Provinces across the country have been slowly relaxing physical distancing rules introduced to limit the spread of COVID-19. But as more people begin to return to work, it’s raising the question of how they’ll get there.
Darnel Harris, an urban planner and executive director of Toronto-based mobility advocacy group Our Greenway, believes there are alternatives to both public transit and travelling in high-emission vehicles: electric bikes.
According to a recent study by the U.K.-based Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, e-bikes have the potential to help people return to work — especially those who are hesitant to use public transport or live in areas with little to no service.
E-bikes, which are electrically assisted bicycles that range in price from roughly $1,500 to $9,000, are a cheaper alternative to car travel — not to mention a greener one when they’re charged using clean power. They can often hit speeds of 25 km/h, and give people a way to avoid crowded buses and trains.
“Crucially, it allows people to go further, easier, and expands their access to things in an efficient way,” Harris said, “especially within a suburban area, where things are more spread out.”
E-bikes have gained a foothold abroad. In the Netherlands, roughly 40 per cent of bikes sold last year were electric, according to Dutch industry organizations RAI and BOVAG, while in China they have been a popular replacement for motorcycles for more than a decade.
But Harris sees demand surging in North America: U.S. sales increased by 85 per cent in March, according to the New York Times, while he said Canadian businesses are struggling to keep e-bikes in stock.
Even so, the possibility of e-bikes becoming commonplace in Canada continues to face significant hurdles. Harris said the federal government currently has insufficient safety standards in place, while Transport Canada proposed dropping all regulation of them in 2018.
Harris said rules are necessary to regulate the vastly different kinds of e-bikes on the market, including the much larger cargo bikes often used in place of delivery trucks.
“When people are unclear … about the law and how it applies, then of course they run the risk of offending the law,” said David Hay, a Vancouver lawyer who specializes in bike-related cases. For example, to be able to ride without road insurance or a license in B.C., it’s required that the bicycle have limited power and that it turns off when the rider stops pedalling — a feature many e-bike models don’t have.
Hays and Harris think that definitions and regulations around e-bikes need to be updated before they’ll be widely adopted in this country.
“Whenever you get any kind of technological innovation, the law struggles to keep up,” Hays said.
Protests demanding justice for the death of George Floyd have spread globally. The movement kicked off in Minneapolis, the city where Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. Now, protests have spread to over 60 cities throughout the U.S. In Canada, there were protests in Halifax, Montreal, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. Each city has its own list of people who have been killed and harmed by discriminatory policing violence. As this movement grows, we are on the streets and engaging online and trying to be allies both globally and locally. We should discuss the most effective ways to be an ally.
How do we talk about violence?
First of all, let’s disentangle the ways in which the police, which are supposed to protect, and the civilians who are protesting, are being violent. Police have a sworn duty to protect, to be trained on how to de-escalate a situation safely and to be impartial. This is why we are out on the streets. We must hold them accountable for their reactions and over-reactions. Too many protests which are left-leaning are met with tear gas, batons and rubber bullets, while in Canada and the U.S., armed white right-wing rallies and protests are not met with such a response.
Share all that you can about police reactions and acts of discrimination. Find lists like this from Education Minnesota of local organizations that are working for change. Contribute to bail funds, if you can. Share all that you can about the U.S. government’s attacks on its citizens. Police and government institutions are sworn to protect everyone equally, and they are not doing that. Hold them accountable. After the protests end, and after the elections in the United States, join the movement that makes addressing the issues raised by these protests inevitable.
As for the civilians, a good place to start is by encouraging people to stop telling Black people how to protest, grieve, mourn and organize. This blog by Rafi D’Angelo, which came out on May 28 at the onset of the actions, has been one of the pieces of writing I have shared most often in the past week. It answers comments like “rioting never solves anything,” “it detracts from the cause,” “you hurt an innocent person,” and “I don’t believe in violence so what should I do.”
What resonated with me and my type of activism from D’Angelo’s blog is the section titled “there are better ways … ” We need to keep fighting for criminal justice reform, to defund police, to get justice for all the people on the Black Lives Matter lists in each of our cities. There is a long fight ahead. We need to get involved with local organizing in our communities and demand change instead of disappearing after the protests.
Finally, there is a concerted effort to place the blame for all the violence on “outsiders” and Antifa. David McAtee is dead and his body was left in the streets by the Louisville Police Department for 12 hours. There are individuals from right-wing groups arriving with bows and arrows and bombs to hurt protesters, with some reportedly trying to ignite a race war. The police in the United States have attacked journalists more than 120 times in the past week. So let’s aim our anger correctly.
Don’t add your own agenda without any consultation. It is not about you!
Black Lives Matter has established a central campaign to defund the police. Each protest is led by an organizing committee which has local demands. The Black Lives Matter movement and local organizing committees have national and local demands. Each city, including the cities in Canada, have a list of local people who have been harmed by discriminatory policing. The first rule of being an ally is to educate yourself about what local organizers are asking for. On May 31, the local organizers of the rally in Austin, Texas, cancelled the official protest, in part because they could not ensure that people who came out would be safe because of the actions of the government, police and certain protesters. This video by Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition’s executive director, explains the frustration brilliantly.
As an ally, you don’t get to railroad Black organizers into positions they do not support because you are more “righteous.” If you want to change the demands, you work together and get consensus to add the demand. If you want to use your privilege in support of BIPOC, do what the organizers need you to do to diversify tactics.
Stand up for the right to protest. It is under attack around the world
The president of the United States barely acknowledged the protesters’ legitimate rights. Definitely no mention of “fine people” on either side or encouragement to liberate the Twin Cities came from the Oval Office this time. Instead, he is escalating the situation, issuing calls to start shooting, demanding that states crack down or he will call in the army. It is frightening.
Right now, the president and the GOP are trying to label all instigation and violence as perpetrated by Antifa. They are also reportedly pushing state governors to clamp down on all dissent and protesters.
Antifa was formed to fight against neo-Nazis, neo-fascism, white supremacists, racism and the alt-right. In the past few years, Antifa activists have organized against Islamophobia, the alt-right and the racism being fueled by mainstream conservatives across North America and the rest of the world. One my favourite recent pieces of research by an anti-racist activist was the map of hate, which maps the IP addresses of Canadian subscribers to an extreme right-wing website. Could the anonymous anti-fascist who created the map be arrested as a domestic terrorist if he has ties to Antifa?
Antifa is an amorphous group, and so anyone who protests could be called “Anitfa.” Stand up for Antifa, because they are allies, and the attack on them could be used against you.
Fight our own ‘Amy Cooper’ and stand against prejudice in our communities
Ontario NDP Black caucus member and MPP, Rima Berns-McGown asked a great question of her constituents: “How many Amy Coopers do you know?” How many do we let pass? How many times have we seen racism in our own communities and let it pass? There are a lot of lists circulating online and on social media right now to help us educate ourselves and our loved ones.
If you order books and publications, support local Black-owned businesses instead of ordering from Amazon or other retailers.
And finally, please double check the information and memes you are sharing. Accuracy is more useful than salaciousness.
Robyn Maynard is amongst those calling for police funding to be cut in favour of social services is growing amid protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Photo by Stacy Lee
Calls to redirect police funding to mental health and other social services are growing amid massive protests over police brutality and systemic racism, but Toronto’s mayor seems determined to stick with more police training and community outreach instead.
The death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last month has revived calls to defund police amid frustration that reforms — such as more sensitivity training for officers and the use of body cameras — has not stopped police violence, which disproportionately targets people of colour.
“It is recognizing that policing itself is a form of harm,” says author Robyn Maynard, whose book Policing Black Lives chronicles the history of state violence against Black people in Canada.
“What do we need to prioritize instead of these massive, bloated policing budgets, of over a billion dollars in the case of Toronto. What would it mean to direct that towards people’s real needs?” she asks.
“This is a project that in many ways is calling for us to imagine and think about the possibility of safety entirely differently,” she says.
But the concept of actively diverting funding from Toronto’s police force, which has a long-acknowledged history of racial discrimination, is not on the agenda for John Tory, the city’s mayor.
“People present this as an either/or case and I just don’t accept that polarized decision-making tree,” he said this week when asked about diverting funding from police to provide more mental health services.
Tory is calling for the provincial and federal governments to step up on mental health funding and said the city is actively looking to purchase body cameras for officers and is expanding community outreach.
“We’ve got to restore trust in the police. We’re going to restore trust by having police officers in the community for years at a time, the same police officers actually walking through the neighbourhoods, developing relationships with people,” he said.
“This notion that we’re going to defund the police, and I don’t know whether we’re not going to have police or whatever, is not a credible option. I don’t think anybody can realistically put it forward.”
But it’s not an unprecedented idea for Toronto, which is the fourth-largest city in North America and boasts of being the most ethnically diverse metropolis in the world.
Calls for police funding to be redirected towards social services that could improve the lives of those most susceptible to police violence are growing, but Toronto’s mayor sticking to $1 billion police budget
In 2016, Councillor Michael Thompson (now deputy mayor) proposed that city council redirect $24 million from the municipal police force’s budget to transit, child care and other social services. (The motion did not pass.)
The city launched an initiative, the Neighbourhood Community Officer Program, several years ago to try to improve the police service’s relations with marginalized communities.
It’s a program lauded by Dexter Voisin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash faculty of social work.
But he says the current climate of protest across the United States should also prompt Canadians to reassess how to deal with structural obstacles such as poverty, social exclusion and lack of access to quality education that create the conditions where crime flourishes.
“It’s an opportunity for communities, law enforcement, policymakers, social advocates to come together and start discussing these things in more earnest ways,” he says.
Meanwhile, the push to defund law enforcement is a growing part of the protest movement and political response in the U.S.
In Minneapolis, activist groups are calling on the mayor to cut $45 million US from the budget of the city’s police department in the wake of Floyd’s death. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Wednesday that he is scrapping plans for a massive boost to the city’s police department.
One of the key arguments of the defund police movement is that law enforcement often escalate problems they are asked to solve, including when responding to people dealing with a mental health crisis.
Sandy Hudson of Black Lives Matter talks with National Observer’s Linda Solomon Wood about the defund police movement
The concept extends to the elimination of certain crimes, such as public transit fare evasion, says Sandy Hudson, a co-founder of the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter.
“We’ve seen police brutality for fare evasion, certainly in Toronto on the TTC,” she says. “And it’s like, man, if we didn’t put $1.07 billion into funding the police, could we take some of that money, make transit free and make the whole idea of fare evasion impossible?”
By creating green income trusts with the same federal tax benefits that prevailed in the early 2000s, therefore giving private investors incentives to massively scale up investments in new low-carbon energy technologies.
These could range from hydrogen, geothermal, wind and solar to carbon capture and storage.
An added benefit would be to assist Alberta’s economic diversification and build on the province’s strengths at a time when oil hasn’t even been worth the barrel it’s sitting in.
Time is not on Canada’s side. Other North American jurisdictions are well ahead of us. Can Canada catch up?
Although income trusts were used by many industries in the early 2000s, they were particularly vital for the capital-intensive energy sector. They worked by minimizing corporate taxes.
Each income trust was structured so that a corporation’s business income was paid to the trust, mainly in the form of tax-deductible interest payments. The cash was then distributed to the trust’s unit-holders, reducing the underlying corporation’s taxes to zero and maximizing investor payouts.
This arrangement was eliminated in what has become known as the Halloween Massacre. The federal government announced on Oct. 31, 2006, that all income trusts would be taxed at rates similar to corporations.
Investors in energy trusts were particularly hard hit, with income trusts losing 17.9 per cent in value over the next 10 days.
Bring back the trusts — but just for low-carbon initiatives
Reviving tax breaks for income trusts today to help low-carbon energy technologies attract much-needed equity capital would be a relatively simple measure for the federal government to undertake.
It would not require direct infusions of cash at a time when the government faces expensive demands for bailouts, instead relying on market forces to achieve its goals.
These tax breaks would be amply returned through the development of new companies and industries, based on existing technologies, creating new sources of tax revenue. The need for this measure could be reassessed after 30 years, or when Canada achieves a net-zero carbon economy, ensuring the long-term stability needed to attract private investment. In the short term, temporary measures will not do the trick.
Green income trusts could be particularly useful in helping spark the birth of a hydrogen industry in Alberta that could potentially promote new, low-carbon uses for the province’s vast oil and gas reserves, unlocking major competitive advantages for the province in North American and world markets.
It will likely take at least five years to bring new clean, renewable and carbon-capture technologies to a sound commercial footing. The exceptions are wind and solar, which are already profitable. However, federal changes to tax policy must take place now in order to encourage forward-looking investors to finance loss-making ventures with the intention of selling or converting the businesses to income trusts once they become profitable.
Alberta’s old energy industry faces ‘existential crisis’
But they have only added to an ongoing existential crisis as the world slowly transitions to a low-carbon economy — a move driven by everything from anti-pipeline protests impelled by the need to limit climate change to the refusal of large international insurance companies to cover oilsands projects.
The continued viability of oil and gas development in Canada is becoming an open question, not least because of the increasing importance of environmental, social and governance factors in influencing financing decisions.
The recent decision by the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund to divest from Canadian oil sands companies is just the beginning. Going forward, attracting capital will become more and more difficult.
Tapping the skills of Alberta workers
Besides its energy riches, Alberta has a deep reservoir of talent and expertise created by decades of large-scale oil and gas developments. Why not put these skills to new uses, potentially creating new industries within the energy sector and slowly easing the province away from the traditional oil-and-gas rollercoaster?
The recent alliance between unemployed oil well drillers and Clean Energy Canada to explore drilling for geothermal energy suggests that such workers do not see oil and gas as an implacable foe of clean and renewable energy.
Can Canada catch up?
It can indeed, if federal encouragement of private investment in green energy takes place now. The research behind income trusts shows that they helped to increase investments in oil and gas before the Halloween Massacre of 2006. The same formula could work again, but this time targeted towards low-carbon technologies.
Yrjo Koskinen is a finance professor and associate dean of research at the University of Calgary. J. Ari Pandes is an associate professor of finance at the university and Nga Nguyen is a PhD candidate in finance.
Days passed before the 1000-litre leak was revealed to hereditary chiefs, who say RCMP camp violates agreement.
Tarp covering spill site at RCMP’s Community-Industry Safety Office, which was set up last year to patrol protests where Coastal GasLink is building a pipeline to transport natural gas. Photo: submitted.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en is investigating two fuel spills on its territory, both located near the Morice Forest Service Road where conflict over the Coastal GasLink pipeline has erupted in recent years.
“I was out there as soon as I heard about it,” Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Gisday’way said about the remote RCMP detachment, which sits on his territory. RCMP said the spill, which is blamed on a faulty fuel line, was discovered May 19. The Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which represents the hereditary chiefs, wasn’t notified until several days later.
Chief Gisday’way, whose English name is Fred Tom, says the spill site slopes toward the Morice River, about 100 metres away.
“It slants that way. The water runs that way to the river. There’s a tree-planting camp not too far from them downriver and they didn’t even tell them about it,” he said.
It was staff from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en’s natural resources department investigating the spill who stopped in at the camp, which is less than a kilometre from the detachment, and notified the tree planters, said Hereditary Chief Na’Moks. He added that while RCMP didn’t have equipment for cleaning up the fuel, the reforestation company did.
“The tree-planting camp had all the environmental safety equipment and spill kits, yet the RCMP didn’t have any of it,” said Na’Moks, whose English name is John Ridsdale.
In a statement, RCMP said the fuel line failure took place shortly before it was discovered during a routine check.
“The facility owner immediately notified the appropriate government agencies to test for environmental contamination and remove affected soils,” RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said in an email Wednesday. RCMP contacted Chief Gisday’way and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en three days later, she said. “Since this date, we have been liaising with the responsible company and continuing to provide updates to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, as well as conducting site visits.”
However, Chief Gisday’way speculated that the loose fitting that caused the leak may have been in place much longer. In a video posted to Facebook, an RCMP officer is shown telling a Gidimt’en clan member that he has “no idea” how long the fuel tank had been leaking.
Office of the Wet’suwet’en environmental assessment co-ordinator Mike Ridsdale wasn’t available for comment Wednesday as he was visiting the site of a second, more recent spill at the Coastal GasLink pipeline’s 9A Lodge, a work camp about 100 kilometres down the Morice forestry road that’s expected to host 450 workers by next summer.
Chief Na’Moks said the pipeline company notified the Office of the Wet’suwet’en about five days after the spill happened. Like the first incident, the natural resources department was told about 500 litres of diesel was deposited onto the ground.
“They’re supposed to notify us right off the bat, but we’re that far behind on their notification,” he said. “With CGL, they constantly tell us it’s world-class cleanup and environmental standards. We know B.C. is just going to give them a slap on the wrist. It’s just disgusting.”
Coastal GasLink did not respond to emails from The Tyee by press time Wednesday.
The RCMP’s Community-Industry Safety Office was established 30 kilometres south of Houston, B.C. in January 2019, three days after police acted on an interim injunction by forcibly removing barricades 44 kilometres down the Morice forestry road. The roadblocks were put in place by the Gidimt’en clan and its supporters who oppose Coastal GasLink, a 670-kilometre, $6.6 billion pipeline that will ship fracked gas from the province’s northeast to a terminal near Kitimat.
Nearly a year and a half later, the detachment remains in place, despite calls from the hereditary chiefs for its removal.
RCMP has been criticized for the amount of resources it has directed to the detachment. While the force has declined to share staffing numbers, Chief Na’Moks has said that 16 full-time officers are stationed at the detachment.
A condition of the meeting was that RCMP remove the remote detachment from Wet’suwet’en territory. While the force began basing its patrols out of nearby Houston, the ATCO trailers that make up the C-ISO detachment have remained and are part of the officers’ regular patrols. The leaky fuel line was connected to a generator at the site, according to the Facebook video.
In the video, an officer says police are maintaining a presence at the detachment while the site is cleaned up, “Just because it is a bit of a mess.”
“A mess you guys created, after Gisday’way asked you guys to leave his territory,” responds a Gidimt’en member behind the camera. “The chiefs were assured this C-ISO office was going to be dismantled and now we hear of 500 litres of diesel being spilled. So imagine his disappointment and our outrage.”
Another officer is shown asking the Gidimt’en clan member to leave the area.
“They were supposed to leave in February when we signed our agreement with the government. That was one of the things, that we wanted them out of our territory,” Gisday’way said. “We want them out of our territory because we couldn’t even go out there and do what we please. I told them, I go get wood here. I do some hunting out here.”
A hole has been dug to remediate the site and soil samples sent to Calgary will determine whether all the contaminated earth has been removed, Gisday’way said.
“When it’s something like that, way out there in the middle of nowhere, you should check on that every day. Anybody with half a brain knows that,” he said. The hereditary chief said he has spent time working in industrial camps in the past.
“If we saw a leak, we’d address the company that we’re working for. If there’s a leak in the machinery, we fix it or we tell the boss about it, say that’s got to be fixed now. How they let that go for a 500-litre spill, that’s beyond me. Somebody’s not doing their job.”
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian Renaissance diplomat, philosopher and writer. The term Machiavellian often connotes political deceit, deviousness, and realpolitik.
“Never waste an opportunity offered by a good crisis.”
Machiavelli, the author of The Prince, who is seen as a reference for sneaky politicians, appears to be the go-to guide for our premier.
Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet must also be reading Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, for ideas.
She describes the use of “shock therapy” to exploit a crisis to push through controversial and questionable policies.
When citizens are distracted emotionally and physically, most are unable to engage and develop an adequate response, or to resist effectively.
It is a deliberate technique to discourage legitimate dialogue and to brutally force acquiescence.
The pandemic is being used to push through radical pro-corporate measures that are major concessions to the energy, forestry and mining sectors.
Among other things this strategy includes:
*The cessation of environmental reporting and monitoring requirements, which provide the benchmark for performance measures.
* Speeding up approvals, even though no evidence exists that past review practices held up industry, which will ensure no public intervention occurs.
* Rescinding rules for coal mining in the foothills and mountains, risking the integrity of the headwaters and the source of water for most Albertans.
* Promoting a 13 per cent increase in timber harvest, even though logging may not be sustainable at present levels.
* Investing in questionable oil and gas companies and projects that private investors won’t touch.
* Failing to diversify Alberta’s economy beyond extractive industries, which ignores the province’s future.
* Cutting 184 parks and provincial recreation areas, especially in the foothills, clearing the way for industrial development and privatization.
* Ignoring extensive public consultation, advice and progress related to land use plans, which alienates concerned Albertans.
This tsunami-like unravelling of environmental policies and regulations by the Alberta government is ideological, not logical or rational.
The presumed cure (getting rid of anything perceived to impede business and diminish corporate profits) is many times worse than the illusionary problem.
Implementing the playbook of corporations by dismantling the guard rails of environmental protection works for investors, but fails to protect the public interest.
Presenting this as it’s either the environment or the economy, is a Hobson’s choice, a false and misleading dichotomy.
We can’t ignore the economy, but to ignore the environment (or give it lip service instead of real protection) will bite us badly.
Reputationally, Alberta will suffer when ethical investors bail from a Wild West business model (as some already have).
Landscapes with ecological integrity protect and buffer us from floods, drought and biodiversity loss, as well as provide a suite of economic advantages for recreation, agriculture and tourism.
Squander that, and we undermine the most sustainable parts of our economy in favour of a short-term liquidation sale.
We can choose to cut more trees, mine more coal or extract more oil and gas, but we can’t have all of these and still retain functional, ecologically intact landscapes.
A gain in any of the former is a loss in the latter. It’s not even clear if more cutting, digging or drilling is economically beneficial for Albertans, given the dismal track record of undercharging for rents, royalties and reclamation levies.
We taxpayers are already stuck with the bill for abandoned wells because of this flawed governance.
Even before this unprecedented unravelling of decades-old regulatory tools (which had the benefit of public consultation), there were many metaphorical land use fires burning in Alberta.
Now, the Alberta government is acting like a pyromaniac, lighting more fires and handing out more matches, rather than using the tools available to manage and control the existing fires.
Aldo Leopold, the dean of ecologists, described an oak tree outside an old farm house.
The tree had provided shelter, shade, bird song and aesthetic appeal, but it had been girdled and was dead.
Leopold observed, “Girdling the old oak to squeeze one last crop out of the barnyard has the same finality as burning the furniture to keep warm.”
A free-for-all of logging, mining and drilling to bail the province’s economy out, one last time, is the same as girdling the oak tree.
When ideology prevails over planning, we should fear the results.
Instead of an imperious bit of blind political wand waving (with the backing of industry), Alberta needs a systematic assessment of resource availability, coupled with analysis of compatibility with other provincial responsibilities, such as maintenance of water quality, watershed protection to ameliorate floods and drought, fish and wildlife protection (including species at risk recovery) and impacts on existing recreation and business interests.
That type of public interest planning would help us understand what is in the realm of the possible for resource development, provide a measure of the impacts and consequences, assess mitigation and address true cost accounting.
Axing environmental protections, assuming this will be our economic salvation, isn’t a strategy — it’s a surrender.
To do so in a pandemic, without considering the consequences, is putting the cart before the horse, or, the coal mine before the loss of native trout, logging before downstream flooding, and more oil before air and water pollution.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks a good game but hasn’t taken actions that could meaningfully improve the human rights system.CARLOS OSORIO / REUTERS
Following the protests that have swept across the United States after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed black man who was killed by a white police officer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly stated that we need to “to stand up against discrimination” and “that we have work to do as well in Canada.”
Unfortunately, Trudeau did not provide any specifics on the “work” that has to be done when it comes to combatting racism and discrimination in Canada. Since 2015, Trudeau has engaged in mostly symbolic acts and lip service on this subject.
Most recently, in 2019, the Trudeau government outlined Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy,with a $45-million investment that has yet to be fully utilized and implemented. This strategy also did not make any reference to reforming Canada’s broken human rights enforcement system.
Combatting racism and discrimination in Canada is useless without an effective human rights system.
The agreement immediately recognizes that Wet’suwet’en rights and title are held by the nation’s own system of governance, and include a commitment to beginning negotiations on legal recognition of Wet’suwet’en title to their traditional land.
Chief Gisday’wa was one of the plaintiffs in the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case, which led to a Supreme Court decision that recognized Wet’suwet’en system of laws that predates colonialism.
The deal was struck in February, amidst nation-wide protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation against the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, planned to run through 190 km of Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
The slogans ShutDownCanada and All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en swept the nation in January and February, with protestors showing support from all around the Wet’suwet’en as rail blockades halted access from Montreal to Toronto in solidarity.
The 670 km long natural gas pipeline is planned to carry gas from a town in eastern BC to a liquefaction plant on the west coast of the province, where the gas will be exported to Asian customers. It is known as the largest private sector investment in Canadian history.
While five of six elected band council members agreed with the project, the hereditary chiefs, whose role within the nation is to make decisions over the land, say they never consented. The dispute made global headlines, with UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for immediate withdrawal as RCMP raided the Unist’ot’en camp with guns in tow.
The Wet’suwet’en are just one of many First Nations in the province that have been attempting to negotiate jurisdiction, recognition of ownership, and self-government since Europeans began to settle on their traditional land in the 1800s.
“This is not just an indigenous issue, this is a human rights issue, the rights for us to be who we are as Wet’suwet’en People,” Cheif Na’Moks said at the virtual signing.
The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty or relinquished their rights to the 22,000km of land they have been inhabiting since pre-colonial times.
“There’s no turning back,” said Marlene Hale, a chef from Wet’suwet’en who led protests in Montreal. She says the MOU represents a step towards reconciliation.
“It’s a signal to the government that we may have agreed to start this work by starting the talks and negotiations,” she continued. “They will walk the path of reconciliation with us. That’s very important. The rights and titles will be recognized.”
In 1984, leaders of the Gitxcan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations took the BC provincial government to court to establish jurisdiction over 58 000 km of both land and water. The fight for recognition of ownership of the land had climbed to urgency when a hydroelectric project established by the BC government in the 50s caused major damage to the area of multiple First Nations groups, including the destruction of homes and of sacred burial ground.
As clear-cut logging projects were approved by the BC government, members of the Gixdan and Wet’suwet’en nations opposed the building of a second hydro project, the First Nations appealed the decision and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. During the trial, The First Nations group provided evidence to their historical ownership of the land by using oral history; witnesses spoke in their own languages, using translators to tell the long history of the land and water in the territory.
Ceremonial songs and performances, reciting the adaawk, personal bloodline histories of the Gitxsan, and kungas, songs about trials between territories of the Wet’suwet’en.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled oral history to be evidence of pre-colonial land ownership, and ruled that the right to the Nations’ land had not been extinguished.
The Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case made headlines as the most comprehensive decision about Aboriginal title, which legally states that “the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed”. While the case affirmed that the Wet’suwet’en may still have ownership of their land, any further decisions were not made.
The MOU, Hale said, “leads to a consensus on the government to implement the 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa [case] – it was really putting it official.”
The fight was still far from over. Land rights have yet to be clearly defined and articulated in court, even though it had been acknowledged that the Wet’suwet’en never signed over their land in a treaty.
In 2010, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and land defenders built the Unisto’ten Camp as a means to block the development of numerous proposed pipeline projects that would cut through the First Nation’s territory. Hereditary chiefs held their opposition to Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, a pipeline project whose’ path was similar to the future CGL.
A permaculture garden and a traditional pithouse were built on site, bringing life to the conflict, used for shelter are included in the camp which lays at the exact point pipelines would cross into Unis’to’ten Wet’suwet’en territory.
Though the ENGP project never went through, the CGL pipeline was officially approved in 2015, with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs remaining in opposition.
In 2014, Tsilhqot’in Nation in B.C. became the first to prove title to their land in court.
In another landmark Supreme Court ruling, provinces cannot unilaterally claim a right to engage in clear-cut logging on lands protected by Indigenous Peoples; they have to engage in meaningful consultation with the Aboriginal title-holder before proceeding.
“This is a significant time for our nation,” he continued. “It’s a significant time for everybody, all around the world. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the work that we’re about to do today which is working actually towards true reconciliation. It is no longer a political catch phrase – this is something that is going into action.”
The 1876 Indian Act, which charted an assimilationist policy towards the Aboriginal peoples in Canada, made it illegal for Indigenous Peoples to raise money or hire lawyers for land claims. This was not lifted until 1951.
The Wet’suwet’en uses a “mixed governance system” that uses both hereditary and elected chiefs, who all play different roles within the community. The elected band council is a position that stemmed from the Indian Act to bridge Canadian government with First Nations. It is different from the traditional position of the hereditary chief, where hereditary chiefs attain governing power by consensus.
It is their job to protect the land and assure its safety for future generations, a continuation of the work of their ancestors that will be passed down to future generations.
“We always knew that we had 22 000 square kilometers of land,” said Chief Na’Moks at the virtual signing.
For Marlene Hale, May 14 is a new day to mark on the calendar – a celebration. “Wiggus – respect – rides high with our people,” she said. “And it was not respected, that word. It is now, it is existing and it is respected. By them signing, this wiggus has come to light again.”
“We’re here to make a future, because this is who we are. We’ve always held our integrity, we’ve always held our honesty, we’ve always held our respect. From this day forward, it has to be reciprocal. When we speak, we must be listened to. When we come to an agreement, it’s an agreement from the heart, the soul and for the future, and we have to do it for everybody.”
“When our children and grandchildren and great grand children look upon this day, I want them to look back on this for a smile on their face,” he continued. “Those ladies and gentlemen did it for us, and now we’re doing it for them. And it has to be done with honesty and hard work. Today the work starts, the real hard work starts. And there will never be another piece of legislation of policy that will ever silence the Wet’suwet’en again.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a daily press conference from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa to update Canadians on the government’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Apr. 14, 2020. Andrew Meade/iPolitics
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still isn’t committing to a release date for a promised action plan responding to the findings of an inquiry tasked with investigating the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, as Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the report’s release.
“This first anniversary is a time to pay tribute to Indigenous women and girls who have seen horrific situations,” Trudeau said when challenged by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in the House of Commons about the government’s lagging response to the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
“We will continue to be there for them,” Trudeau said.
The government a few weeks ago revealed it was delaying the release of an action plan beyond the June 2020 deadline it set for itself. The MMIWG report had 231 calls to action documented throughout its more than 1,000 pages.
“We have been acting on those calls for justice over the past year and we will continue to. The COVID-19 crisis has delayed the work by our partners and us on the response,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister said the findings of the report, which noted that Indigenous women and girls were 16 times more likely to be killed or disappear than white women in Canada, “amounts to genocide” when it was released last year.
In early May of this year, Lorraine Whitman, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), told a roundtable that included federal cabinet ministers François-Philippe Champagne and Karina Gould that the pandemic has heightened the risk that Indigenous women face from violence.
The NWAC said in a press release on Wednesday that it found in a recent survey that one in five Indigenous women had experienced violence in the past three months.
It also gave the federal government a “failing grade” in a report card judging its efforts to address the MMIWG report’s calls to action.
“Instead of a National Action Plan, we have been left with a Lack-of-Action Plan,” said Whitman.
The NWAC said in the absence of a response plan from the Trudeau government that it’s held roundtable discussions with Indigenous women to better understand what their priorities are. It said that in May it sent the federal government a list of eight measures that could be the foundation of a national plan, but that it hasn’t yet received a response from Ottawa.
“We have not abandoned hope that the government will release a plan in the near future and to take our suggestions seriously,” said Whitman. “We are willing to do whatever is necessary to help make that happen. Although the government may have abandoned Indigenous women and their families, we will not.”
Premier announces new firearms advisory committee and plans for forensic examination lab
Premier Jason Kenney says the province will set up a firearms advisory committee and a special examination unit to be used in prosecuting gun crimes at a news conference Wednesday. 40:01
Alberta’s government is taking further steps to assert provincial independence in tackling gun crime and firearms access.
On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced Alberta will skirt a national backlog of forensic firearms examinations by establishing a “special examination unit” within the province. An eight-month delay getting results from national labs is prompting problematic lags in prosecuting gun crimes, the premier said.
Kenney also tapped Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo to chair a provincial firearms advisory committee. It’s a further step in response to the federal Liberal government’s move to ban 1,500 “assault style” firearms last month — a move Kenney says makes “scapegoats” of law-abiding gun owners.
“You can put all sorts of Hollywood words on them to characterize them, but these are firearms again that have been used and are possessed legally by Albertans and Canadians,” Kenney said at a news conference in Edmonton on Wednesday.
Glasgo said she was “appalled” by Ottawa’s “gun grab” initiated last month. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately banned the sale, import, transport or use of a lengthy list of semi-automatic weapons in the wake of Canada’s deadliest mass killing in Nova Scotia.
Gun owners would have a two-year amnesty period to sell or export any newly illegal firearms.
Appointing an Alberta firearms officer was one of several ideas under consideration by the “Fair Deal” panel Kenney assembled last fall. The group of MLAs and other citizens was tasked with holding public hearings and studying ways Alberta could assert its independence within confederation, including consideration of a provincial pension plan or a provincial police force to replace federal counterparts.
The panel submitted its report to government earlier this spring, and Kenney said he will release it publicly within a couple of weeks.
Although government has made no final decision, the premier said on Wednesday the idea of creating a provincial police force is still on the table. He pointed to frustrations in rural Alberta with crime rates and slow response times from RCMP.
“There’s a lack of understanding about the local reality sometimes in those in RCMP management,” he said. “This could be a part of asserting a stronger Alberta in a Canadian federation.”
Firearms lab will help prosecutions
Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the government has reached a deal with Calgary and Edmonton police and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) for lab analysis of guns used in crimes.
The delay at RCMP labs is putting prosecutions at risk, Kenney said, as the Supreme Court’s Jordan decision prompts judges to dismiss cases for unreasonable systemic delays.
The Calgary Police Service has a firearms examinations facility and the Edmonton Police Service has one in development, but most police services in Alberta rely on the RCMP’s national forensic laboratory in Ottawa.
In 2012, the federal Stephen Harper Conservative government — in which Kenney was a cabinet minister — announced the closure of three of six RCMP forensic labs to save money. Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the turnaround time for those labs to analyze a firearm used in a crime quadrupled to 238 days.
Schweitzer said about 600 Alberta firearms go to the national lab for testing each year. Once up and running, Edmonton and Calgary labs should be able to handle about 750, he said.
Kelly Sundberg, an economics, justice and policy studies professor at Mount Royal University, said in an interview the Alberta government should consider handling all forensics analysis within the province, if possible. If labs were well resourced, and with advice and oversight from local universities, it would be good for criminal justice in Alberta, he said.
Opposition says firearms committee an ‘echo chamber’
The new 12-member Alberta Firearms Advisory Council will “examine the impact of federal firearms legislation on gun owners in Alberta and consider how provincial firearms policies can best meet the needs of Albertans,” according to government.
Members, which include three rural MLAs, former Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson, firearms-related business owners and competitive shooters, will give advice to government and submit a report within a few months.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the council is “homogenous” and lacks representation by people from communities victimized by gun crimes and active police members.
“You’re not going to have an effective advisory committee if you only insist upon turning up the volume of your own echo chamber,” Notley said Wednesday.
Notley said she understands Albertans’ frustration with the federal government’s gun ban, saying it came with little warning and failed to initially consider Indigenous hunting rights.
She said farmers and hunters don’t need some of the outlawed weapons.
“If you literally need 600 bullets to kill a moose, you probably shouldn’t be hunting anything,” she said.
On Wednesday evening, members of the legislature debated a motion to express government’s opposition to the federal gun ban and appoint a provincial chief firearms officer.
In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the new ban on assault-style firearms came after months of consultation.
“We know that law abiding gun owners are very responsible people, and they have our respect,” said Mary-Liz Power in the statement. “The prohibition of assault weapons brought in on May 1, 2020 follows extensive public consultation between October 2018 and Spring 2019, including eight in-person roundtable sessions across the country in both urban and rural communities, an online questionnaire, written submissions from stakeholders, and meetings with provinces, territories, municipalities, and Indigenous communities.”
Power said the ban was “one piece in the larger puzzle of ending gun violence” and that the government has invested millions fighting gun and gang violence.
The statement also notes that provinces have the right to appoint a chief firearms officer and five provinces have chosen to do so.