Despite the evidence that endangered species laws are effective, governments in Canada are proceeding with deregulation and abdicating their responsibilities for wildlife habitat protection, often quietly. After all, only a few environmental watchdogs such as the David Suzuki Foundation are looking out for creatures that otherwise have no voice. But our governments underestimate the public. The federal government likely wagered few would pay much attention when it stripped protections from the Fisheries Act and Environmental Assessment Act. But concerned citizens not only noticed, they protested loudly across the country.
Read this story from The Globe and Mail on the debate between First Nations and Taseko Mines, now playing out in the BC courts.
"The battle between the Tsilhqot’in Nation and Taseko Mines Ltd. has
heated up after allegations that three members of the first nations
community obstructed workers attempting to access the Prosperity mine
site in northern B.C.
'As a result of this interference, we,
today, have initiated legal proceedings against these individuals and
we’ll be seeking an order restraining them from unlawfully interfering
with the company’s lawfully approved work,' said Brian Battison, the
company’s corporate affairs vice president. Taseko has received
government approval to conduct exploratory work." (Nov. 14, 2011)
Picture this: It's 2012 and you live half way around the world - let's say, Sydney, Australia. You open up your Facebook page to find a new viral youtube video out of BC, shared on your wall just moments ago by a friend in Canada. With a click of the mouse you find yourself watching footage of heavily armed mounties in riot gear advancing on a dirt road blockade - made up of indigenous peoples and a varied band of supporters.
The video tells you it's somewhere in Tsilhqot'in Territory, west of Williams Lake, BC. It might as well be Timbuktu - it's the people, the situation, the deeply human experience that you, like millions of others around the world, are tuning into.
An iPhone camera documenting the scene pans over to a First Nations elder - a grandmother of the Xeni Gwet'in people of the Tsilhqot'in, firmly planted in her wheelchair, staring down the police and trucks carrying mining equipment parked behind them. Shutters snap thousands of hi-res images of the unfolding drama. One of the policemen bellows orders from a megaphone, something about a final warning, lost in the chants of the protestors - which go something like, "The world is watching!"
Then, the moment of truth: A gang of jack boot and baton-clad officers emerges through a fog of freshly deployed tear gas, descending on the protestors, who have formed a human chain around this grandmother...
I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Within the hour this clip, from one of many cameras documenting the confrontation, has been uploaded to youtube and shared through facebook, twitter, email chains, etc. The footage is so graphic, so viscerally archetypal in nature - a classic David-vs-Goliath scene - so perfectly capturing the injustice of the situation, that it's hard not to react to it. Activists and independent media in BC forward it furiously to their Canadian and International contacts - including media.
Soon, producers at major international outlets like the BBC are downloading HD quality images and preparing news stories - which are as much about the viral video clip that's shocking the world as the violence itself over a mine in BC.
The eloquent chief of the First Nation whose territory the mine would invade, Marilyn Baptiste, is fielding calls from everyone from Amy Goodman to Anderson Cooper. Within days, the governments of BC and Canada, the mining company, the already severely embattled RCMP have been indelibly connected by tens of millions of people around the world to the violent oppression of environmental protestors, among them aboriginal grannies in wheelchairs.
And by the time these parties realize what hit them, it's too late - they have lost all control of the story. It's now an international spectacle. And guess what? Forget about that mine. It's done like dinner.
A little far-fetched, you say? Allow me to explain.
I raise this hypothetical scenario not to shock or scare, and certainly not to incite the type of situation I describe - quite the opposite. I present it because this is exactly where things are headed at this very moment - based on our present trajectory. My colleague Rafe Mair has been prophesying this unfortunate conclusion for years now - in these pages and before that - and, sadly, I too have come to envisage the same inexorable results from the bad decisions being made by our politicians, on this issue and many others.
As for Fish Lake/Prosperity Mine, it's mostly the fault of the BC Government, first under Gordon Campbell, now under Christy Clark - who continues to astonish by out-doing even her predecessor in the contest to be the premier with the worst environmental record in BC, perhaps Canadian, history (she's probably neck and neck with Ralph Klein at this stage, but Christy's just getting warmed up). Let's review the Campbell/Clark Government's record on the issue with a brief timeline:
First, the BC Government quickly and painlessly approved Taseko Mines' plan to destroy Fish Lake for its "Prosperity Mine", only to be embarrassed in late 2010 when the Harper Government rejected the same proposal following its far more extensive Federal Panel Review (the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Federal Environment Ministry and dozens of expert interveners and First Nations were all strongly opposed to the project).
Then, a full six weeks before the Harper Government decided to grant Taseko a second shot at an environmental review early last week, based on an amended plan that doesn't directly destroy Fish Lake (but is, nevertheless, as bad or worse ecologically than its predecessor, according to the First Nations), the Clark Government quietly issued work permits to the company to begin building roads and doing heavy-duty exploratory drilling. This was a breathtakingly provocative and inflammatory move by Premier Clark, amid an already highly charged atmosphere. Unbelievable, really - flouting the Feds, First Nations, and the people of BC in one fell swoop.
Upon discovering this, last week, the First Nations filed a petition in the BC Supreme Court to suspend or cancel those permits while the project is still under federal review (a no-brainer, it would seem)
This past Saturday, Chief Baptiste personally (and alone, I'm told, by solid sources) confronted Taseko's trucks that had just moved into the territory to begin work. Having been informed by the chief that they were trespassing, the truck drivers turned around and left.
Now this week, Taseko Mines has filed for an injunction against the Tsilhqot'in, seeking to bar the First Nations from preventing the company's workers from entering their territory! At the same time, The First Nations have filed for a counter-injunction against the company. As you can see, things are escalating at lightning speed - with more hearings scheduled for tomorrow. It remains to be seen how the courts will rule - lord knows they've been put in a hell of a spot by the Province.
So it is at the feet of one Premier Christy Clark that the lion's share of the blame lies - and will lie, if things get even more out of hand. But knowing how vehemently opposed the First Nations are to this project on their territory; knowing the litany of new problems with the alternate proposal - which has already been presented publicly through the original Federal Panel Review - the Harper Government should never have sent this project back for a second review. So both of these governments are complicit on some level in forcing the all-too-real hypothetical situation I've described here.
I say all these things now, knowing that at least some people within the Clark and Harper administrations will read this (and please help ensure they do, by forwarding this article to your MLA and MP). It is to them I'm speaking.
I implore Mr. Harper and Ms. Clark to recognize how the world has changed since the 1990's-era Gustafsen Lake, Oka, and other relatively recent violent stand-offs between indigenous peoples and the RCMP and Sûreté du Quebec, still seared in our national consciousness.
Today, we live in the post-Dziekanski era - where one false move by law enforcement and governments is instantly on the public record for millions to see. The Surveillance State works both ways, you see; police can bring their cameras to intimidate protestors, but it is they who are really on candid camera now. (Though, I want to be clear: the police are mere pawns in this game - it is the politicians who drive the situation; and yet, the RCMP's image is at an all-time low, which will likely make the media and public more ready to blame the police if things go sideways here).
Granted, there may be some instances where the public is divided on the rough handling of protestors by police - some instances, even, like Vancouver's recent Stanley Cup Riot, where they collectively wish law enforcement took a harder line.
But this is a mine, after all - with undeniably severe ecological impacts; a mine which has already been rejected by the federal government; a mine which prompted an RCMP investigation into insider trading when millions of shares were dumped weeks in advance of the federal government's rejection of it; a mine which First Nations, with very real and powerful legal rights, vehemently oppose; a mine which a significant majority of BC citizens also oppose. So the prevailing sympathy will be with the mine's opponents if the conflict descends into violence.
If the Tsilhqot'in people and their supporters are smart - and they are, I believe - they will be preparing right now for the aforementioned scenario. They will take donations to purchase some affordable yet highly effective camcorders. They will train their membership in how to film, edit and upload footage to youtube; how to circulate it through email and social media. They will continue developing information trees, local and international media contacts (they've been extraordinarily effective at garnering media interest up to this point, party thanks to their impressive chiefs Marilyn Baptiste and Joe Alphonse). If they are smart, they will do the above - and they will wait.
They will wait and pray that our courts do the right thing and force Taseko to stand down - at least until the federal government has completed its environmental review of the company's amended proposal. They will wait and hope the Clark and Harper governments come to their senses. But they will be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
With words bearing the full force of their conviction, the Tsilhqot'in have repeatedly demonstrated the resolve to stand on that blockade - even give their lives to protect their sacred land and water - and many supporters have already vowed to stand by their side.
But in addition to that, they will have the cameras ready to roll, the iPhones and laptops set to upload to the world the reality of the injustice being perpetrated upon them. And in the era of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the social media-fueled Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Keystone XL and Enbridge protests, the world simply has no stomach for watching cops beat up good people standing up for the right values.
So to our provincial and federal governments - and particularly to Ms. Clark - I say, think long and hard before you venture any further down this road. It can only end badly - not just for the brave souls who will inevitably suffer through the sacrifices they make standing up for what they believe in - but for you, your government and your very legacy...not to mention Canada's reputation in the eyes of the world.
For all our sakes, let us hope cooler heads prevail.
The following is a press release from hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en and Unist’hot’en Nations of Northwest BC:
November 15, 2011 – Setting up a road blockade with signs “Road
Closed to Pacific Trails Pipeline Drillers”, an alliance of the
Unist’ot’en and the Likhts’amisyu of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have
evicted and escorted out Pacific Trails Pipeline drillers and their
According to Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Toghestiy, “We evicted
Pacific Trails Pipeline drillers from our territory this weekend. The
drillers in one vehicle actually cheered for our blockade and one
driller told us ‘Nobody wants to see any pipelines in the North –
especially one that operates as dirty as this one. Have a good day guys
and good luck.’”
“Pacific Trails Pipeline had moved in equipment to do directional
drilling around Gosnell River where our salmon spawn. Their exploratory
drilling and whole pipeline proposal will spell certain disaster in the
Peace River area. We have to protect our sensitive aquifers from the
destruction of pipelines – from the Alberta Tar Sands to our side of the
Rocky Mountains. You cannot make compromises with the life-sustaining
force of water” continues Toghestiy.
Kloum Khun, a Likhts’amisyu hereditary Chief who also participated in
the blockade, said: “We had a sign that said ‘No Pipelines’ and pointed
it out to the drillers. We told them to take out all their equipment
from our territory.”
The Pacific Trails Pipeline, official known as the Kitimat Summit
Lake (KSL) gas pipeline, is a proposed natural gas pipeline that will
move upto 1 million cubic feet per day of natural gas from Summit Lake
near Prince George to Kitimat using an underground 36 inch diameter
pipeline with an 18-metre right of way on each side. Much of this
natural gas is acquired through the environmentally destructive process
of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. After processing, the
natural gas would be shipped in supertankers from ports in Kitamat to
the international market. In February 2011, Pacific Northern Gas sold
its stake in the project to the Apache Corporation and EOG Resources
The Pacific Trails Pipeline has a similar proposed right-of-way as
Enbridge Pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory. According to Toghestiy:
“Enbridge is using the fact that Pacific Trails is proposing the same
right of way as Enbridge to mitigate their own ecological footprint on
our territory.” During a May 2011 interview with Fox News, Enbridge CEO
Pat Daniel discussed Enbridge’s move into the natural gas market and the
possibility of “synergies” between the Enbridge’s Gateway Project and
the Pacific Trails Pipeline.
The $5.5-billion proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline would
carry 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta to Kitimat. In
August 2010, representatives of Enbridge in Smithers, Michelle Perret
and Kevin Brown, received formal notice from Wet’suweten hereditary
chiefs Hagwilakw and Toghestiy that Enbridge did not have permission to
build a pipeline on their lands and was trespassing on unceded
Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en Clan of the
Wet’suwet’en, says her community was not consulted about these proposed
pipelines: “The corporations never informed us or consulted us about
their plans. Pacific Trail Pipeline’s proposed route is through two main
salmon spawning channels which provide our staple food supply. We have
made the message clear to Enbridge and Pacific Trails and all of
industry: We cannot and will not permit any pipelines through our
The Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en participated in the First
and Second Indigenous Assembly Against Mining and Pipelines in BC. Says
Mel Bazil: “The plans of Christy Clark and the BC government to push
mining and pipeline developments into our territories will fail. We
reject the short-term interests of profit that motivates those mining
and pipeline developments that are trespassing on our unceded Indigenous
- 30 –
Freda Huson: spokesperson for Unist’hot’en: (778)210-1100 or (250) 847-8897
Toghestiy: (250) 847- 8897
Kloum Khun’s: (250) 847-9673
Mel Bazil: 250-877-2805
Read this report from the New York Times on the invasion of prime hunting lands in Pennsylvania by the natural gas fracking industry.
"Some of this state’s most prized game lands lie atop the Marcellus Shale, a vast reserve of natural gas.
And now more and more drills are piercing the hunting grounds. Nine
wells have cropped up on this one game land of roughly 7,000 wooded
acres in Potter County, and permits have been issued for 19 more.
An old dirt road that meanders up a ridge here has been widened and
fortified. Acres of aspen, maple and cherry trees have been cut. In
their place is an industrial encampment of rigs, pipes and water-storage
ponds, all to support the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic
fracturing, a process known as fracking.
'Who wants to go into their deer stand in the predawn darkness and
listen to a compressor station?' lamented Bob Volkmar, 63, an
environmental scientist who went grouse hunting the other day through
these noisy autumnal woods. 'It kind of ruins the experience.'”(Nov. 12, 2011)
Read this op-ed in the Vancouver Sun by SFU assistant professor John Axsen on the carbon emissions implications of the Clark Government's support for three new major LNG plants.
"Premier Clark plans to construct three massive liquefied natural gas
(LNG) plants in Northern B.C. This won’t only create jobs. Extracting
shale gas and operating these plants will release enough global warming
gases to undo B.C.’s other efforts to cut emissions. Clark claims these
plants are in the best interest of B.C.’s families.
effects of climate change will deliver hardship to B.C. families in
coming decades. The National Round Table on the Environment and the
Economy concludes that climate change will inflict billions of dollars
in economic losses on B.C. residents each year." (
Check out this new video from the Natural Resources Defense Council - narrated by Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon - on the battle to protect BC's iconic Spirit Bear and its habitat in the Great Bear Rainforest from the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and supertankers loaded with Alberta bitumen. The 1 min video, entitled "Big Oil Threatens the Spirit Bear Coast", includes footage from BC filmmakers Ian McAllister and Damien Gillis, and is further evidence of the growing international interest in the Enbridge issue.
Read this story from TheTyee.ca on Abbotsford Councillor Patricia Ross' brave stand against a private model for water services in her community being pushed by the town's mayor and others.
"Ross is the sole incumbent to oppose a public-private partnership
(P3) that would see the private design, build, partial finance and
operation of a water works project in Mission's Stave Lake, a contract
of 25 years. Originally a partnership with neighbouring Mission as a way to address future water shortages, in April the district dropped out of applying for a federal P3 grant for the project, in the wake of strong public opposition.
To Ross, Abbotsford broke a 'gentleman's
agreement' by going ahead with the P3 without the partnership of
Mission. But she has other concerns, including the private operation of
the water system, cost uncertainties, and what she sees as the lack of
choice given to the public in the matter -- concerns shared by other
opponents, including some new council hopefuls." (Nov. 10, 2011)
Read this story form the Globe and Mail on the Obama Administration's surprising decision to send Trans-Canada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline back to the drawing board for a new route. The move is expected to set the project back at least a year and a half and is being hailed as a victory by the project's opponents.
"The U.S. State Department’s move to withhold a permit on
TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election is
officially meant to give the Obama administration more time to find an
alternative route for the conduit through Nebraska. But the
additional review announced Thursday has all the markings of a delaying
tactic aimed at sparing the President the dicey task of making a
politically tough call that could alienate a critical constituency
and/or hand ammunition to his opponents." (Nov. 10, 2011)
The Tsilhqot’in Nation is firing back at the BC Government with legal action following the confirmation this past Friday that the Province has issued permits to Taseko Mines for work related to its proposed Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake, West of Williams Lake.
According to a press release issued by the aboriginal government, "The Tsilhqot’in Nation has launched a court challenge asking the B.C. Supreme Court to invalidate or suspend approvals granted by British Columbia to Taseko Mines Limited for extensive drilling, excavation, timber clearing, road construction and other exploratory work for its controversial 'New' Prosperity Mine."
Earlier this week, leaders representing the Nation condemned the Clark Government's decision to award work permits long before the highly controversial project receives federal approvals. The Harper Government confirmed on Monday that an amended proposal for the project it rejected last year will receive a second federal environmental assessment.
The judicial petition filed in the BC Supreme Court alleges the Province neglected to consult and accommodate First Nations regarding the controversial permits.
“This company went through years of exploration for its failed first bid,” said Chief Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet'in people, upon whose territory the mine would be built. “Now they want to go back in there and drill more holes, dig nearly 60 test pits and clear over 23 kilometres of road, all for this new mine proposal that the company knows – and has publicly stated – is worse for the environment that its preferred option. We are appealing to the court to uphold the principles of fairness and justice.”
Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government added, “We’re talking about serious impacts for our rights and our culture. The Province refused to acknowledge these impacts, no matter what we
say; it is more concerned with handing over approvals. We’ve gone to
court before, we’ve stood in front of the federal panel, we have proven
over and over again how important these lands are to our people and our
culture – but the Province never seems to get the message.”
The Nation's legal counsel, Jay Nelson, said the Province secretly approved the permits 6 weeks ago, without alerting his clients. “We all know this is a high conflict situation, and this kind of disrespect only throws fuel on the fire,” he added.
With human population exploding and demand for resources fast outstripping supply, Dr. Bill Rees, founder of the "eco-footprint" concept, calls for "a new cultural narrative that shifts the values of society from growth (getting bigger) to development (getting better) - from competitive individualism, greed and narrow self-interest toward community, cooperation and our collective interests in repairing the earth for survival."
What do ExxonMobil, Enbridge, Suncor, CP Rail and a Michigan Utility have in common? They've all spilled oil within the past week. This latest round of disasters should give Canadian and US lawmakers pause as they contemplate new pipelines.
An all candidates dialogue on April 3 at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver - featuring representatives from four different political parties and one independent candidate vying for office in the May 14 provincial election - will focus on solutions to climate change.
Anyone who has been following the sorry saga of inexplicable diseases and unusual mortality in BC's wild salmon will not be surprised that the information in Twyla Roscovich's documentary, Salmon Confidential, links the source of this trouble to the salmon farming industry. The surprise, however, is the impact of such information when its complexity is condensed to an intense 70 minutes.
Shell Oil, the first energy company granted coveted Arctic drilling permits by the US Government, is shutting down operations for all of 2013, nearly as quickly as they began. Shell's hand is being forced by the Interior Department, following a scathing report which castigated the company for a series of misadventures in 2012 and early 2013.
A 2-minute video produced by Coastal First Nations - a group representing nine different aboriginal communities on BC's north and central coast - is underscored by the famous Simon and Garfunkel song, "The Sound of Silence." The video, which harkens back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in nearby Alaskan waters, was released around the 24th anniversary of that disaster, in order to voice opposition to the new threat from proposed tanker traffic on BC's coast.
"Cortes is not just a bunch of crazy tree-huggers...We want to log our lands. We want a community forest," one of the subjects of the forthcoming documentary film Heartwood tells Vancouver-based director Daniel Pierce. The film explores the conflict over logging practices on a remote island on BC's south coast, which encapsulates a larger debate currently shaping the future of forestry in the province.
The BC NDP may finally coming to their senses on Site C Dam. On the heels of the release of new documents from BC Hydro in recent weeks, the Official Opposition is calling into question the crown corporation's proposed 1,100 Megawatt hydropower project. And so it should...With BC Hydro in virtual bankruptcy, skyrocketing hydro bills for consumers and businesses, a massive and escalating provincial debt and $80 Billion in additional contractual obligations for which taxpayers are on the hook, pushing ahead with Site C would be the height of fiscal recklessness for BC.
Damien Gillis hosts a google web video chat discussing how indigenous and non-indigenous peoples can work together through the growing Idle No More movement to address historical injustices and build a sustainable energy future. Featuring Squamish and Nisga'a First Nations member and protocol specialist Amanda Nahanee and Ben West, Tar Sands campaigner for ForestEthics.
On January 2, 2013, hundreds of First Nations and non-indigenous people converged on Vancouver's Waterfront Station for the latest Idle No More rally. The beating of drums and singing of traditional songs signaled this crowd's solidarity with the movement that is building across the country and beyond its borders.
Watch this presentation by Damien Gillis, co-director of Fractured Land - a documentary in production which examines the industrialization of northern Canada through the eyes of a young indigenous man named Caleb Behn - at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.
On Oct 30, the Board of Change hosted a debate in Vancouver on American energy pipeline giant Kinder Morgan's plans to turn Vancouver into a shipping port to access new foreign markets with Alberta Tar Sands bitumen. Hear both sides of the story as representatives of Kinder Morgan and the shipping industry square off against an environmental activist, lawyer and filmmaker over the future of the world's "Greenest City", the province of BC and the planet.
Video from the press conference on the release of the final report from the Cohen Commission into disappearing sockeye. Justice Bruce Cohen highlighted several key recommendations to protect wild salmon from open net pen aquaculture operations, including: removing the promotion of aquaculture from DFO's mandate, prioritizing the health of wild salmon over suitability for aquaculture when siting farms, and even removing some farms if more research into diseases shows they cannot safely coexist with wild fish.
Watch this powerhouse speech from Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union at the Defend Our Coast rally in Victoria explaining why his members are "diametrically opposed" to Tar Sands pipelines to BC's coast.
The Wilderness Committee, Canada's largest member-based environmental organization, honoured hall of fame broadcaster and co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian Rafe Mair with its annual Eugene Rogers Award for outstanding contribution to environmental protection in BC at its AGM this past weekend.
In Part 2 of Rafe Mair's July 2012 interview of economist Erik Andersen, the two cover the plan to build Liquefied Natural Gas plants on BC's west coast - to sell natural gas to Asia - and the proposed Site C Dam. Andersen raises real concerns about investing in new dams and electrical infrastructure to supply industries like mines and LNG.
Part 1 of Rafe Mair's July 2012 interview with economist Andersen, delving deep into BC's troubled energy situation, including Hydro's broken forecasting model, rip-off private power projects, and massive debt and Enron-style accounting practices at our public utility - all driven by the shadowy private American corporation to which we've unwittingly handed over our energy sovereignty.