Tag Archives: Civil disobedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proliferation of pipeline shutdowns creates challenges for Enbridge – and for protestors

Avid pipeline watchers will no doubt recall the pair of high-profile direct actions against Enbridge’s Line 9 last month.

On December 7, a pumping station near Ste-Justine-de-Newton, Quebec, was occupied and the valve allowed Line 9’s diluted bitumen to pass through was closed. The badass activists conducting the action then locked themselves to the equipment, which resulted in the pipeline’s complete shutdown for an entire day.

Then, on the 21st, a trio of rad land defenders replicated the action in Sarnia, Ontario, in the shadow of the notorious Chemical Valley. Speaking after her arrest and subsequent release, activist Vanessa Gray, a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, said, “It’s clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred.”

Aside from helping to keep the vital debate over Line 9 alive in the weeks and months after the pipeline’s reversal became official, these high-profile actions have had one major effect, the implications of which are still being sorted through: they’ve demonstrated clearly to anybody interested that pipelines like Line 9 are incredibly vulnerable and can be shut down relatively easily by anybody with some bolt cutters, some basic research skills, and a willingness to face charges. Continue Reading

Trudeau’s lacklustre approach to pipelines means direct action is (still) our best hope

Image description: A person (presumably Vanessa Gray) is led away from a pipeline shutdown action by two police officers. Caption reads: ‘”The tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred.” – Vanessa Gray, Anishnaabe’

What Mr. Harper has consistently misunderstood about what happens in the 21st century is you cannot make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. Mr. Harper continues to say oh, we can’t do anything on the environment because we’ll hurt the economy. And not only has he not helped our environment, but he’s actually slowed our economy. He cannot get our exports to market because there is no public trust anymore. People don’t trust this government to actually look out for our long-term interest. We – he hasn’t convinced communities of the rightness of his – his pipelines, of the proposals he supports. He hasn’t been working with First Nations on the kinds of partnerships that are needed if we’re going to continue to develop our natural resources. Canada will always have an element of natural resources in our economy, but the job of the Prime Minister is to get those resources to market. 

– Justin Trudeau, Maclean’s leaders’ debate, August 7 2015

Numerous times throughout this year’s election, Justin Trudeau tried to position himself as the candidate who could do what Stephen Harper, for all his efforts, never could manage to accomplish: get major tar sands pipeline construction projects approved. With a cavalier well-of-course-we’ve-gotta-exploit-the-tar-sands attitude, he insisted, again and again, that the flaw in Harper’s approach wasn’t that his government was pushing fundamentally flawed, dangerous, and ecocidal proposals, but instead was an issue of tone, of building public trust, of performing the proper consultations, of going above and beyond to assuage local safety concerns.

In some cases, that’s meant publicly opposing major proposals, like the Northern Gateway pipeline, which Trudeau’s Liberals oppose on account of its traversal of the Great Bear rainforest. But in other cases, it’s meant picking up right where Harper left off, as with Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion’s spectacularly ill-timed renewal of the Harper government’s advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline literally one day before U.S. President Barack Obama announced the project couldn’t go forward. And let’s not forget that one of Trudeau’s campaign co-chairs, Dan Gagnier, was simultaneously working as a lobbyist for TransCanada, that the Liberal Party knew about this lobbying work, and that Gagnier was advising the pipeline company on how best to lobby the new government before the election was even over.

And a lot of the time, it’s left the now-PM sounding spectacularly ill-informed to folks who are aware of the latest climate science, as when Trudeau insists that if Canada must improve our environmental reputation if we want to continue pushing tar sands projects. There exists a broad international consensus that a majority of fossil fuel reserves, including upwards of 85% of the tar sands, absolutely need to stay in the ground if the world is to avert the worst effects of runaway climate change. Continue Reading

ICYMI – badass direct action shuts down Line 9B

Although Enbridge must have known that they would face protest when they first proposed reversing their Line 9B to pump diluted bitumen from Sarnia to Montreal, there’s no way they could have anticipated the ferocity of the opposition that’s resulted.

A massive and widespread citizen campaign to stop the project sprung up across southern Ontario and Quebec, including many First Nations communities. Line 9B’s reversal has been subject to multiple disruptive direct actions interfering with the infrastructure of the line as well as the process of approval by the industry-captured National Energy Board (NEB). The project has also been subject to a massive court case brought by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nations over Enbridge’s lack of proper consultation, a case which is now making its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.

For those readers unfamiliar with the catastrophe-in-waiting that is Line 9B, here’s a summary from an older post of mine on the issue:

Line 9 is an already-existing pipeline which runs from Montreal to Sarnia, and for the past forty years or so it’s been transporting refined light crude oil westward. Enbridge, which owns the pipeline, applied to the National Energy Board for permission to reverse the pipeline’s direction, increase the volume it was allowed to transport, and switch over to transporting unrefined tar sands bitumen.

There’s a lot of issues with this plan. Bitumen has to be transported at a considerably higher pressure and temperature than light crude, and there are serious concerns about the integrity of the forty-year-old pipeline. A similar Enbridge pipeline of similar age burst near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010, spilling over three million litres of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. The fact that bitumen, unlike crude oil, sinks in fresh water made the disaster significantly worse, necessitating a complicated multi-year cleanup and causing massive damage to wildlife and the health of local residents.

That the oil spilled in a river is significant, because Line 9 crosses 36 different tributaries of Lake Ontario. A major spill of bitumen could be catastrophic for the world’s fourteenth-largest lake, which is the source of drinking water to over 9 million people in Canada and the United States.

And on top of all that, tar sands extraction is quite literally one of the most short-sided and ecocidal policies the human race could be pursuing right now. Making it easier for Enbridge to bring tar sands bitumen to international markets would be a terrible idea even if the structural integrity of Line 9 was guaranteed.

Despite this tenacious and active opposition and the weight of the arguments against the project, Enbridge was granted final approval to reverse the line a few weeks ago, and the company began pumping bitumen eastwards on December 3.

But even after the NEB’s approval and the line’s full reversal, the opposition to Enbridge’s project continues. Continue Reading

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