1,100 protesters showed up in Kaslo, BC - a town of 1,000 - to say no to a proposed private river power project - June 2009

Damn Protesters


Long before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Before that nail-biter of a hockey game. Before any of that was even thought about, I must say that I have thanked my lucky stars each and every night for the good luck of being born Canadian.

I love the way I can drink water straight from the tap. I love that I can live in a big city yet get myself to the wilderness on a Saturday morning for a sunrise hike.

I love the way when, my Dad had heart problems while on vacation on the Sunshine Coast – he was helicoptered to Saint Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, operated on, and returned to us in better shape than ever – all free of charge.

So what I do for a living may come as a bit of a surprise. I am a professional protester.

I work for an environmental organization, the Wilderness Committee, as its National Campaign Director. We conduct grass-roots education campaigns that advocate for more nature protection, more park lands and better laws to protect fish and wildlife.

In my day to day work I photograph endangered wilderness areas, write educational brochures, do media interviews and of course – protest. I protest a lot.

It may seem weird that one so happy as I – would be protesting in many cases, governments representing the very nation that I profess to love.

Name a thing you really love about Canada, and I’ll bet dollars to Tim Horton’s donuts that protest signs, banners and rallies had something to do with it. If you want good stuff done, you need a citizenry ready willing and able to get off it’s collective butt and do a little protesting from time to time.

Most Canadians have heard of Tommy Douglas, that skinny guy with the gift of the gab from Saskatchewan. Fifty years ago he turned the protests of a nation sick with the high cost of being sick into the beginnings of the Canadian public health care system that we are so proud of today. But Tommy couldn’t have done any of it without thousands of people willing to speak up in protest of the pay as you go system that was killing off those who couldn’t afford to pay.

Next time you pour yourself a glass of water anywhere in Metro Vancouver – take a close look.

Back in the 1920s locals were protesting the logging that was ripping apart the forested valleys that produced the water. One Ernest Cleveland, riding the political wave caused by the protesters, rose to the challenge, and was given control of the watersheds by the government of the day. Ernest shut down the logging and then proclaimed “they will log those watersheds over my dead body”. Ernest kept his promise until his death in the mid 1950s.

By the 1960s the logging companies had wormed their way back into Vancouver’s watersheds and the big trees were coming down again. So were the mountain sides as the denuded slopes melted into muddy torrents every November. Vancouverites looked at their murky water glasses and fumed. But by the late 1980s a new generation of protesters had risen again! The beginning of 1990s saw the end of logging in the watersheds – and a clearer future in our drinking glasses.

In fact, all across BC the so-called tree wars of the 1980s and 90s resulted in some mighty fine areas being protected. The protesters of that era made it possible for people today to enjoy such amazing wild places as Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Meares Island Tribal Park, Valhalla Provincial Park, Stein Valley Heritage Park, Skagit Provincial Park, Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park and the Elaho Conservancy to name a few.

So what’s scrawled on my protest signs these days? Save BC’s wild rivers! All in all hundreds of rivers have been claimed by a myriad of private interests, with many plans in the works to dam and divert them. Publicly owned BC Hydro used to pour millions of dollars into the public coffers, which would then go to things like running the public health care system. Now the money flows to the private power companies.

I believe that this nightmare power play for our rivers can be stopped by the power of – you guessed it – protest! In 2008 over 1,000 people came out to protest a plan to dam and divert all eight tributaries of the Upper Pitt River, a major Lower Mainland salmon river. The BC government killed the project the following day. Similar huge crowds in the Kootenays appear to have stopped the proposed Glacier Howser private river diversion project. And the monstrous project being proposed by General Electric and Plutonic Power in the Bute Inlet area to dam and divert up to 17 rivers has been stalled for at least a year, due to strong public opposition.

Dam protesters? It’s the Canadian way … eh!


About Joe Foy

Joe Foy is the National Campaign Director for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. As a youngster, Joe loved to hike and fish. In 1984, he volunteered with the Wilderness Committee and in 1987 he became their first paid campaigner. Since then, Joe has been the driving force behind many of the Wilderness Committee's causes and has become one of the top environmental campaigners in Canada. These days Joe is focused on saving old growth trees and protecting BC's wild rivers from being ruined by private hydro power developers.

3 thoughts on “Damn Protesters

  1. While I have never protested on the streets I’ve done some sneaky stuff by writing letters, phoning, and running media campaigns. To anyone who says it’s no use, how can little me effect what happens I say rubbish!
    One can even effect events miles away as in when Discovery Channel announced they were putting a light beam on top of their new headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. “It will be seen for 40 miles” they brayed! Well, that went round the Dark Sky List at the speed of light. My letter was top of the page online at the Silver Springs Gazette, whose Editor remarked we even heard from as far away as Vancouver, Canada. Also, I phoned Meade Instruments (telescope makers), the major advertisers on Discovery Channel, blasted through to the VP of Sales, told him to pull their advertising immediately, the astronomical community were in revolt and Meade should pay attention. He appreciated my intervention very much – I should have asked for a free scope! Discovery back-pedaled so fast they were still being hauled out of the Atlantic a week later!

  2. Excellent article explaining the basis behind democratic change. ALL social change comes from citizens who demand it. It never comes from above, handed down from our political and economic elites. Never has, never will.

    The appetite for non-violent, direct action is growing by the day. Of course, the MSM (mainstream media) does everything in its power to ignore the mass plight of citizens. But the desire for change is becoming overwhelming. We all need to turn off our TV’s and get involved. Great article.

  3. Obviously protests work but what are protests without protesters?

    And where are all the protesters now?

    Our Provincial and Canadian governments are poised to allow mining companies to use our ever dwindling supply of freshwater lakes as toxic waste dumps. They are poised to double aquauclture production in Canada using the very technology (open-net pens) that is resulting in severe impacts to our iconic salmon stocks. They are gutting environmental assessment legislation … all in an effort to “meet our international trade obligations”.

    We need people to rise up and take a stand on these issues.

    Please …. if you care … stand up and join us. At the very least write to Gordon Campbell and Steven Harper and tell them to back off on these insane policies.

    They seem to have forgotten who they actually work for … who their clients are … remind them!!

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