Monthly Archives: January, 2016

Throwback Thursday: NEB reforms must address colonialism, racism

Image: A group of protesters holding signs reading “Stop NEB Fraud” and “Stop Kinder Morgan”.

In recent days, the once-obscure National Energy Board (NEB) has been all over the news.

The NEB, an arms-length board of government appointees tasked with reviewing proposed energy infrastructure projects, is of course no stranger to controversy. During the Harper years, it was the frequent target of pipeline resisters, who charge that the Board is an entirely captured regulator, firmly in the pocket of the major energy companies. Another common complaint levelled against the NEB is that it lacks the mandate to consider downstream environmental and climate change impacts of the projects it reviews.

Justin Trudeau came into office pledging new rules for the NEB, but as more details emerge about his plan, it’s become clear that these “new rules” aren’t going to apply to the major ongoing reviews of Energy East, Northern Gateway, TransMountain, and others.

In response to this, activists have been taking action to draw renewed attention to the massive shortcomings with both the composition of the NEB and the process it uses to review (and rubber-stamp) pipelines.

A group of cleverly disguised protesters served National Resources Minister Jim Carr with a “People’s Search Warrant” this past week, demanding to see the details of these new rules and to know exactly how and when they will be implemented.

Climate activists in Vancouver locked themselves to the door of the NEB’s local office, calling for a suspension of upcoming hearings into TransMountain until new rules can be put into place.

And a group of activists arrested after boarding a Kinder Morgan barge said that Trudeau is breaking his election promises by allowing the NEB hearings to proceed without modification.

There’s widespread sentiment that a new process is needed, and it’s vital that it take climate change impacts into consideration as well as diminish the influence of the energy industry over the hearings. But one factor which must also be incorporated into any reforms of the NEB, and one which is much less widely discussed, is the way the NEB treats First Nations.

In this article, first published last fall, I look at the bureaucratized racism inherent in the NEB’s approach to consultation with First Nations, and examine the question of whether the Board even has the legal ability, from a Constitutional point of view, to conduct these consultations to begin with.

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Wednesday Links Roundup 01/20/16

Readers – this is the first in what a weekly series of links to some of the week’s most important and most overlooked news.

I’d like to especially focus on stories that are ongoing and/or part of a bigger-picture trend. As it’s a weekly thing, I won’t be including some headline-grabbing stories, though others may get covered.

If you come across any stories you think ought to be included in this roundup over the course of the next week, please send them my way by email (matt@thealfalfafield.com), on Twitter (@thealfalfafield), or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thalfalfafield). Also if yer not following me on Twitter and/or Facebook yet, get on that!

Let’s kick things off with some tunes:

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Alberta introduces landmark policy on LGBTQ+ rights in schools; bigots everywhere outraged

Image: a rainbow flag with a Government of Alberta logo beneath it. Above is the caption “Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions”.

CONTENT WARNING: Transphobia, homophobia, discussion of suicide and suicidal thoughts

In a major victory for LGBTQ+ rights advocates, the Alberta Department of Education announced new guidelines on dealing with sexuality and gender in schools last week. The landmark new policy is the most comprehensive in Canada and sets a high standard for other provinces to follow.

Alberta’s new approach is especially pioneering on gender issues, as the Edmonton Journal details:

The new government guidelines say policies and regulations must “explicitly” protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer, questioning and/or gender-diverse students, teachers and family members. The document says all students have the right to be addressed by their chosen name and with pronouns that match their gender identity.

School dress codes should be revisited to ensure they don’t imply skirts can be worn only by females. Gender-segregated activities, including sports teams, should ensure students who are gender-diverse have the right to participate in activities congruent with their gender identity. Students should also be able to choose which washroom to use.

(If you’re interested, you can read all 12 of the guidelines in PDF form here.)

Though the policy released by the Alberta Department of Education is only a guideline, Education Minister David Eggen heavily insinuated that school boards which completely refuse to cooperate could find themselves in hot water: Continue Reading

ICYMI – B.C. Supreme Court ruling against Northern Gateway a huge win for First Nations and pipeline resisters

Image description: An illustrated pipeline drawn to resemble a snake slithers across a map of Alberta and British Columbia along the route of Northern Gateway, with its tail in an oil-splattered factory and its head on the Pacific Coast. Oil drips off the snake. Written across its body are the words “Enbridge: Dirty Oil Burned the Last Bridge”. Above and below in red are flaming letters reading “NO PIPELINE” (Image credit: vanessasong/UBC)

2016 is shaping up to be a year of major victories for pipeline resisters across (so-called) Canada. And once again, the latest major victory was made possible through the leadership of First Nations directly impacted by untrammelled resource extraction.

In a serious blow to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled last week that the (so-called) province of B.C. abdicated its duty to consult First Nations when it signed an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government in 2010 which gave the National Energy Board (NEB) “equivalent” status and the authority to conduct these consultations on the province’s behalf.

Analysts suggest that British Columbia is unlikely to appeal the ruling, given that the Supreme Court confirmed the existence of powers they most likely do not want to surrender.

And as for the implications for Northern Gateway…well, I’ll let the litigants brag for themselves: Continue Reading

Liberals elaborate on their plans for C-51, and they’re not encouraging at all

Image: A hand holds a cardboard sign reading “C-51 IS TERRORISM – REJECT FEAR”

The shape of Liberal reform of C-51 is becoming increasingly clear, and as I predicted, it doesn’t meaningfully address the most important issues with the law. There are, however, the slightest glimmers of hope for anti-C-51 advocates – which I’ll get to after the doom and gloom, so as to leave you with at least a bit of optimism.

But first, the bad news.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, in his interview last week with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton (who, by the way, is to be congratulated for her appointment as permanent host of CBC’s Power and Politics after doing a fantastic job during last year’s election), gave some indication of what the Liberal approach to C-51 will be:

Goodale is travelling to London next week for meetings on counter-terrorism, violent extremism and cybersecurity. He will also be gathering information about United Kingdom’s Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament as he prepares to adopt a similar model for Canadian parliamentarians…

The Security Intelligence Review Committee, a civilian oversight body, will remain with an enhanced mandate.

Goodale said the government is committed to repealing key elements of the anti-terrorism legislation known as Bill C-51, including protecting civil protests and better defining “propaganda” and the expanded no-fly list. [my bold]

So, to recap: a parliamentary committee to oversee surveillance agencies, a beefing-up of SIRC, the protection of “civil” protests, and better definitions and parameters for “propaganda” and the no-fly list. Goodale also made clear that the Liberals would make good on a specific pledge to ensure that the law-breaking “disruption” that security agencies are allowed to engage in under C-51 would not include actions which violate people’s Charter rights.

That’s broadly in line with what I was predicting months ago, especially the tightly limited action on police/surveillance agency “disruption”, better known as legalized law-breaking.

But as more details emerge about the new oversight committee which is the centrepiece of the Liberals’s “reformist” agenda on C-51, I’m getting increasingly dour about the whole thing.  Continue Reading

String of prisoner strikes highlights atrocious state of jails in Canada

Image: a view of the front entrance of the Toronto South Detention Centre, a tall building with glass-panelled walls.

A hunger strike at a Regina jail last week was just the latest in a series of high-profile protests by prisoners over the past six months, and underscored the crisis facing the Canadian prison system as it struggles to deal with the legacy of the Harper-era tough-on-crime agenda.

Back in late 2010, when Stephen Harper laid out his new prison-building tough-on-crime agenda, critics were quick to point out a lot of flaws in his plan.

They questioned the necessity of building new prisons at a time when crime rates were at an all-time national low. They questioned the wisdom of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, a practice that many charge creates far more problems than it solves. They questioned the massive $2-billion price tag attached to the prison expansions and sentencing changes. They questioned the unnecessarily harsh and punitive approach taken by the Harper government, which overlooked research into proven successful measures like poverty reduction and increased support for people with mental illnesses.

Those questions – including ones raised by senior researchers in the Justice Department – ultimately went unanswered as an omnibus crime bill was pushed through Parliament in early 2012.

By the next year, prisoners across Canada were going on strike, as this VICE investigative report details: Continue Reading

What was CSIS’s role in radicalizing two B.C. bombers? We’ll soon find out

Image: an undated low-resolution surveillance photo of John Nuttall in the passenger seat of a car, with his common-law wife Amanda Korody in the back seat behind him. (Image credit: RCMP)

B.C. Superior Court Justice Catherine Bruce’s release of a heavily redacted transcript of last week’s secret in camera session in the ongoing trial of convicted terrorists John Nuttall and Amanda Korody didn’t shed a lot of light on what went on behind those closed doors. But it did clarify a few points which have up until now been obscure.

And with Bruce’s subsequent decision that CSIS be compelled to turn over any records they have relating to an alleged source of theirs means that we may soon know quite a bit more.

The transcript’s release came after a legal challenge was mounted by a coalition of media organizations, which I wrote about last week. (You can view the transcript online; here is the opening portion of the hearing, and here is the (much lengthier and much more heavily redacted) in-camera portion.)

We now know that the extraordinary in camera hearing, extremely unusual in the Canadian judicial system, focussed on requests from the defence for the disclosure of any records CSIS may have related to a certain [Redacted] X. Continue Reading

With provincial election looming, did B.C. Liberals announce opposition to TransMountain due to public opposition?

In exciting news out of British Columbia yesterday, the provincial government announced that it will be recommending that the National Energy Board (NEB) deny Kinder Morgan’s proposal to construct the TransMountain pipeline.

The reason for their rejection of the proposal, ostensibly, is that Kinder Morgan didn’t meet their “world-leading” safety standards – an explanation that the always-good-for-a-giggle Financial Post didn’t find entirely convincing:

Of the four major export pipeline projects proposed to open new markets for Canadian oil production, the TMX expansion should have been the easiest to pull off because it twins a pipeline that has been safely transporting oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast for 60 years.

But in its final argument to the NEB, which is in the last days of a two-year review, B.C. threw the book at the project, claiming: “the company has not provided enough information around its proposed spill prevention and response for the province to determine if it would use a world leading spills regime.”

This after a review that, according to TMX proponent Kinder Morgan, was one of the most comprehensive in the board’s history and involved the filing of a 16,000-page application, answering 17,000 questions, participation of more than 400 intervenors and of 1,250 commenters, not to mention more than $300 million in costs.

There’s more snarky disbelief further down in the article, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The thing is, I think the FP is on to something here. Because I can just as easily imagine the B.C. government using those exact same statistics to label the consultation and review process “exhaustive” and throwing their support behind the project.

This is the B.C. “Liberal” Party we’re talking about here, after all – in a province where the Conservative Party failed to capture a single seat in the last election, they are the pro-business right-of-centre option. Mining, forestry, and construction corporations have given them nearly $50 million over the last decade, and their victory in the 2013 provincial election was celebrated by the B.C. Chambers of Commerce as “good news for business owners“.

Which is to say, one can easily imagine a parallel universe in which they spun the research and the data in the other direction and supported TransMountain. So why didn’t they IRL? Continue Reading

TPP: Canadian government as corporate cheerleader in trade lawsuits

CW – meat & the meat industry.

On December 18, 2015, the day that the U.S.’s country-of-origin labelling (COOL) laws were struck down, a pair of high-profile Trudeau cabinet ministers celebrated.

“This is a real vindication of the power and significance of the WTO dispute-resolution mechanism, which has secured a real win for Canada,” said International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, while Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay proclaimed his intention to ensure that the law stayed dead: “We will be monitoring the situation to make sure there are no problems in this area.”

Freeland and MacAulay weren’t alone in celebrating COOL’s demise; The Western Producer, an agricultural-industry trade publication, crowed that “Canadian cattle and hog producers are getting their Christmas gifts early this year,” and added some effusive quotations from industry spokespeople:

“After all these years, it’s wonderful news,” said Canadian Cattlemen’s Association president Dave Solverson about repeal of labelling legislation that the CCA and others have fought since 2008.

Solverson noted the support of the federal government, past and present, in pressing the issue through the World Trade Organization. The WTO ruled in Canada’s favour four times, supporting the contention that COOL violated international trade rules. [my bold]

What was COOL, you ask? Well, it was nothing more than this: a law (and a popular one at that) which mandated that meat be sold with a label indicating what country it was grown and slaughtered in.

If that sounds like a totally reasonable regulation, you’re not alone. Pretty much the only folks who didn’t like this law were meat-producers, slaughterhouses, and meatpackers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and of course their loyal lackeys in government.

(If you’re also sick of the federal government constantly fighting on behalf of meat producers, you’ve got a friend in this grumpy vegan, but that’s another post for another day.) Continue Reading

Trudeau, Harper, Saudi Arabia, and Real Change™

Image: A big-ass tank with like eight wheels and two armed soldiers sticking out the top in a sandy-looking locale. (Image credit: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada) NOTE: this may not be the actual model of Light Artillery Vehicle GDLS is selling to Saudi Arabia with Canadian governmental mediation and approval; details are sketchy, but the Globe and Mail reports that whatever they look like, they’re gonna be deadly.

 This one is from the prosaically named Department of Plus ça change, plus c’est le meme chose. Continue Reading

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