Ellis Ross is a British Columbia Liberal MLA. He was an elected councillor and, later, chief councillor of the Haisla Nation in the Kitimat region of Northwestern BC. He says, in an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun, that he “grew up experiencing dismal employment prospects, children being raised in poverty, tragic suicides, and horrific rates of Aboriginal youth ending up in the prison system.” He worries, and I agree fully, that “The heated debate over who holds authority over the territory of First Nations — be it hereditary chiefs or elected band leaders — may serve the interests of those seeking to disrupt construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, but it does absolutely nothing for the well-being of an average Aboriginal living on reserve.“
That, I think is a key question with which politicians and judges must grapple: whose interests are being served?
Mr Ross says that ” We’ve always had to cope with outsiders and so-called experts telling us who best represents First Nations, or what we should do within our own territory. Yet none of these people have ever lived on reserve or spent any significant time with the people who actually live there.”
I firmly believe that what is happening, across Canada, right now, is that an inchoate band of “outsiders and so-called experts,” emboldened by the likes of Greta Thunberg and Justin Trudeau, and funded by shadowy foreign (US) foundations, are using the concerns of some First Nations to advance an agenda that aims to deprive Canada of much of its wealth and deprive the world of energy that is produced in a liberal democracy, rather than by cruel, medieval despots.
But they, the protesters, Justi Trudeau and Greta Thunberg, do not speak for the people of the First Nations. Ellis Ross says that “The only people who have a right to decide who represents them are the band members themselves … [and, he adds] … The fact is all 20 First Nations whose territory runs along the pathway of the Coastal GasLink pipeline — including the Wet’suwet’en — have each signed agreements with the company. Professional protesters and well-funded NGOs have merely seized the opportunity to divide our communities for their own gains, and ultimately will leave us penniless when they suddenly leave.“
He goes on to discuss First Nations governance and concludes that “Simplistic solutions to complex problems have always been a problem for band councils trying to make life better for their own … [but] … Allowing outsiders to undermine and dismiss years of careful consideration and consultation with elected chiefs who want nothing more than to secure a brighter future for their membership, is quite unacceptable.” I think the key here is the word “elected.”
It seems to me, and I’m always happy to be corrected by those who know better, that the protesters, at e.g. the BC Legislature and at railway crossings in Ontario are supporting some (not all) of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who, for their own reasons, oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline but they ignore the fact that the elected leaders of that same Nation have decided in favour of the project. It’s rather like people coming out to protest against Justin Trudeau and suggesting that Queen Elizabeth or Julie Payette should fire him. I want Just Trudeau to be dismissed from office but our hereditary monarch can, no longer, thankfully, do that, nor can her appointed representative … only the people of Canada can fire the prime minister or any elected person. For good or ill a plurality of us elected Liberals in a plurality of ridings and Justin Trudeau gets to lead the government until we toss him out, in the next election. Until then he gets to decide what we need and want. It is the same for First Nations. Their elected leaders have spoken. A solid majority want pipelines, Coastal GasLink and the TransMountain Expansion, to go through because they believe that i]both projects promise a better future for the people they represent. If the people don’t agree then at the next election they can throw the rascals out. That’s how democracy works.
Canadian judges seem to get that. They seem to understand that the pipeline companies have consulted with First Nations and have jumped through all the regulatory hoops and are entitled to get on with their work. Some people disagree and are trying to stop that work. Judges have issued injunctions telling those people to stand aside. Many are refusing. The police seem, to me, to be paralyzed with fear. Part of that fear is understandable: they don’t want to make things worse; they are persuaded that what is, now, a non-violent demonstration might become violent if arrests are made … and so they might. (Edited to add: and please see Nicholas’ very sensible comment, to my earlier post on this same subject.)
What we are seeing is civil disobedience. It has a long and proud history in the West. One of the keys to effective civil disobedience is that those committing the acts know that they are breaking the law and are prepared to face the consequences. That’s what makes it effective. Well, it is time for the consequences to manifest themselves.
It is time, right now, today, for the police, across Canada to make mass arrests, to clear blockades, to allow people to go about their lawful business, to repair bridges, to enter legislatures, to move goods by rail, and to build pipelines, too. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Canadians need to be arrested, using only the minimum force necessary, of course, and detained until judges, whose injunctions have been ignored, decide what to do with them.
I hope that judges will impose exemplary punishments, perhaps short (30, 60, 90 day) jail terms, on many … it may, hopefully, will be necessary to turn military bases like Wainwright, AB and Shilo, MB, into makeshift, temporary prison camps.
What I believe needs to happen, very soon, is for the rule of law to apply, again, to all Canadians. The elected leaders of most First nations that are involved have spoken in favour of building pipelines. This has infuriated the
lunatic extreme fringe of the large environmental movement. But they are getting it all wrong. They are thwarting the democratic will of the First Nations peoples, not supporting them. They are doing the bidding of big, American money. It’s sad and it needs to stop, now, or it needs to be stopped, now, by force of law, before our fundamental values as a liberal democracy are trampled by US interests.