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When corporate interests hijack government, beware claims about 'public interest'

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Image: Vladvictoria/Pixabay

This blog is part two of a series looking at corporate interference in democracy and quashing of public protest. Read the first part here.

We're seeing a number of questionable actions coming from different arms of government under the guise of "public security" and "public interest" -- like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's "war room" and the RCMP handing information with Enbridge about land and water protectors blocking pipelines in B.C.

"Public security" is a tricky phrase. Canada has treaty responsibilities to Indigenous nations that it is not living up to, and CSIS is actively supporting the suppression of Indigenous land defenders to the benefit of private interests like Enbridge and a broad network of fossil fuel companies. Canada has consistently, for 152 years, tried to quash the full realization of a treaty-based relationship with Indigenous nations, and consistently removed Indigenous nations from their land through legislation, culture of dispossession, and force. (Before Confederation, Canada's predecessors were doing the same). Black communities have been criminalized and surveilled since slavery -- even in Canada.

Two great reads on these topics include Policing Indigenous Movements by Andrew Crosby and Geoffry Monaghan, which captures modern surveillance and criminalization of Indigenous land and water protectors, and Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard, which is a "comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada." 

I am generally skeptical of the phrase "general public" because the public includes so many diverse communities with particular histories, needs, and visions. When the government uses this term to justify its actions we should be equally cautious. Whose interests are they really protecting? Whose are being set aside in favour of a particular public? Are the interests being served even public at all?

There are loads of communities and groups that are not being served by the surveilling of climate justice movements -- primarily the people who are trying to have their needs met through that movement, like Indigenous peoples, fishers, farmers, women, coastal communities and beyond. Just last week, the joint review panel for the massive Teck tar sands mine said the project would be "in the public interest" even though the report says the mine would likely "significantly" and "irreparably" harm Indigenous communities and local ecology.

When governments and government institutions use their power to decide which public gets to be secure, we need to look deeply at whose interests are being served and use our power as a movement to name those interests. In these cases, CSIS, the RCMP, and the premier of Alberta are using their power to serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of everyone and their ability to participate in democracy.

What can we do? Be on guard for corporate rhetoric

We're seeing that politicians, police forces, and just about any democratic institution in Canada is susceptible to manipulation by corporate interests. The way these institutions describe Canada's current reality and the actions we must take to address our challenges matter a lot -- these are the stories of who we are as a society and who we can become. If these stories are always tainted with industry interests, the only stories available to the masses will be those that include fossil fuels, mass exploitation of Indigenous lands and resources, and continued social division, racism and xenophobia.

One example of this is former minister of natural resources Joe Oliver's accusation that the climate justice movement is full of "radical groups" that are "hijacking" our democracy to push a "radical ideological agenda." (I talk about this more in this blog.) To me, the exact opposite is true -- what could be more radical than a small group of super wealthy corporate elites aiming to alter the life-sustaining composition of the atmosphere so they can accumulate unimaginable wealth in the short term? 

We can challenge these stories and present more realistic and hopeful alternatives. Movements across the world have been re-storying our futures for generations, and we can't stop now. This is what we're trying to do with the Green New Deal -- we're working across movements to gather up the needs and dreams of communities across the country so we can envision and move toward a future drastically different from the corporate capture and exploitation of today. 

Another way we're trying to challenge these mainstream narratives about who is acting in the "public good" is by pushing for accountability and honesty from the RCMP. More on that here.

This blog is part two of a series looking at corporate interference in democracy and quashing of public protest. Read the first part here

Robin Tress is the climate and social justice campaigner with The Council of Canadians. This blog originally appeared on the Council's blog.

Image: Vladvictoria/Pixabay

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