Tag Archives: Activism

Defining victory in activism, from #BLMTOtentcity to the Site C hunger strike

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto "tent" city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Youtube)

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto “tent” city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Flipboard)

Often, activists are met with derisive questions from opponents as to what, exactly, they think they’re trying to accomplish by (blocking off traffic/marching and chanting/occupying space/working to rule/etc). The implication often seems to be that important decisions about the division of power and resources aren’t made in the streets, but in the halls of power, and that by taking up public space and making a ruckus, advocates are misdirecting their energy and doing nothing to forward their causes. (Often, of course, these criticisms are coupled with disdain for those very causes.)

In recent years, we’ve heard these criticisms mounted, with varying degrees of self-righteous intensity, against the massive anti-capitalist demonstrations at the Toronto G-20 in 2010, against the Occupy movement and its encampments in 2011, against the Québec student strike in 2012, against Idle No More’s road and rail barricades in 2013, and against anti-pipeline demonstrations for quite some time. We’re once again hearing this rhetoric deployed against the two most high-profile protest encampments since Occupy, the Black Lives Matter Toronto tent city (#BLMTOtentcity) at Toronto Police Services’ headquarters and the protest camp/hunger strike against Site C taking place on B.C. Hydro’s doorstep in Vancouver.

To listen to the contemporary critics of each of these movements, all were wastes of time, orchestrated by “professional activists” and attended by the ignorant unemployed, employing needlessly confrontational and counter-productive tactics which would ultimately prove self-defeating.

But the simple truth is that each of these movements did have accomplishments. Some were more successful than others, to be sure, but each of them was able to boast some major achievements.

That being said, not all are remembered as successes. Continue Reading

Taking “no” for an answer on pipelines

Image description: A banner reading "IDLE NO MORE - Unity - Sovereignty - Coast to coast to coast - Nipissing First Nation - UOI - WBAFN - NFN". The banner also features a closed fist clutching a large feather. In the background are dozens of people dressed for rainy cool weather. (Image credit: Michelle Caron/Wikipedia)

Image description: A banner reading “IDLE NO MORE – Unity – Sovereignty – Coast to coast to coast – Nipissing First Nation – UOI – WBAFN – NFN”. The banner also features a closed fist clutching a large feather. In the background are dozens of people dressed for rainy cool weather. (Image credit: Michelle Caron/Wikipedia)

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said something in reaction to the Trudeau government’s new pipeline review policy in late January that has rattled around in my head ever since. “What needs to be demonstrated,” Phillip said, in registering his disappointment with the policy, “is the federal government’s willingness to take no for an answer from First Nations…who are exercising their sovereign decision-making power.”

In many ways, this is the crux of the pipeline debate – at the intersection between Indigenous rights and energy policy, where we need to decide whether our stated principles or our obligations to corporate shareholders should take precedence. It’s vital to be mindful of the fact that the struggle against pipelines, as pivotal and momentous as it is for the climate justice movement, is also the latest front in a centuries-old Aboriginal struggle for the right to say “no” to settlers who want to exploit and despoil their land.

And let’s be clear – by and large, First Nations are saying “no” to pipelines, and they’re saying it firmly and unequivocally. Right across the country, Indigenous folks, both from the grassroots and from the leadership, are speaking out in the strongest possible terms against major proposed projects like Energy East, Northern Gateway, and Trans Mountain.

As these proposals reach their culmination, it’s becoming critical that the Canadian government affirms the right of First Nations to, as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples puts it, “free, prior, and informed consent” – or, in Phillip’s formulation, their right to say no and have that be the final word on the subject. Continue Reading

One First Nation’s endorsement of Energy East highlights issues with pipeline consultation

Image: a large silvery pipeline curves off into the distance under a blue sky. (Image credit: TransCanada/I don't have any right to use this but whatevs)

Image: a large silvery pipeline extends off into the distance under a blue sky. (Image credit: TransCanada/I don’t have any right to use this but whatevs)

“First Nations and Métis partnership is at the very heart of the Northern Gateway Project,” claims energy giant Enbridge on their website promoting the pipeline project.

In extolling the benefits of the Energy East pipeline, TransCanada boasts that “Fostering strong, long-term relationships with Aboriginal communities is, and will continue to be, an integral part of everything we do here at TransCanada…In fact, many Chiefs have already expressed their appreciation for our engagement process.”

Kinder Morgan, touting the 22 “long-term mutual support and benefit agreements” they’ve signed with First Nations along the route of Trans Mountain, promises to “continue to work with Aboriginal communities along the pipeline to build mutual benefit agreements with all communities along the proposed pipeline corridor.”

These proclamations of mutually beneficial relations with First Nations and of the support of Aboriginal communities for the pipeline process are in many ways fantasies. Each of these projects faces widespread opposition from Indigenous peoples, both at the grassroots level and among many provincial and national leaders. This opposition has in many cases escalated to the extent of constructing blockades and protest camps to prevent pipeline construction. The consultation process of which these titans of industry are so proud has been widely condemned by First Nations across the country, with Aboriginal elders in Manitoba refusing to participate in NEB consultations over Enbridge’s Line 3 due to the absurd restrictions imposed on the process.

To claim that the support of First Nations is “integral” to these companies’ success is therefore somewhat ridiculous on its face, as evidence of this support is in short supply. And yet, in another sense, these claims are absolutely true. These pipeline companies know that without at least the appearance of First Nations support, their chances of ever constructing these behemoth tar-sands tubes are slim. And so they quite reasonably do everything they can to play up the support they have received from some First Nations communities.

But even that support isn’t as simple as it may seem at first glance. Continue Reading

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: Continue Reading

100 days of (mostly cosmetic) Real Change™

Image description: Justin Trudeau stares intently into the camera, smiling slightly. In the top left is the Liberal Party logo. At the bottom, in white letters over a red background, it says: “I’m voting for real change”. The word “real”, unlike the other words, is in a hand-printed-esque font. (Image credit: Justin Trudeau/Twitter)

Though it’s hard to believe, it’s now been one hundred days since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office. The hundred-day mark has held symbolic significance ever since U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s first term in office, in which he made a big show out of accomplishing certain campaign promises in his first hundred days.

Since then, the milestone has become an inflection point for new administrations, after which they cease to be new and begin to be judged in earnest on what they have done rather than what they have promised to do. When looking back on the first few months of a new government, one is often able to clearly see the priorities, methods, and style which will come to characterize its entire term in office. (One hundred days is, after all, not a trivial length of time, amounting to around 7% of the government’s term.)

So what can we discern about the Justin Trudeau government, looking back at the events which have transpired since that sunny November day on which he and his cabinet were sworn in with much pomp and celebration? The answer necessarily varies by issue, but one general trend is abundantly clear: in its first hundred days, the Trudeau government has demonstrated a commitment to changing the tone and style of politics in Ottawa, but that change has, with only a few exceptions, not been matched by a corresponding shift in the substance of the government’s policies on most major issues.  Continue Reading

Reforms of the pipeline review process have literally satisfied nobody

Image description: A banner reading "NO PIPELINES" is suspended from pine trees in a forested area. (Image credit: YouTube/Kahsatstenhsera)

Image description: A banner reading “NO PIPELINES” is suspended from pine trees in a forested area. (Image credit: YouTube/Kahsatstenhsera)

The Liberal government’s release of new guidelines for the pipeline review process a few weeks ago was meant to end furious feuding over the future of Canada’s oil and gas sector. The National Energy Board (NEB) reforms came hot on the heels of a nasty debate over Energy East, as the rejection of the pipeline by Montreal-area mayors was absurdly spun as a threat to national unity. The reforms were also delivered in the context of continual pressure on the new government by activists frustrated with Trudeau & Co’s delays in following through on campaign promises to fix what was widely viewed as a broken process.

The reforms, announced at a joint press conference by Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, aimed to “rebuild Canadians’ trust in our environmental assessment processes” and to “take into account the views and concerns of Canadians, respect the rights and interests of indigenous peoples and support our natural resources sector.”

But if the government expected their announced reforms to actually create trust in the NEB process or to do anything to cool down the overheated pipeline debate, they must be sorely disappointed. Two weeks later, it’s now clear that their proposed reforms have satisfied literally nobody, and the squabbling over pipeline proposals looks set to carry on indefinitely.

Just look at the wave of opposition to various proposed pipelines that’s arisen in the days since the government tried to calm everybody down with their (hastily-thrown-together?) reform package:  Continue Reading

Why 2016 will be a year of victories for the pipeline resistance movement

Image description: Three pipeline resisters are chained to a valve behind a chain-link fence, which bears a sign reading “NOTICE: NO TRESPASSING”. These three brave folks had their first trial session in Sarnia today in relation to the incident in question. (Image credit: The Indignants/Facebook)

Pipelines are having a moment right now.

Even in the darkest depths of the Harper years, I can’t recall a time when tar sands bitumen transportation infrastructure was such a hot-button headline issue. And not in an isolated one-off kind of way, either – barely a day goes by without some prominent national figure making some newsworthy statement about pipelines.

I mean, it’s only Tuesday, and here’s just some of the big news in pipelines so far this week: Continue Reading

The Liberals’ attitude toward the TPP is actually not completely discouraging

Image description: a massively muscled cartoon of the Incredible Hulk, with the captions "Stop TPP" and "NAFTA on Steroids" (Image credit: Phil Ebersole)

Image description: a massively muscled (like, more than usual) cartoon of the Incredible Hulk, with the captions “Stop TPP” and “NAFTA on Steroids” (Image credit: Phil Ebersole)

As you may have heard by now, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland announced today that Canada will be signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership at a formal signing ceremony in Auckland, New Zealand, in early February.

Freeland hastened to add that signing the deal and ratifying it are two different things entirely, and that on the subject of ratification, the Liberals are still far from making up their minds. In all of her rhetoric, she leans ever-so-slightly in favour of ratifying the deal (“Just as it is too soon to endorse the TPP, it is also too soon to close the door…It is clear that many feel the TPP presents significant opportunities, while others have concerns…”), but is careful to always include the contrary viewpoint as a hedge. Her careful phrasing is a massive departure from the pro-anything-trade-related effusion which typified Stephen Harper and his lapdog cabinet (there’s that famous difference in tone yet again).

Some observers are skeptical of this prevarication and feel certain that, after the whole elaborate public-consultation listening tour show is over, the beholden-to-Bay-Street Liberals will use their substantial majority in the House of Commons to push the deal through.

Initially, I have to confess, that was my suspicion. However, the Libs seem more wobbly on this with each passing month. Back in November, I pointed to incoming Agriculture Minister and Liberal good ol’ boy Lawrence MacAulay’s declaration of support for the TPP as a major indicator of which way the party was leaning. However, parsing Freeland’s carefully equivocal statements over the past several weeks has led me to conclude that she’s either got an extremely strong poker face or she is legitimately uncommitted to passing this deal. Continue Reading

Site C land defenders face injunction in battle to stop dangerous dam project

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” written in a read circle with a line through it) is attached to a birch tree on an embankment overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

For the past several weeks, a group of land defenders has been occupying territory in the Peace River Valley on which the government of British Columbia intends to build a massive hydroelectric dam, known as Site C.

Though their presence has been an impediment to work essential to the dam’s construction, the protesters were, up until recently, begrudgingly tolerated by the authorities.

However, on January 20, despite B.C. Hydro’s statements that they were trying to negotiate a peaceful and mutually agreeable resolution to the occupation, the utility went to court to seek an injunction that would require the land defenders to immediately vacate their encampment or else face steep punitive damages.

As these land defenders await the next phase of their struggle to block this dam’s construction, it’s worth looking back on why they’re there and what this fight is about. 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

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