I want to start by turning myself in to Jason Kenney’s investigators.
I admit to being against further oilsands development, making me a person of interest to the sleuths in Kenney’s $30-million “war room” who are tasked with vilifying oilsands critics. Of course, they’re really hoping to unmask “foreign-funded special interests,” and I don’t have a single dollar of foreign backing. Still I do what I can!
The war room is just one of the Alberta premier’s bullying tactics, along with threatening Western separation, as he tries to intimidate critics and pressure the Trudeau government into approving the proposed Teck mine, a vast 293-square-kilometre open pit mine, which would be the biggest tarsands mine yet.
Given that such an approval would hopelessly compromise any Canadian effort to battle climate change — which, let’s not forget, threatens the world including us here in Canada — the answer must clearly be no. In the election last fall, two-thirds of the country voted for parties that advocated strong action on climate change.
The fact that this is seen as a difficult decision reveals the Trudeau government’s keenness to be accommodating when dealing with opposition, which is coming from the right and backed by powerful business interests.
Meanwhile, there’s a willingness to play hardball when opposition is coming from Indigenous people and powerful business interests are against them.
These hardball tactics have been on display in northwestern B.C. in recent weeks as Wet’suwet’en Indigenous protesters, trying to block a pipeline from crossing their land, have been confronted with highly militarized RCMP officers dressed in combat fatigues, bearing assault rifles and police dogs.
Chainsawing though a gate marked “Reconciliation,” the RCMP have forcibly removed the occupiers — that is, people occupying their own land — amid prayers for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, sparking nationwide protests. Most of the media attention has focused on how disruptive the protests have been to southern train travel.
But the hardball tactics are alarming. The RCMP were prepared to shoot the Indigenous protesters, according to a report last December in The Guardian. Documents cited in the article show that RCMP commanders argued that “lethal overwatch is req’d” — a term for deploying an officer able to use lethal force.
What makes the strong-armed clampdown so outrageous is that the natural gas pipeline, approved by the B.C. government and enforced by a court injunction, is to be built across land that has never been ceded. A 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled the title was held by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
Canada’s Indigenous people have long been on the receiving end of strong-arm police tactics ordered by federal and provincial governments, particularly when they stood in the way of colonial settlement or resource extraction. From the late 1800s, Indigenous people were forcibly relocated to reserves, with their children sent to now-notorious residential schools.
In recent years, Canada has extended the national security apparatus to prevent protesters — often Indigenous people protecting their lands — from interfering with oil and gas developments.
Casting such protesters as terrorists, Stephen Harper’s government — with qualified support from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — passed the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act, which authorized police surveillance and arrest powers against those interfering with “critical infrastructure.”
And so it is that oil and gas infrastructure are given the full protection of the state, even as these projects and their corporate backers further cement our reliance on fossil fuels, thereby imperiling all of our futures.
On the other hand, Indigenous people, trying to protect land over which they hold legal title according to Canada’s Supreme Court, are treated as criminals and terrorists, rounded up and arrested, even as they are doing us all the immense favour of slowing down or stopping yet more climate-endangering projects.
Meanwhile, Kenney is trying to position Alberta’s oil interests as the real victim in all this. In a bizarre twist, he denounced the nationwide protests supporting the Wet’suwet’en as “eco-colonialsm coming from people in urban southern Canada” — presumably the next best thing to “foreign-funded special interests.”
Certainly, if Kenney’s war room manages to find a protester with an American dollar in her pocket, we’ll never hear the end of it.
Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author of The Sport & Prey of Capitalists, which explores the different energy policies of Alberta and Norway. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.
Image: Unist’ot’en Camp/Twitter
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