number of events," is "capable of mobility," is "affiliated with several organizations," and is "interacting socially to each other or via social media." The Mounties also define direct action as a criminal activity: "Although there is no intentional nexus to criminality, there are subjects within the analysis who advocate criminal activities (direct action)." Their "Analytical Baseline" addresses those naughty individuals who "have been known to utilize unlawful tactics that threaten public safety, including unlawful blockades, as well as long-term occupation of restricted sites… these criminal tactics are carried out by those acting outside the spectrum of peaceful and lawful demonstration."

As an example of the serious criminal threats, the Mounties point out that two individuals from Nova Scotia, identified as part of the Mi'kmaq Warrior Society, "participated in a national speaking tour." In another instance of unsubstantiated threat mongering, the Mounties report that two individuals "originally from Ontario are currently suspected of living in Quebec, however, this is unconfirmed information." Where could they be? And does this keep them awake at night?

The Mounties were particularly concerned with land defenders trying to stop hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at Elsipogtog in New Brunswick. They point out that:

"Many of the Mi'kmaq subjects, including those from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, did not consider themselves outside protesters as they saw themselves as part of the Mi'kmaq community, protesting Aboriginal rights to free, prior and informed consent."

While "criminality is not the driving force behind protester participation associated with Aboriginal protests," the Mounties recommend that they nonetheless engage in a dual process of moving "away from utilizing terrorism/extremism language to identify protest tactics that are specifically criminal in nature" while adopting a "categorization of protesters based upon levels of criminality (background, motivation and rhetoric) as well as their tactics and traits utilized at events." This kind of surveillance, the RCMP concludes, "will ensure that peaceful and law-abiding individuals engaged in acts of legitimate dissent will not be investigated or analyzed for the purpose of identifying serious criminality."

But given the incredibly broad definitions of threats, criminality and volatility regularly employed by state security agencies, no one should breathe a sigh of relief here. The Mounties continue that "a process for the maintenance of the protester profiles should be developed so that the information retained in law enforcement databases remains relevant for supporting front-line operations."

Much of this is based on the classic RCMP media projection of impartial peacekeeper. They see their role in "public order policing" as "the use of police authority and capacity to establish a legitimate equilibrium between governmental and societal, collective and individual rights and interests in a mass demonstration of grievances." Flowing from the Inquiry into the Ontario Provincial Police murder of Indigenous land protector Dudley George at Ipperwash in 1995, the RCMP says all this surveillance is necessary because "Aboriginal protests are fundamentally different and therefore form a unique and discrete category."

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended Project SITKA as part of "the need to examine Aboriginal protests as a separate and distinctive form of protest requiring dedicated and unique police resources, strategies and responses."   

A winter of discontent

Thankfully, there is a fearlessness in the land that is placing the planet's future ahead of any other consideration. This was seen in 99 young people being arrested on Parliament Hill to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline, as well as subsequent demonstrations and sit-ins across the country, in addition to Standing Rock solidarity actions, a new land defenders camp at Barriere Lake, and the refusal to back down at Muskrat Falls. It's the next stage in what will likely be a very active winter of discontent. In the immediate future, some of these key issues will be debated at the Supreme Court on November 30 when two groups -- the Inuit of Clyde River and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation -- challenge the lack of consent over seismic blasting in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait as well as a failure to consult regarding the Enbridge Line 9 tar sands reversal in southern Ontario. The stakes in both cases could not be higher.

Buses from across Ontario and Quebec will be bringing supporters for an all-day gathering outside of the Court on November 30. For those Indigenous and non-Indigenous Associates, Suspects, and Persons of Interest, it's a great opportunity to stand in solidarity while rejecting the RCMP's Project SITKA. More here.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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