Carr pledged Canadian government will encourage peaceful Trans Mountain dissent, but prosecute law-breakers
A few days ago in Alberta, Jim Carr warned that law breaking protesters upset over the construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline will be met with the full force of Canadian law, perhaps enforced by the military, if necessary.
Opponents of the recently approved Kinder Morgan project, which will carry 525,000 b/d of diluted bitumen from Alberta to a terminal near Burnaby, BC immediately accused the federal minister of natural resources of copying the excessive response by authorities to the Standing Rock Sioux protest of the Dakota Access pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
The comparison is ridiculous.
Worse, it deliberately misrepresents the Canadian approach to public dissent and peaceful protest.
In fact, Carr and the Canadian government are handling Trans Mountain the way Energy Transfer Partners, Republican Gov.Jack Dalrymple, and state and local policy should have handled the Standing Rock debacle.
When the ETP security guards attacked peaceful Sioux protesters with dogs in Sept., I warned the American oil and gas industry that immediately escalating the response would create a backlash the company and its supporters would later regret.
I interviewed crisis communications experts Mark Trahant and Jen Vardeman, who described how the first order of business when confronted by Standing Rock-style is to de-escalate. Meet, talk, build relationships, negotiate, compromise – anything to avoid messy – potentially violent – public confrontations in the glare of the national TV news cameras.
Less than a month later, I noted that despite ugly clashes with heavily militarized police and the growth of a protest village to more than 4,000 people, it was still not too late for authorities to change their tactics.
Not only didn’t they modify their strategy, they doubled down on the “rule of law” approach, egged on by intemperate comments from industry lobbying associations and supportive politicians.
Now, less than three months later, Standing Rock has become a public relations nightmare for the industry. Police armed with rubber bullets and bean bag guns have shot protesters, injuring several quite severely. Water cannons have been deployed in freezing temperatures, prompting condemnation from the ACLU and Amnesty International.
The protest village has swollen to more than 5,000 Native Americans and environmentalist supporters, bankrolled by crowdfunding campaigns that bring in millions of dollars to pay for the food, warm clothing, and shelter required by a small town of activists.
Standing Rock is rapidly turning into a fight the company, the industry, and the authorities cannot win. And they seem to determined to lose on a public stage while the entire world watches on the evening news and on social media.
Canadian pipeline opponents are threatening to emulate Standing Rock.
“New infrastructure to bring in more oil from the tar sands? Forget it, it’s not going to happen,” saysKanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon. “What if we gave Canada 20 Standing Rocks?”
Kai Nagata, a Vancouver-based campaigner with Dogwood Initiative, worries that frustration with the Kinder Morgan process and decision will cause as many as half of the local activists to opt for civil disobedience or violence.
“I think no matter what, we’re going to see the threats of escalating civil disobedience,” he said in an interview.
“The reality is that you’re going to see calls this month for civil disobedience, for physical resistance to the pipeline expansion. We’re going to see basically a pledge of resistance and this being the 21st century, I think we’re going to see these kinds of messages travel very quickly thanks to social media.”
Carr has good reason to be worried.
But what he said Thursday in Edmonton was exactly what a minister of the Crown should say:
“If people choose for their own reasons not to be peaceful, then the government of Canada, through its defence forces, through its police forces, will ensure that people will be kept safe,” he said to applause from the room. “We have a history of peaceful dialogue and dissent in Canada. I’m certainly hopeful that that tradition will continue. If people determine for their own reasons that that’s not the path they want to follow, then we live under the rule of law.
“These decisions are in the best interest of Canada. They are difficult and they are controversial…Those who feel as if they have been, for their own reasons, treated badly by this decision, we welcome to hear from them still, to know that peaceful protest is part of our DNA as Canadians. We respect it, we honour it and we cherish it.”
Carr’s comments, and his prediction of the Canadian government’s response to Trans Mountain protest, is the opposite of the response by ETP and American authorities to Standing Rock.
Carr is de-escalating. He acknowledged the legitimacy of dissent. He promised that peaceful dissent will be encouraged and tolerated as part of the Canadian political culture.
But he warned against breaking the law.
That is the correct response in this situation and it should be praised, not vilified.