The Globe and Mail gets it exactly right in an editorial published a couple of days ago: “You can forgive Canadians,” the Good Grey Globe says “for being confused … [because] … it has become the practice in this country to tread lightly when dealing with protests involving Indigenous people, even when the rule of law offers a quick remedy for illegal blockades. Handled properly, this can be a good thing.” But, the editorial says that Canadian governments talk out of two sides of their mouths: they are firm about the “rule of law” when they discuss e.g. the Meng case, but police are allowed (even encouraged?) to “decline” to enforce court orders when it might upset some groups.
The editorial sums up the situation regarding the Coastal GasLink pipeline:
- “The $6.6-billion natural-gas pipeline has received all the necessary regulatory approvals, and the company behind it has met its obligations to consult with Indigenous communities along the project’s path“;
- “Of the elected band councils affected by the pipeline, 20 out of 20 support it. Their members will benefit from much-needed construction jobs and from hundreds of millions of dollars in payments made over the project’s life. The pipeline will also boost the province’s economy“; and
- “At the same time, a group of hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en Nation is adamantly opposed to the project, and has been organizing blockades and protests for more than a year. In December, the Supreme Court of B.C. granted an injunction against those blockades, leading to the RCMP’s actions this month.“
Then they editorialists get to the immediate problem:
- “The hereditary chiefs’ position has to be respectfully heard, and there is no question that land claims in B.C. are a complex and sensitive issue. But a minority voice can’t be allowed to unilaterally declare that it is the only true voice, or use blockades to prevent a company from going about its lawful business“;
- “Nor can the B.C. government or the courts allow protesters to sabotage a project supported by both a majority of the Indigenous population directly affected by it and the population at large, and which has met all the legal requirements to proceed. Removing the Wet’suwet’en blockade on the Morice River Bridge was the right thing to do“;
- “But given that logic, it has been a bit confusing this week to watch police in Ontario decline to enforce an injunction against week-long Indigenous protests that have come close to shutting down commercial and passenger rail traffic across the continent“; and
- “Those protests are in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Canadian National Railway has obtained court injunctions against blockades in B.C. and in Ontario, but so far police in Ontario have tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution, rather than rushing in and making arrests.“
I think that the hereditary chiefs’ position has been respectfully heard. I also think it is totally irrelevant because they are hereditary chiefs, ceremonial figureheads, rather like Queen Elizabeth or Governor General Julie Payette ~ estimable people, to be sure, but politically irrelevant when the elected councils have spoken. They have been heard and now they MUST be ignored.
It’s more than just confusing to watch police “decline to enforce an injunction,” it makes many people wonder why we even bother to have courts and laws and police forces if a bunch of irrelevant, self-appointed figureheads can flout the will of the elected leaders of First Nations and of Canada and the police stand idly by. It looks to be damned thuggery by uninformed people and we, Canadians, are afraid to offend them?
The police should have tried “to negotiate a peaceful resolution,” that’s an important part of their job. But when, by last Monday or Tuesday in my estimation, it was abundantly clear that the thugs were not going to budge then it was time to go in, in full force, and make arrests … using the minimum levels of lawful force necessary but not being shy about it.
The editorial concludes by saying that:
- “It is critical to the economy, and to people whose jobs are in jeopardy, that railway service return to normal. It is also essential to society’s sense of legality. Patience is a virtue but, at some point, it becomes incumbent on the police to remove protesters who defy the courts“;
- “It is worth remembering that the right to protest is part of the right to free speech and peaceful assembly. You can make your voice heard in a public place, but there’s no constitutional right to physically block or occupy anything“; and
- “Given the fraught history of their relations with Indigenous people, the police in Ontario have been wise to tolerate illegal blockades while trying to negotiate a resolution, or waiting for the protests to peter out on their own … [but] … at the end of the day, the rule of law must be enforced.“
That’s exactly right. And the “end of the day” came on Tuesday, in my opinion, yet Wednesday night a crowd (mainly university students, I think) was dancing in the streets in Ottawa, illegally blocking traffic in support of the irrelevant claims of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. They were having fun, they were polite and dispersed fairly quickly … but they were also breaking the law.
BC Premier John Horgan is quoted as saying, on Power and Politics, that ““I do not want to live in a society where politicians tell police to go move people along because it’s convenient to them.”” I’ve got a message for him: no one’s “convenience” is at issue. The law is at issue. The law is being broken and YOU, premier, and Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau are responsible for upholding the law. Judges must not have to go out with their own armed police and enforce their own orders; that’s your job. You, Premier Horgan, and you, Premier Ford, and you Mayor Jim Watson, and above all you Prime Ministre Trudeau …
… are not doing your jobs. You are derelict in your duties. I say that Prime Minister Trudeau is to blame above all because he set a tone in this country that is all wrong. he told Canadians that First Nations must be treated with kid gloves, and now we believe that ever extends to allowing them to break the law with impunity, and he said that climate change is the one big issue of our time, and now young people believe that they, too, may break the law when they are advocating for the climate. There is no such thing as a “social license” in law. There is the law and then there is acting outside the law.
I am not, even for one μsecond, underestimating the complexity of First Nations‘ land claims nor the unfair treatment that First Nations have endured for decades, even centuries, nor the dangers that confrontations might bring, including the risk of armed violence. But the law of the land must apply to all, equally, or it is meaningless. The police, I have been told, are afraid that if they act properly to enforce legal injunctions they will be sold out by their political masters when, inevitably, something goes wrong. They are also afraid that violence will spread because some First Nations radicals are convinced that only violence will get the attention of governments.
There are risks and costs to living by the rule of law, we must all be prepared to take some risks and pay some costs. That’s what liberal democracies are all about.