After protest camp removed, what’s next for Site C resisters?

Image: A sign reading "Keep the Peace" with the words "Site C Dam" in a circle with a line through it is staked into the ground overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

Image: A sign reading “Keep the Peace” with the words “Site C Dam” in a circle with a line through it is staked into the ground overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

A 62-day protest encampment on land set to be flooded by the contentious Site C Dam project in northern British Columbia came to an end earlier this week, after a judge awarded B.C. Hydro an injunction ordering the removal of protesters.

Now, opponents of the massive hydroelectric project are wondering what comes next.

The project is, of course, shrouded in all kinds of controversy. It’s being pushed ahead despite at least three ongoing court cases challenging its legality on various grounds, concerns about the propriety and legality of permits issued by the Harper government in the dying weeks of the election campaign, alarm over the massive costs the project will impose on B.C. taxpayers, and mounting questions about the bidding process for construction and the possibility that temporary foreign workers could push out unionized labour, to name just some major issues. (See here for a more comprehensive summary.)

The project faces intense criticism from First Nations, environmentalists, local farmers and landowners, Amnesty Internationalfood sovereignty advocates, federal and provincial politicians, and even this guy:

The author of a report the B.C. government used as a green light to proceed with the $8.8-billion Site C dam says there are better alternatives, but his review panel was not permitted to look at other solutions to future demand for more electricity.

In fact, Harry Swain, an associate fellow at the University of Victoria, whose May, 2014, report on the dam was viewed as a “mostly positive” study that justified the government’s decision to proceed, says British Columbia could meet its future energy needs at a lower cost with the stroke of a pen by taking back the power available under the Columbia River Treaty.

All of these voices are dismissed as the “Forces of No” by B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who has vowed to push Site C “past the point of no return” before next year’s provincial election, which her government is likely to lose to the opposition NDP, which has threatened to cancel the project. The B.C. government moved quickly to issue permits for flooding roughly 10 000 ha of Crown land in the Peace River Valley the very same day the protest encampment was ordered to leave.

Appeals to the federal government to live up to their lofty rhetoric on fostering a respectful nation-to-nation relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples have been met with non-committal non-replies.

When faced with eminently reasonable requests from the project’s opponents, the state responded only with intransigence, bullying language, and bullheaded determination to proceed regardless of the consequences. Look at how modest the land defenders’ demands were:

“As Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land, we have been camped out at Rocky Mountain Fort for many days in accordance with our belief that the Site C dam project represents a direct, and unnecessary threat to the traditional lands of Treaty 8 peoples,” said Yvonne Tupper. “We call on Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Christy Clark to work with us to ensure that these lands are protected by temporarily suspending approvals to log forests, build roads, and clear further lands in preparation for dam construction.”

The three-point plan calls for:

  • A temporary suspension of all construction and land-clearing operations related to the Site C dam project until court challenges initiated by First Nations and local landowners who are opposed to the project are finally determined.
  • The federal government to temporarily suspend all federal Site C dam project approvals and the issuance of any future permits pending an expedited, open and transparent federal review of the infringement of Constitutionally protected Treaty 8 rights by the Site C dam.
  • The provincial government to temporarily suspend all construction work at the Site C dam site pending an independent review by the BC Utilities Commission of the Site C dam project, with full procedural safeguards, as recommended by the federal/provincial Joint Review Panel and many others.

They were literally just asking for the regular legal review and consultation processes to be observed. The fact that this basic demand cannot or will not be met by the provincial and federal governments is an indication that this project would likely be unable to proceed if it were subject to a proper review.

Given the Trudeau Liberals’ reluctance to intervene (which effectively places them in the pro-Site C camp), the furtive eagerness of the Clark Liberals to push the project forward as rapidly as possible despite overwhelming opposition, and the justice system’s unsympathetic response to many of the legal challenges that have been brought against the project, it seems that the only reasonable way forward for the project’s opponents is to engage in further disruptive actions which will delay the project’s construction and avoid crossing Clark’s “point of no return” threshold.

By refusing at every step to follow the legal processes that the B.C. government had previously laid out for projects of this nature, Premier Clark has essentially made disruptive civil disobedience the only method for opponents of Site C to make themselves heard.

The Peace Valley encampment was a brilliant example of this style of protest, and resulted in some major delays. Its participants were demure when asked by the media if they had any plans for future protest, but it was clear that they have an appetite for further action:

“It was a tough decision I think for many people to back down here . . . and abide by the injunction,” Peace Valley Landowner Association President Ken Boon told the Alaska Highway News.

“I know there were people, myself included, who considered drawing the line here and, you know, obviously ultimately getting arrested and probably being charged with contempt.”[…]

Although reluctant to share details of the dam opponents’ next plan, [Fort St. John businessman and camp resident Bob Fedderly] indicated there’s something in the works.

“I think everyone has an idea of what’s going to happen,” he said, adding “it’ll take some decisions by the group where things are going to take place.”

Here’s hoping that they and their allies continue to find creative ways to confront and delay this disastrous dam. Solidarity with Peace River Valley land defenders!

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