The Wet’suwet’en, Aboriginal Title, and the Rule of Law: An Explainer

By Kate Gunn and Bruce McIvor

Image result for Kate Gunn & Bruce McIvorThe RCMP’s enforcement of the Coastal GasLink injunction against the Wet’suwet’en has ignited a national debate about the law and the rights of Indigenous people.

Image result for Kate Gunn & Bruce McIvorUnfortunately, misconceptions and conflicting information threaten to derail this important conversation. Below, we attempt to provide clear, straightforward answers to address some of these fundamental misunderstandings.

What about support for the project from the Wet’suwet’en elected Chiefs and Councils?

Media outlets across the country have repeatedly reported that First Nations along the pipeline route, including the Wet’suwet’en, have signed agreements in support of the project.

Underlying this statement are several key issues that require clarification.

First, the Wet’suwet’en, like many Indigenous groups in Canada, are governed by both a traditional governance system and elected Chiefs and Councils.

The Chief and Council system exists under the Indian Act, a piece of federal legislation. It was introduced by the federal government in the 19th century as part of Canada’s attempts to systematically oppress and displace Indigenous law and governance.

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary governance system predates colonization and continues to exist today. The Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, not the Indian Act Chiefs and Councils, were the plaintiffs in the landmark Delgamuukw-Gisday’way Aboriginal title case. They provided the court with exhaustive and detailed evidence of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan governance system and the legal authority of Hereditary Chiefs.

Unless otherwise authorized by the Indigenous Nation members, the authority of elected Chiefs and Councils is limited to the powers set out under the Indian Act. The Indian Act does not provide authority for a Chief and Council to make decisions about lands beyond the boundaries of the First Nation’s reserves.

By contrast, the Hereditary Chiefs are responsible under Wet’suwet’en law and governance for making decisions relating to their ancestral lands. It is these lands that the Hereditary Chiefs are seeking to protect from the impacts of the pipeline project, not Indian Act reserve lands.

Second, Indigenous peoples hold rights to lands in Canada which extend far beyond the boundaries of Indian Act reserves, including Aboriginal title and rights to the lands they used and occupied prior to the arrival of Europeans and the assertion of Crown sovereignty. Aboriginal title and rights are protected under the Constitution Act, 1982 – the highest law in Canada’s legal system.

Third, the fact that First Nations have signed agreements with Coastal GasLink does not, in itself, mean that its members support the project without qualification.

Across the country, Indian Act band councils are forced to make difficult choices about how to provide for their members – a situation which exists in large part due to the process of colonization, chronic underfunding for reserve infrastructure and refusal on the part of the Crown to meaningfully recognize Indigenous rights and jurisdiction.

The fact that elected Wet’suwet’en Chiefs and Councils have entered into benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink should not be taken as unconditional support for the project.

Finally, similar to how Canada functions as a confederation with separate provinces with their own authority, First Nation decisions on major projects are not simply a matter of majority rules.

The Quebec provincial government made it clear that it was opposed to and would not sanction the proposed Energy East pipeline. The federal government and other provincial governments respected Quebec’s right to make this decision. Similarly, First Nations often disagree about major projects. One cannot speak for another and the majority cannot simply overrule the minority or individual First Nations.

But aren’t the Indian Act Chiefs and Councils democratically elected?

Chiefs and Councils under the Indian Act may be elected, but they do not necessarily speak for the Nation as a whole.

Most Chiefs and Councils are elected by status ‘Indians’ whose names are on an Indian Act band list. The federal government decides who is entitled to be registered as a status Indian through the registration provisions of the Indian Act. The registration provisions are restrictive and have been subject to numerous legal challenges.

Some Indian Act bands have adopted custom election codes that allow non-status ‘Indians’ to vote. However, in general if an individual does not meet the criteria for ‘Indian’ status under the Indian Act, they will not be able to vote in band elections.

Critically, the fact that an Indigenous person is not registered under the Indian Act does not mean that they do not hold Aboriginal title and rights. Aboriginal title and rights are held collectively and are not restricted to status Indians registered under the Indian Act.

But what about the ‘rule of law’?

Land law in Canada is much more complicated and uncertain than most non-Indigenous Canadians appreciate.

When European colonizers arrived, numerous Indigenous Nations existed throughout the land we now call Canada. Each Indigenous Nation, including the Wet’suwet’en, had their own unique and specific set of land laws. Canadian courts continue to recognize that Indigenous laws form part of Canada’s legal system, including as a basis for Aboriginal title. The “rule of law” therefore includes both Canadian and Indigenous law.

Under international and British law at the time of colonization, unless Indigenous people were conquered or treaties were made with them, the Indigenous interest in their land was to be respected by the law of the European colonizing nation. The British Crown never conquered or made a treaty with the Wet’suwet’en.

In the early days of the colonization of what is now British Columbia, the British government was well aware that based on its own laws it was highly questionable that it had any right to occupy Indigenous lands or assign rights in those lands to individuals or companies.

Nonetheless, beginning in the 1860s the colony of British Columbia began passing its own land laws and giving out property interests in Indigenous land without any established legal right to do so.

The source of the Province’s authority over Indigenous lands remains unresolved in Canadian law today.

In 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada referred to the historical and current situation as British Columbia’s de facto control of Indigenous lands and resources.

In other words, the Supreme Court recognized that the Province’s authority to issue permits for Indigenous lands, including the type of permits issued for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, is not based on established legal authority. It is based on the fact that the Province has proceeded, for over 150 years, to make unilateral decisions about Indigenous lands.

The fact that the Province has acted since the 1860s as though it has full authority to decide how Indigenous peoples’ lands are used does not make doing so legal or just.

Photo by Mike Graeme

Isn’t this Crown Land?

Under Canadian law, the Crown, as represented by the various provincial governments, has what is referred to as the underlying interest in all land within provincial boundaries. This is based on the discredited and internationally repudiated ‘doctrine of discovery’. Courts in Canada have concluded that regardless of the doctrine of discovery having been rejected around the world, they are unable to question its legitimacy.

Importantly, even if one accepts that provincial governments hold the underlying interest in ‘Crown land’, that interest is subject to strict limits. It does not mean that the provincial governments have a legal right to occupy Indigenous lands or to grant rights to those lands to individuals or companies. Nor does it give provincial governments the right to sell Indigenous land, assign interests to people or companies or forcibly remove Indigenous people from their territories.

The right to benefit from the land, decide how the land should be used and exclude other people from entering on or using the land is separate from the Crown’s underlying interest in the land.

The right to benefit from the land and exclude others from using the land is part of what Canadian courts have described as Aboriginal title. Aboriginal title, including Wet’suwet’en Aboriginal title, takes precedence over the Crown’s underlying interest in the land.

While Canadian courts have held that provincial governments may be able to infringe Aboriginal title, the requirements to justify infringement are very onerous. The provincial government has not attempted to justify its infringement of Wet’suwet’en Aboriginal title.

But what about the Wet’suwet’en not having proven their Aboriginal title in court?

As with other Indigenous Nations, Wet’suwet’en Aboriginal title exists as a matter of law. It predates the colony of British Columbia and British Columbia’s entry into confederation in 1871.

Its existence was not created by section 35 of the Constitution Act, nor does it depend on recognition by Canadian courts.

Canadian courts can recognize Wet’suwet’en Aboriginal title, but they cannot create it. A court declaration of Aboriginal title would merely confirm its existence under Canadian law.

In the Delgamuukw-Gisday’way case, the courts heard extensive evidence about Wet’suwet’en title and rights. Ultimately, the Supreme Court refused to issue a declaration in favour of the Wet’suwet’en because of a technicality in the pleadings. The parties were left to either negotiate a resolution or begin a new trial.

Regardless of whether there is a court declaration, it is open to the Province to recognize and respect the existence of Wet’suwet’en title at any time.

Instead of recognizing the existence of Aboriginal title, the current provincial government continues to adhere to a policy of denial. This is the same policy endorsed by every provincial government since British Columbia became a part of Canada.

As long as it maintains this policy, the Province avoids the implications of having to recognize Wet’suwet’en title and fulfil its corresponding obligations under Canadian law.

By its continued denial of Wet’suwet’en title, the Province avoids the hard work of reconciling its longstanding failure to respect Indigenous land rights with the continued existence and resurgence of Wet’suwet’en law and governance.

Photo by Lauren Sortome

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Indigenous Services Minister asking for meeting in Tyendinaga

Demonstration-2.jpg (2560×1920)

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to ending the blockades of CN railway tracks in Tyendinaga.

The Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller is asking that they discontinue the blockades. The Minister is requesting a “Polish the Chain” ceremony with the Mohawk people sometime Saturday in an effort at peaceful reconciliation.
Quinte News has learned that a Mohawk Nation meeting has been set for 9:00 am Friday at Council House, which is the Mohawk Community Centre on York Road.
One of those showing solidarity to the demonstrators is from Attawapiskat.  He name is Jocelyn Wabano Iahtail.  She spoke to the media about the situation, not only in Tyendinaga, but in the relationship between First Nations and “colanizers”.
There is a large police presence in the area, and numerous media members, mostly national.
Members of the media were asked to leave the area closely adjacent to the tracks.  Some demonstrators have told Quinte News there is distrust with some outlets covering of the events over the past week.
There are two demonstration sites.  The main one is beside the three CN tracks at Wyman Road.  A dump truck with a plow attached, tents, oil drum fires, a small trailer, and supplies are on the south side of the tracks.  The property on both sides of the tracks is Tyendinaga Township.  The Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory begins about 300 metres to the south of the tracks.  The other demonstration location is at the south side of the tracks, below the bridge on Highway 49.  There is a school bus paint black, along with a tent, fires and supplies.  That demonstration location is on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
There is nothing physically blocking the tracks, however last Thursday one person indicated to Quinte News that if  a train were to come through the area, they would place the dump truck on the tracks.

Jocelyn Wabano Iahtail from Attawapiskat talking to the media on Wyman Road in Tyendinaga Township (Photo: Quinte News)

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The time for funding electric buses is now

VICTORIA — Merran Smith, executive director at Clean Energy Canada, made this statement following Vancouver transit provider TransLink’s request for funding from the federal government for the electrification of its bus fleet:

“Electrifying transit is an unmissable opportunity to fight climate change. Transit already reduces personal car use, but electric transit turns a good solution into a great one, enabling millions of Canadians to get around pollution-free.

“In B.C., replacing a diesel bus with an electric version is equal to taking 26 cars off the road each year, based on Clean Energy Canada’s analysis. They also improve air quality and reduce noise pollution, leading to healthier, quieter communities.

“TransLink has a plan to electrify its entire bus fleet by 2040, but action needs to start now. Buses hitting the road today will still be driving a decade from now, and we cannot afford to lock in obsolete technology. Electric buses are smart investments. The dividends? Huge fuel savings, less pollution, healthier riders, new jobs and opportunity for Canada’s electric bus manufacturers.

“Last year, the governments of Canada, B.C. and Vancouver signed the Drive to Zero pledge, signalling a commitment to reduce pollution from commercial vehicles like buses. The prime minister’s mandate letter to the minister for infrastructure and housing also indicated that new federal transit investments should support zero-emission buses.

“TransLink is ready and willing, but they need federal support in the upcoming budget. Let’s not miss the bus on this one.”

KEY FACTS

SOURCE

$500M investment means construction to start on Canada’s largest solar farm this year

Travers Solar project will be built in southern Alberta

The Travers Solar project in southern Alberta just secured a $500-million investment. When complete, it’ll be the largest solar farm in Canada. (Susan Montoya Bryan/The Associated Press)

Construction of what will be Canada’s largest solar farm will soon start in southern Alberta after the project secured a major funding partner.

Greengate Power announced Monday that the Travers Solar project in Vulcan County will receive $500 million in funding from Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

Construction is set to start midway through this year and will finish in 2021.

Greengate Power president and CEO Dan Balaban said the investment demonstrates investor confidence in Alberta’s renewable energy market.

“It’s a $500-million foreign investment in Alberta, and at a time where we’re talking about the flight of capital from Alberta … this is an example that demonstrates Alberta is still a very attractive place to invest.

“It’ll create more than 500 jobs during construction, provide an ongoing income stream for landowners that are participating in the project, and a really substantial form of annual municipal taxes that’ll be realized for Vulcan County,” he said.

The project will consist of 1.5 million solar panels that will generate about 800 million kWh per year, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

“To put that in perspective, that’s about the size of a third of the island in Manhattan. So it’s a large project that will have the ability to make a very substantial positive impact on our economy and our environmental performance,” Balaban said.

Greengate is also responsible for the largest wind energy project in the country, also located in Vulcan County.

Balaban said he sees renewables as the obvious solution as the province looks to phase out coal. But, he doesn’t think supporting green energy should contribute in any way to political polarization.

“As long as the world is using oil and gas, I believe it should be Alberta oil and gas but at the same time, we should be investing in the way the energy system is heading. We’ve got phenomenal renewable energy resources in this province and a great opportunity to diversify our economy,” he said.

Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners said in an emailed release that the investment is the fund management company’s first in Canada.

“Alberta is an attractive market for investment, and we look forward to working with Greengate, one of Canada’s leading renewable energy developers, to bring Travers Solar online,” CIP senior partner Christian Skakkebaek said.  SOURCE

Equinor: Floating Wind Farms a Natural Fit for Oil and Gas Companies

The Norwegian energy giant on Thursday unveiled a new climate roadmap, including plans to rapidly grow its renewables fleet.

Equinor’s floating Hywind Tampen project will be built 140 kilometers from the Norwegian coast. (Credit: Equinor)

The cost of floating wind farms is on a steeper decline than that of traditional offshore wind, with the emerging sector increasingly attractive to oil and gas companies, said Sebastian Bringsværd, head of floating wind development at Norwegian energy giant Equinor.

After years of industry anticipation, the floating wind market is finally gaining momentum in a commercially meaningful way. The goal, Bringsværd said, is to scale floating projects up to a comparable level as traditional projects, which are often 500 megawatts or larger, taking advantage of offshore wind’s huge economies of scale.

Just a few years ago that was an “ambitious” vision,” Bringsværd said. “Now I see that’s very realistic.”

In its annual report released on Thursday, Equinor, among Europe’s largest oil producers, laid out a new climate roadmap to keep it in line with the Paris Climate Accord, including plans to transform into a “global offshore wind major.”

Equinor, among Europe’s largest oil producers, intends to grow its fleet of renewable energy projects tenfold by 2026, to 4-6 gigawatts, on the way to 12-16 gigawatts by 2035. The Norwegian company, majority owned by the government, also pledged to halve the carbon intensity of its energy products by 2050.

Within the renewables sphere, Equinor carved out an early leadership position in the emerging floating wind sector, completing the industry’s first full-scale project several years ago, the 30-megawatt Hywind Scotland.

ACS Group’s 50-megawatt Kincardine Bay floating project, also off the coast of Scotland, will go into operation later this year, setting a new industry benchmark. And Equinor recently gave the green light to its 88-megawatt Hywind Tampen project off the coast of Norway, which will power two of its drilling operations upon its scheduled completion in 2022.

Hywind Tampen is a “stepping stone,” Bringsværd said. “It’s providing the scale we need to prove the cost reduction curve — and it’s reducing our carbon footprint from our oil and gas production.”

“The figure the industry is aiming for is around €40 to €60 [$44 to $66] per megawatt-hour by 2030,” he added.

While still a very expensive option for renewable power today, hovering around $250 per megawatt-hour by some estimates, floating turbines promise to unlock areas for wind development in waters too deep for regular monopile or jacket foundations. Among the technology’s obvious benefits is the ability for projects to tap the excellent wind resource often found far from shore while avoiding any visual impact from land.

In Hywind Scotland’s first two years of operation, it achieved a capacity factor of 56 percent. By comparison, the average for a U.K. offshore wind farm in 2018 was around 40 percent, according to government figures. Many onshore wind farms are at 30 percent or lower, and solar averages less than that.

California, France, Scotland and South Korea are all promising markets for floating offshore wind, Bringsværd said.

Wood Mackenzie expects 350 megawatts of floating offshore wind in operation by 2022 at various demonstration projects, and up to 10 gigawatts by 2030 with the right policy frameworks in place. Europe currently has a total of less than 50 megawatts of floating wind installed.

Sebastian Bringsværd, Equinor’s head of floating wind development. (Credit: Equinor)

“In terms of timing, we are more than 10 years behind [fixed bottom offshore wind]; in terms of costs, we’re ahead,” Bringsværd told GTM.

Equinor is also investing in traditional offshore wind, having last year won a contract for its 816-megawatt Empire Wind project in New York, as well as in onshore renewables. In its annual report released this week, Equinor said it plans to transform into a “global offshore wind major,” aiming for 12 to 16 gigawatts of installed renewable capacity by 2035.

Floating wind’s crossover appeal

Equinor is not alone among major energy companies in focusing on floating wind’s potential.

“Experienced developers are starting to position themselves more aggressively in the floating industry by forging alliances and building up floating wind pipelines,” Rolf Kragelund, director of global offshore wind at Wood Mackenzie, wrote this week.

Among the recent collaborations is WindPlus, which includes Repsol, Engie, EDP and floating wind technology firm Principle Power. Shell recently bolstered its capabilities with the acquisition of the floating wind developer Eolfi.

“So far, the commercialization of floating wind has been hampered by a Catch-22, where developers argue that capacity is needed to reduce the cost of floating wind, while governments argue that cost declines are needed for governments to allocate capacity to floating wind,” Kragelund wrote.

But there are signs the impasse is starting to break. The ScotWind seabed leasing round, out later this year, will include a carve-out for floating projects in Scottish waters, and broader momentum is building for the U.K. to do the same through its contracts for difference program.

France is backing floating wind projects in a dedicated tender, at least partially prompted by the need to quell local opposition to near-shore turbines.

Meanwhile, EDP and Norwegian oil services firm Aker are exploring the development of a 500-megawatt floating wind complex off the coast of Ulsan, South Korea. The City of Ulsan would cooperate with the development of a waterside supply chain base. Equinor is part of a consortium eyeing a 200-megawatt project, Donghae 1, in the same region, with a potential commissioning date of 2024.

The U.K., in particular, has advantages both in historical deployment and its native supply chain, Bringsværd said. The technology that underlies floating wind is not especially new, and many of the competencies are an even stronger match for the existing oil and gas supply chain than with fixed-bottom offshore wind, he said. SOURCE

 

This electric motorcycle startup is transforming the Rwandan taxi industry

E-moto company Ampersand has 20 motorcycles in Kigali now and is building 500 more this year, as the Rwandan government plans to make the country’s whole motor bike fleet go electric.

Electric motorcycle startup Ampersand is transforming the Rwandan taxi industry

There are more motorcycle taxis in Kigali, Rwanda—between 20,000 and 30,000—than yellow cabs in New York City, a city about 10 times larger. Right now, most of the motorcycles run on gas. But a handful of new electric cycles, made by a Rwandan startup called Ampersand, are now on the road. And the country plans to require the full fleet to make the switch to clean energy.

The new electric motorcycles, or e-motos, are designed to be cheaper than the gas alternative, particularly in terms of fuel, the driver’s biggest expense. “The drivers here cover very large distances every day, so they burn a lot of fuel,” says Josh Whale, Ampersand’s CEO. “After they’ve paid for this fuel and paid for their bike and other costs, it’s not much left at the end of the day.”

[Photo: courtesy Ampersand]

After spending around $5 on fuel and another $6 on leasing a bike, a typical driver, or “motar,” might only make around $1.80 a day. Because the new motorcycle is cheaper to charge than the old motorbikes are to fill with gas, the company estimates that drivers can save as much as $650 or $700 a year on fuel alone. “It’s one thing to save an American commuter $700 off their fuel bill every year, but it’s a huge deal to save an African motorcycle taxi driver $700 a year,” Whale says. (The median Rwandan lives on $1.73 a day—less than $700 a year.) If drivers lease the new e-moto, the cost is around $2 less than a gas moto taxi; for drivers paying upfront, the cost is the same. Drivers also pay for a maintenance plan that is designed to be more than $4 cheaper than what they currently spend each week on service and oil changes.

[Photo: courtesy Ampersand]

The motorcycles use off-the-shelf parts as much as possible to keep costs low, and the company builds a custom battery pack itself to optimize the total cost of the system. When the motorcycle needs more power, instead of charging the battery themselves, drivers pull into a small battery swap station. “It basically works like a Formula One or motorcycle racing pit stop,” he says. The stations, built inside recycled shipping containers, have attendants who bring out a new battery and quickly make the switch, scanning the old battery to measure how much power is left; drivers only pay for the amount they’ve used, in a model comparable to buying gas. The process takes less than two minutes.

In addition to saving money, the e-motos are more powerful than the gas motorcycles currently in use. The vehicles are also more comfortable to ride on long shifts—drivers often work 12 to 13 hours a day—with automatic shifting and less vibration and noise. (Like other electric vehicles, the motorcycles are so quiet that it can actually present some traffic hazards if people don’t hear them coming; the startup has added cheap electric speakers to try to alleviate this, and says that drivers like to play Kenny Rogers.)

[Photo: courtesy Ampersand]

The company first launched with a small number of drivers to test the system in May 2019, and it was soon so popular that the waiting list grew, solely by word of mouth, to 1,300 people. In August, Rwanda’s president announced that the government planned to transition the entire country to electric motorcycles, and the waiting list grew to 7,000 people. As in other East African countries, the electric grid in Rwanda has quickly grown, and there’s often a surplus of power. “They’re looking at this situation and saying, great, we have all this power, now let’s find something productive to do with it,” says Whale. “And meanwhile, these countries spend more on fuel imports than anything else.”

The government is still developing a plan for the transition, which will depend in part on how quickly Ampersand can grow. The startup, which has 20 motorcycles in Kigali now, is currently raising money to build 500 more this year. The government wants it to build 5,000. The startup plans to soon expand to Uganda and Kenya, where motorcycle taxis are also heavily used. It may eventually expand to other parts of the world but says that there’s ample opportunity in East Africa alone. “If you add up the amount that’s spent on fuel, motorbikes servicing, and financing at the moment for the existing industry [in East Africa], that’s a $14 billion a year industry,” Whale says. SOURCE

Thy Neighbor’s Solar Panels

When our peers take actions to preserve the planet, we’re more likely to follow suit. How the human instinct to conform could help us address the climate crisis.

PHOTO RENDERING BY PATRICK WHITE

t is worse, much worse, than you think,” reads the frightening first sentence of The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells’s comprehensive account of what researchers have discovered about our planet’s climate trajectory. The severity of the crisis, he goes on to note, has made some climatologists reluctant to describe its full extent, fearing that such candor might make the challenge we face seem hopeless. The concern is understandable: Previous warnings of impending peril have done little to alter either individual behavior or public policy.

More than half of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age was put there by humans after 1988, the year the climatologist James Hansen testified before Congress that a dangerous warming trend was already well under way. Worldwide, emissions continue to increase, as floods, droughts, famines, and wildfires become more frequent and more intense. This century has already been responsible for 19 of the 20 hottest years on record. According to the federal government’s 2019 Arctic Report Card, rapidly melting permafrost now threatens to create feedback loops that would release much of the 1.5 trillion metric tons of carbon it holds—roughly twice the amount already circulating in the atmosphere.

Even now, there is much we could do to parry the climate threat. We could enact stiff carbon taxes and mandate an accelerated phaseout of fossil fuels. We could undertake massive investments in renewable-energy sources, launch large-scale reforestation, and alter the mix of foods we eat. We could rush to develop scalable methods of carbon capture and sequestration. Yet on all of these fronts, we are taking only minimal action. The politics around climate change remain intractable, and human nature itself seems ill-suited to the challenge: Putting off solving the problem—or hoping it will somehow just go away—is easier than confronting it. “Call me a pessimist,” Jonathan Franzen wrote in a grim and widely read New Yorker essay on the climate crisis, “but I don’t see human nature fundamentally changing anytime soon.”

Having written periodically about climate issues for more than a decade, I have followed the scientific literature on the subject closely, and I understand the fatalist view that the window for an effective response is rapidly closing. But in the process, I’ve also arrived at a more hopeful perspective, one rooted in another side of human nature. Properly stoked and channeled, our instincts could help support a different trajectory.

Radical change can happen swiftly. I’m happy to report that none of my four adult sons is a smoker. But if they’d grown up when I did, I suspect that at least two of them would have taken up the habit. When my own stint as a smoker began—at age 14, in 1959—many of my friends had already been smoking for several years. My parents didn’t want me to smoke, but because they were smokers themselves, their objections rang hollow. At the time, more than half of American men and almost 30 percent of American women smoked. In some circles, it was just something that most people did.

Today, fewer than 15 percent of Americans smoke. Given the difficulty of quitting, few people imagined that such a precipitous reduction in smoking rates could occur so quickly. The decline was rooted in collective measures American society took to discourage the habit. States and the federal government raised taxes on tobacco products. In the ’50s, a pack of Camels could be had for as little as 25 cents in some locations—about $2.17 in today’s dollars. In many areas today, taxes have pushed that price close to $10. In New York City, a pack of cigarettes cannot be sold legally for less than $13. By the 1990s, many cities and states were banning smoking in restaurants, bars, and public buildings; some jurisdictions went so far as to prohibit the practice in outdoor public spaces as well.

These measures worked, but not necessarily in the way you might think. Taxes and bans made smoking more difficult and helped some people quit, yes. But far more important, these moves kick-started a virtuous cycle. One of the strongest predictors of whether someone will become a smoker is the smoking rate among his peers. With fewer people starting to smoke, Americans had fewer smoking peers, which reduced smoking rates still further. After carefully controlling for other factors, one study estimated that if the percentage of smokers among a teen’s close friends fell by 50 percent, the probability of her becoming (or remaining) a smoker would fall by about 25 percent.

Social scientists have demonstrated the influence of peer behavior in a host of other areas. One study, for example, found that when military families were posted to a new location where the obesity rate was 1 percent higher than average, adults in the families were 5 percent more likely to become obese during the course of their assignment there. Behavioral contagion—as the phenomenon is known—can exacerbate bullying, cheating on taxes, and problem drinking, among other harmful behaviors. But people also become more likely to exercise and eat prudently when those behaviors become more widespread among peers.

Given the power of contagion, it is astonishing that the question of how policy makers might harness this power has received so little serious attention. Even when smoking restrictions were enacted, for instance, it was primarily to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. But the damage done by secondhand smoke pales in comparison with the harm caused by becoming a smoker—not just to the smoker himself, but also to his peers, who in turn become more likely to smoke.

The behaviors that spawned the climate crisis are perhaps even more contagious than smoking, a fact that has gone largely unnoticed by economists and climatologists, who understand global warming as a consequence of greenhouse gases being costly to eliminate and dischargeable without penalty. This assessment leads naturally to pessimism, since the costs of carbon removal remain high and political opposition to robust taxation remains formidable. It also overlooks contagion’s potential power to help address this crisis.

We’ve been building bigger houses, driving heavier vehicles, commuting longer distances, staging more destination weddings, and engaging in a host of other energy-intensive activities only partly because their true costs to the planet are not fully priced in. The far more important reason we’ve done these things is our tendency to behave as our peers do.

The housing market provides a vivid illustration of this. Since the early 1970s, the lion’s share of national income growth has accrued to the wealthy, who used some of their gains to build ever larger houses. The near-wealthy, who travel in the same social circles, also built bigger, and so on down the income ladder. Although median incomes grew little during the past half century, the median new house grew from about 1,500 square feet in 1973 to almost 2,400 square feet today. Without invoking the power of behavioral contagion, it’s difficult to explain this change.

But here is the cause for hope: Where contagion creates a problem, it can also help solve it. Just as in the case of smoking, where peer effects exacerbated and then reduced the prevalence of the practice, so too could contagion help us meet the climate challenge.

Solar-panel adoption, for example, is particularly contagious. After controlling for a variety of other potentially important causal factors, one study found contagion’s power in this domain to be substantial: Each new installation in a neighborhood can, over time, lead to several additional ones. (In a follow-up study, researchers have found evidence that solar panels visible from the street exert a significantly greater peer effect than those that aren’t—further suggesting that our neighbors’ behavior affects our own.) The contagion effect in solar adoption can be seen in Google’s Project Sunroof, which displays aerial photos of neighborhoods and identifies houses with solar panels by placing red dots on their roofs. Those houses tend to be near others with red dots.

There’s very good reason to believe that peer effects could be similarly beneficial in other areas crucial to our climate future. Research shows that our eating habits are shaped by the habits of those around us. This effect could be harnessed to encourage people to eat healthier diets, but it could just as easily nudge people toward more environmentally sustainable ones. MORE

Canadian Association of Journalists Calls for Respect of Constitutional Rights for Media Freedom

Local media at Liberal Rally

OTTAWA – The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) continues to receive reports that RCMP officers are blocking media from bearing witness to police actions as they implement an injunction and arrest Wet’suwet’en people.

“All week the RCMP have been unnecessarily threatening reporters who are simply trying to perform their democratic duties,” said CAJ president Karyn Pugliese.

“Yesterday the RCMP promised to respect media rights, but today they continue to abuse their powers and blatantly disregard the law in a way that is previously unheard of in Canada and unthinkable in a democratic country.”

The CAJ is requesting that reporters in the area continue to document police interference and misuses of power, including noting names and badge numbers and to continue to share the information with the CAJ.

Filmmaker Michael Toledano tweeted: “Today the RCMP are bullying journalists to repress images in real-time. As RCMP approach #Unistoten, media here are resolved to do our job and witness police action.”

Jerome Turner, who is covering the dispute for Ricochet media, described to his editor, Ethan Cox, how he had been detained, prevented from bearing witness to events, and filing reports multiple times by the RCMP during the past 24 hours.

“The [RCMP] weren’t going to let me go in the direction of the story,” Turner told Cox.

The tension between journalists covering those in the Wet’suwet’en Nation opposing the Coastal GasLink project and the RCMP have been escalating since Dec. 31, when the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction.

Late Thursday night RCMP Cpl. Chris Manseau emailed Cox a statement that said: “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police respects the fundamental freedom of the press under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as detailed in recent decisions by Courts across Canada. Journalists can rest assured that the RCMP will make every reasonable effort to allow media personnel to get as close as possible to the enforcement area while ensuring no interference with police operations.”

However, that response came only after several media organizations, including the NarwhalRicochet, the CAJ and others, publicly called out the RCMP setting off a wave of public pushback, for the RCMP’s repeated interference with media.

Senior Media Relations Officer, Communication Services, Janelle Shoihet had emailed Cox earlier that day, telling him explicitly they planned to arrest Turner reporter if he did not leave voluntarily.

On Thursday, RCMP officers also spoke openly on camera about arresting Vice freelancer Jesse Winter. The video clearly shows Winter is on the sidelines of the action and not interfering with officers. After the threats, to Winter and the camera operator, Bunker Seyfert of Mutual Aid Media were detained by RCMP, put in a police car and driven more than 20 kilometers to a parking lot in the town of Houston.

Reports by Toledano, Seyfert, and others, confirmed that the RCMP were interfering with reporters in ways that violate constitutional law and court decisions upholding media rights and free expression, such as blocking reporter’s cameras, or threatening to arrest journalists if they photographed weapons or certain arrests.

In a statement released yesterday, Amnesty International blasted the RCMP for a “crackdown” they said “threatens free press” and called for an investigation into “why these unjustified and potentially unlawful threats were made in the first place and ensure that clear orders and proper training are in place to align policing operations with human rights obligations.”

“The CAJ has been in touch with editors, publishers, and journalists on the ground. We are documenting everything,” said Pugliese.

A 2019 landmark court decision, passed down by the Newfoundland and Labrador Courts of Appeals, reaffirmed that special considerations apply to journalists covering a protest even when an injunction order has been issued.

Commonly known as the Justin Brake case, the decision allowed for special considerations for persons who are engaged in good faith journalistic coverage in the public interest; is not actively assisting the protesters, and are not interfering with law enforcement.

In that case, Justice Derek Green also noted the importance of the media in advancing reconciliation and understanding of Indigenous peoples and issues stating that “particular consideration should be given to protests involving Aboriginal issues.”  SOURCE

Pipeline, Violates International Law


In January, Indigenous land defenders were able to evict both the RCMP and the CGL workers from their land. They were served an eviction notice on January 5 which stated that they cannot return to the territory and resume work until they have the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

Following the eviction, week-long talks were supposed to be held between CGL and the clan leaders. However, the talks broke down after two days, on February 5.

Hereditary chief Na’Moks (also known as John Ridsdale) told Vice, “We always knew that industry was directing government, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen them say it publicly, right there in our meeting minutes.”

Raids in 2019

The current invasion by the Canadian authorities follows the developments in 2019 when similar raids had been carried out by the RCMP on Wet’suwet’en lands at the behest of CGL.

On December 14, 2018, the British Columbia Supreme Court passed an injunction allowing CGL access to the land belonging to the Wet’suwet’en tribes. The company had been seeking access to the 20 km stretch of pathway through the said land to begin preparatory work for the pipeline. The legal dispute has been going on for over a decade.

CGL claimed that it has signed an agreement with the elected Wet’suwet’en band council. However, the hereditary chiefs, who have significant support from within the tribes, disputed the access and endorsed the protest checkpoints and camps built since 2010.

The raids in 2019 sparked off nation-wide protests. The RCMP had forcibly removed and arrested 14 Indigenous land defenders from the site in a matter of hours in order to let construction crews access the land.

After the serving of the eviction notice on January 5 this year, the Wet’suwet’en leaders issued a press release stating, “The granting of the interlocutory injunction by BC’s Supreme Court has proven to us that Canadian courts will ignore their own rulings and deny our jurisdiction when convenient, and will not protect our territories or our rights as Indigenous peoples.”

“We do this for our kids, our grandkids. We don’t have much left, they took all our land already,” said Chief Howilhkat of the Unist’ot’en camp (also known as Freda Huson) to a CGL worker while serving the eviction notice. “And my clan has only two territories, this is one of them. We use it culturally, we hunt, we do our medicines, we pick our berries, we teach our kids.”

The Wet’suwet’en also described how the excessive force being used by RCMP is beyond the limits of the injunction, “These violations were committed by the RCMP on behalf of Coastal GasLink’s (TC Energy) interlocutory injunction and the existence of an ever-expanding and undefined exclusion zone. Coastal GasLink’s injunction does not prohibit travel on the Morice Forest Service Road nor does it prohibit residence at the Unist’ot’en village or any other Wet’suwet’en homesites on our land. … The RCMP has no jurisdiction to enter the Healing Centre without our Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. Even under colonial law, the RCMP cannot enter or search our Healing Centre without a warrant.”

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has called upon Canada to immediately halt the construction of the pipeline until the Wet’suwet’en people grant their free, prior, and informed consent to the project.

The Wet’suewet’en people have also asserted that until there is formal recognition of the boundaries of their land, and until the Indigenous peoples’ rights over their lands are formalized, they will continue to oppose the project.

“I feel the land and the land is alive, and it’s well. The water is alive, the trees are alive. Everything here is alive. The rocks are alive. And they’re coming to destroy that too and we’re not gonna let them,” said Freda. SOURCE

‘We still have title’: How a landmark B.C. court case set the stage for Wet’suwet’en protests

Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia underscores First Nations’ authority over their land

Wet’suwet’en supporters block Prior Street at Malkin Avenue in Vancouver on Monday as protests spread across the country. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Amid the backdrop of nationwide protests, blockades, and arrests, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on the front lines of the fight to stop a pipeline in their traditional territories are pointing to a Supreme Court case from the 1990s that underscores their authority over the land.

The decision in Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia was delivered on Dec. 11, 1997, affirming Aboriginal land title and setting a precedent for how it is understood in Canadian courts.

“The Supreme Court established that Wet’suwet’en had never extinguished title to our territories,” said Molly Wickham, a governance director at the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, on CBC’s The Early Edition. “Within Western law, they have acknowledged that we still have title to our territories — and this is an issue about title.”

Here’s what you need to know about the case — and why it’s pertinent today.

A sign from protesters supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs this week at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

What is the Delgamuukw case?

The Delgamuukw decision stemmed from a 1984 case launched by the leaders of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations, who took the provincial government to court to establish jurisdiction over 58,000 square kilometres of land and water in northwest British Columbia.

In 1991, B.C.’s Supreme Court ruled that any rights the First Nations may have had over the land were legally extinguished when British Columbia became part of Canada in 1871.

The First Nations appealed and eventually the case made its way into the Supreme Court of Canada, which found Aboriginal title could not be extinguished, confirmed oral testimony is a legitimate form of evidence and stated Indigenous title rights include not only land, but the right to extract resources from the land.

The case has been widely cited as an influencing factor in future court decisions, including the 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision which further established the existence of Indigenous title to land in British Columbia not covered by treaties.​

RCMP arresting supporters of a Wet’suwet’en blockade near the pipeline route last week. (Jesse Winter/VICE)

Why is the case relevant to Wet’suwet’en protests?

Representatives from 20 First Nations —  including the elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en —  signed agreements with Coastal GasLink consenting to the project. The pipeline was subsequently approved by the provincial government.

However, some hereditary leaders have not consented to the project which runs through their territories.

In the Delgamuukw case, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs established that the Indigenous nation had a system of law that predates the days of elected band councils enacted under Canada’s Indian Act. ​​​​​​

Under traditional Wet’suwet’en law, hereditary chiefs are responsible for decisions regarding ancestral lands.

In the current dispute, some hereditary chiefs say the decision to approve a pipeline in their ancestral lands without consent is an infringement of their Aboriginal title and rights.

Aboriginal title and rights are protected under the constitution.

Protesters block the intersection of Cambie and Broadway in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Are title rights enough to stop a pipeline?

In the Delgamuukw decision, Chief Justice Antonio Lamer outlined that aboriginal title “encompasses the right to exclusive use and occupation of the land.”

However, the decision also notes that Aboriginal rights could justifiably be infringed for the development of agriculture, forestry, mining, and “the general economic development of the interior of British Columbia.” Lamar determined the issue should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

According to a 2014 judgment, infringements can only take place only when there’s adequate consultation, and “the benefit to the public is proportionate to any adverse effect on the Aboriginal interest.”

Kate Gunn, a lawyer with First People’s Law, says the requirements to infringe upon the title rights in favour of a major project like a pipeline would be onerous.

“In the situation where we have a group that’s been in court for years establishing title … I think that the obligations on the Crown [to justify a rights infringement] would be very high,” she said.

No rights infringements were justified through the courts before the Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved.