The infamous British Columbia natural gas pipeline that provoked so many protests hasn’t provoked many B.C. natives around the pipeline project. That’s because the vast majority of natives in the areas of the pipeline want the project to go ahead. All 20 First Nations communities voted for it. The project will offer $620 million in contract work to indigenous businesses. Another $400 million is expected to be offered to native peoples in employment opportunities during construction.
Each First Nation community that signed on to the agreement will get $10 million per year while the project operates. The pipeline is a God-send, a lifeline, a get-out-of-poverty card.
What was not to like about it? If this project is not a path toward reconciliation, I don’t know what is.
Nevertheless, there was a long line of supporters for illegal blockades, all posers who say they are standing with the natives without realizing they are really supporting environmentalist activists, who have hijacked the cause, while giving a thumb’s up to economic gridlock and unemployment. I wonder how these armchair supporters would react if a group of protestors set up camp in their driveways, ending all access to the use of their cars for two weeks. How many days, nay hours or minutes, would it take before the expletives started to fly, followed by threats to call police?
If a driveway blockade were treated the same way as these railway blockades, I can imagine the protestors responding with gut-splitting, knee-slapping roaring laughter. A threat to call police would sound like: “I’ll be right back with my swimming pool noodle.”
The last call to police about a barricade resulted in a response time of about 18 days.
In a two-week period of watching and waiting last month, about 100,000 VIA rail passengers had to make other plans. At least 1,500 people were put out of work. Grocery stores faced empty shelves due to undelivered goods and grain elevators couldn’t send product by rail. Hundreds of millions of dollars of goods did not move.
Canadian judges — those who have the authority to decide if you are breaking the law — ordered the illegal blockades be taken down. At the blockade near Belleville the protestors burned the judge’s orders. Our prime minister’s reply was to call for “dialogue,” and “patience,” meaning his plan was to do nothing.
Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatalos lamented: “If we enforce the law . . . we’re criticized often for being too aggressive. On the other hand, if we don’t enforce the law. . . then we’re criticized for not enforcing the law. We’re in effectually what is a no-win situation.”
It was hard to blame him for hesitating when the prime minster signaled that those who don’t respect the blockades are racist.
One of our prime minister’s first statements when he got home from Africa was to announce: “Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever.”
By doing nothing in the first two weeks of protests, a miniscule minority of lawbreakers discovered they owned the tracks. Maybe the emboldened protestors will next time build a tollbooth and charge each train that passes. Or maybe they’ll go one better and blow up the tracks.
Meantime, 450 CN workers and 1,000 VIA rail workers were laid off. Propane and some foods were in short supply. Eventually, the uproar of anger could no longer be ignored. More and more companies with influence told the PM that the rail lines needed to be opened before the economy tanked. Police moved the Belleville demonstrators from the tracks.
Delayed action has caused a lot of damage. The activists have been inspired. And so have their friends. As National Post columnist Terry Glavin reported, there are many non-native allies who have discovered that protesting “is fun and exciting and you don’t even get arrested.”
So, expect more demonstrations in the future and expect more calls for dialogue and patience because apparently your business and the livelihood of natives along the B.C. coast are not as important as the respect we must observe for illegal blockades in direct violation of the law and a court order.
Editor Patrick Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.