Harper and Clark: Quit goading First Nations with premature LNG, Site C work

Unist'ot'en Camp leader Freda Huson denying access to RCMP on July 15 (Youtube video screen capture/Stimulator)
Unist’ot’en Camp leader Freda Huson speaks to RCMP on July 15 (Youtube video/Stimulator)

You’d hope we’d come a long way since the crises of Gustafsen Lake and Oka . You’d hope.

This is, after all, 2015. Post-Tsilhqot’in decision. Post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission – out of which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada used the words “cultural genocide” to describe the treatment by the crown of generations of aboriginal peoples.

To top it all off, we’re in the midst of a federal election – hardly the time for strong-armed tactics driving forth federal energy policy.

And yet, in the recesses of the ivory tower that is the PMO in Ottawa, there has likely been a running conversation in recent days and weeks about directing the RCMP to dismantle a First Nations-led encampment on the Morice River, wherein indigenous titleholders to those lands and waters are peacefully denying access to surveyors from TransCanada Pipelines who want to build a natural gas conduit to the coast.

Christy Clark's LNG-fueled Fudge-it Budget
Premier Christy Clark (CP)

Meanwhile, in the province’s northeast, BC Hydro has been preparing to cut down eagles’ nests sacred to local Treaty 8 peoples. Why? Because in 7 or 8 years, the Peace River Valley may be flooded yet again for a third dam, billed Site C. That is, if the project survives multiple, constitutionally-grounded legal challenges, horribly flawed economics, the absence of any real need for it, and criticism from all corners – including a former Hydro CEO and the head of the Joint Review Panel that examined the dam – plus about a dozen other good reasons not to build it.

If there is any need to cut down those nests, it won’t come for years into the future, when the dam is raised and the valley flooded. But permits were issued by the Clark government to begin cutting them down in a few days. Why? I’ve thought long and hard about this and can’t find any other good reason than out-and-out provocation of First Nations.

They dare to gum up the cogs of the progress machine? Hit ’em where it hurts. Show ’em who’s boss.

Pushing buttons

The same can be said for TransCanada’s survey work. All summer we’ve been hearing a familiar, frustrating tune. The company tries to enter this contentious stretch of territory – occupied for years now by members and supporters of one of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, the Unist’ot’en. They have made their position clear: No oil or gas pipelines through their territory. They are backed up by the hereditary chiefs of all five clans. They have not been ambiguous in any way.

Yet the company returns, with predictable results. Then, they turn to the police – pitting members of the camp against armed law enforcement.

Now, in recent days we learn, from alarm bells being rung from the camp and supporters around BC and the world, that the RCMP have booked out hotel rooms in nearby communities and may be preparing to descend upon the camp.

RCMP backtracking?

Under intense pressure from social media and concerned citizens, groups and prominent leaders, the RCMP issued the following statement on Friday evening:

[quote]To clarify, the BC RCMP has no intention of ‘taking down the camp’ set up by the Unist’ot’en…Despite what is being portrayed by some media and on social media, the BC RCMP would like to emphasize that we remain impartial in this dispute. We understand that there has recently been progress made and we are very pleased with these developments. Our Aboriginal Policing Members continue to remain in contact directly with the Unist’ot’en and we will continue to assist in any way we can. [/quote]

If this is true, it’s a step in the right direction and an indication that public pressure is working.

But it would be foolish not to take such a statement with a pound of salt. After all, we’ve seen this before, all too recently, in New Brunswick, where members of the Elsipogtog First Nation stood up to unwanted shale gas exploration in their territory. Rubber bullets, tear gas, jack boots, German Shepherds. Ugly, ugly stuff.

Moreover, note how the above RCMP statement does not preclude arresting the members of the camp – only “taking down” the camp itself. It will be very interesting to see their next move.

What’s the rush?

Lelu Island and Flora Bank (foreground) - site of controversial proposed LNG plant (Skeena Watershed Conservation Soc.)
Lelu Island and Flora Bank (foreground) – site of controversial proposed LNG plant (Skeena Watershed Conservation Soc.)

What this issue has in common with the eagles’ nests in Peace Country is the unnecessary haste. Wherever you stand on LNG, nothing real is happening anytime soon. Not because of protest – though that’s certainly an important factor – but because the market is simply not there. Heck, it was bad at $50 oil and China bailing out in favour of cheaper Russian pipelines. At $40 oil (Asian LNG spot market prices are indexed to oil prices), with Japanese nuclear plants firing back up, the Chinese economy in trouble, and the Malaysian government imploding, you could not pick a worse time to be developing BC LNG.

So when you hear about Petronas’ contractors carting in geotechnical instruments to Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, or TransCanada barging into Unist’ot’en territory for survey work, we’re talking early, early, wishful, whimsical, shot-in-the-dark work here. What we are not talking about is anything closely approximating an LNG industry actually being built in BC.

Which brings me to my point: What’s the rush? If this stretch of the Morice River is so sacred to and so forbidden by the First Nations who hold title to it, and meaningful development of a hypothetical plant in Kitimat is so far off in the distant future – not to mention bloody unlikely, period – then why risk provoking another ugly chapter in Canadian colonial history?

Hydro forced to stand down…for now

Treaty 8 drummers above proposed Site C Dam (Damien Gillis)
Treaty 8 drummers above proposed Site C Dam (Damien Gillis)

In another piece of encouraging news – depending how you look at it – an injunction hearing brought this month by Treaty 8 First Nations over the eagles’ nests and other early work by Hydro yielded some progress with a ruling Friday. While the court declined to issue an injunction, as a part of the proceedings, BC Hydro committed to stand down for now on some of this contentious work – until current cases before the courts have been decided.

“We went to court to protect our old growth trees, eagle nests, beaver dams and our traditional way of life”, said Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations. “As a result, BC Hydro will not be destroying the forests or removing eagle nests and beaver dams in the Moberly River valley [which runs into the Peace River at the dam site]. We asked for those areas to be protected”.

Broader concerns over the legitimacy and constitutionality of Hydro’s work permits for Site C will be decided at a judicial review hearing in November. Yet these temporary concessions from Hydro are cold comfort amidst the Clark government’s obsessive drive to build a $9 Billion-plus project that we plainly don’t need and to which First Nations and farmers and many supporters around BC are steadfastly opposed.

What’s Harper driving at?

Harper slashes federal taxes for BC LNG industry
Stephen Harper announces the Government’s intent to support the creation of BC’s LNG industry in Surrey, BC (PMO)

It’s not terribly surprising that Clark continues pushing forward her LNG and Site C pet projects while she faces little opposition from an absent NDP and her next provincial election is a ways off yet. But the RCMP’s enforcement of pipeline construction is a federal matter that, knowing how the Harper government operates, must be micromanaged from the PMO. This in the midst of a federal election campaign.

Which begs the question: What is Harper up to?

The logical conclusion is that he sees an opportunity to prove his point on Bill C-51 – to offer up an example of the kind of “radical” protest of “critical infrastructure” for which he designed it. If the RCMP were to push their way into the camp and things went badly, in his twisted mind, this would provide fodder for his campaign. “See, I told you. These are the kind of radicals you need my protection from.”

If this is what he’s thinking, I submit he’s wrong. The Unist’ot’en have indicated their intention for peaceful, title-and-rights-based opposition. Nothing good can coming of provoking this sort of conflict. And as I say, there’s simply no need for it at this stage in the game. Meaningful LNG development is miles away, if it ever comes.

Time for a Time-Out

So, to TransCanada, I say, you’ve got 1,000 km of survey work to do. Leave the Unist’ot’en alone.

To Stephen Harper, you just polled 23% to Mulcair’s 40% in a major national poll, partly because of this very attitude you continue exhibiting. I suggest you worry more about staying in office than beating the policies of your last term over the heads of the Unist’ot’en and other First Nations and concerned citizens. Canada needs to grow up, not regress to the travesties of Gustafsen Lake and Oka.

And to Christy Clark, I say, your own election campaign is not really that far off. Should you stay this course, your fiscal recklessness, disrespect of the courts and First Nations will come back to bight you in the you-know-what.

The world, as they say, is watching.


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

27 thoughts on “Harper and Clark: Quit goading First Nations with premature LNG, Site C work

  1. Damian Gillis is the same old loud mouth bully tactic environmentalist that he always was….I don’t see him talking about 49 megawatts anymore do you….
    What does it look like today..?
    Would be good to see the site now…

    1. Yes, the selfsame (appropriately) harsh critic of the $50 Billion giveaway of ratepayers’ money that was the sham private power process. Rafe and I would still be talking about it, except there is very little activity on the file since we helped defend the public and environment from most of the really big and egregious projects – like Bute Inlet, Glacier-Hower, Upper Pitt, Ryan River, etc.

      What remains is still a disaster for our fish and rivers, not to mention the public coffers, but it could have been much worse.



      With BC solidly a net exporter of electricity and the government obsessed with Site C, there’s little likelihood of the IPP racket rearing its ugly head again in a major way any time soon.

      1. I just discovered your work Damien, and I am heartened by it. It gives me, as someone who loves this land, these waters, of beautiful BC, hope that there is a fighting chance due to all the good folks who do the hard work of protecting our common wealth. Thank-you for the work you do in reporting what’s going on at the grassroots in this province………much appreciated and valued!!!

  2. Just finished visiting the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, there were many displays devoted to our shameful treatment of aboriginals in our recent past, obviously this is continuing to happen, it is very shameful

  3. Lou • 4 minutes ago

    Comments from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo on why he banned fracking.

    “When the public health commissioner says, ‘I wouldn’t let my family live in an area that is doing high-volume fracking,’ that is very sobering, and frankly, that is enough for me,” Cuomo told reporters today in Schenectady, where he attended an event to cheer the city’s selection for a casino. “Because if the state health commissioner doesn’t want his kids living there, I don’t want my kids living there, and I don’t want any New Yorkers’ kids living there.

    He added that, “I am not going to put the health at risk for jobs. I’m not going to make that choice.

    The above statements are intended to clearly display the contrasts between Governor Cuomo and Premier Clark. They both have access to the same scientific knowledge. They chose to put that knowledge to use differently.

  4. Mr Gillis: exactly how would you like the allegedly “absent NDP” to oppose Christy Clark, whose next election campaign is either “a ways off yet,” or “not really that far off…”?

    Is the confusion of enforcing pipeline construction, “micromanaged from the PMO,” and dam construction, Christy’s baby, intentional? The federal Cons and the BC Liberals are, after all, kin.

    I happen to believe Harper attacked Attawapiskat in order to smear First Nations generally in preparation for Enbridge’s pipeline advance into un-ceded FN territory in BC. It was the Idle-No-More movement Attawapiskat fomented that frightened Harper off, not the courts—the William (Tsilhqot’in) SCoC decision hadn’t come down yet, and he’s got good reasons to be frightened: Idle-No-More was broadly supported by Canadians, as was the William decision. I think this was a real turning point for the Cons, not just for popular reasons, but also because Big Oil—even before their mortification in both money and vote markets—realized their boy couldn’t deliver. So, in light of these events, how likely do you think it is Harper will take his C-51 for a test drive in the Peace River Valley? I mean, outside his loyalist minority, don’t you think he risks the same opprobrium, probably all the more for the blatancy of self-interested partisanship during a campaign?

    Although the federal and provincial projects are sort of related by pipelines, Harper doubtlessly understands that, in addition to formidable pipeline-opposing court-decisions, tankers laden with bitumen are a dead letter for the large majority of British Columbians (in a way LNG tankers aren’t.) What, then, aside from the dubious advantage of flexing C-51 muscles, is it it for the Cons? Besides, none of these fossilized fossil-fuel fiascos is even feasible: at today’s and foreseeable prices, he’d have to get taxpayers to pony up a huge subsidies to Big Oil on the unit prices of product (at least 200% on bitumen), which of course would anger almost everybody, including most of his own base. I can’t see a benefit for Harper in provoking FNs for a pig in a poke.

    Up for review in November—with a huge, huge federal election just a few weeks before. I’m hoping nothing bad happens at the camp before then—but I think there’s some reason to have that hope.

    (BTW, it’s been clear for a long while what’s in it for Christy: the beggaring of publicly-owned BC Hydro so’s to sell it for pennies on the dollar, and the awarding of meal-ticket construction contracts to BC Liberal cronies in return for their financial support and their help in smashing public-sector unions and public enterprises, as prescribed by neo-rightism and stateless corporatism.)

  5. Americans hold eagles as a protected bird. Why are they not protected in the north? BC Hydo you need to respect the land and the people in it as well as the animals. If you were here in the US you’d be going to jail for destruction, threatening,and abuse of wildlife.

  6. The Unist’ot’en are calling out for our physical support at the blockade site and I for one am hopeful of being there before it is too late.


    My hesitance is that I am a fairly large(tall) individual and while attending other rallies I have talked to people who thought I was an undercover cop.

    I am not of course, but the Royal Conservative Mounted Police have infiltrated these things with ‘agent provocateurs’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyhsY26PQmQ and it would not surprise me in the least that the Unist’ot’en camp has fallen prey to one or more of these nefarious individuals.

    I doubt very much they would be big and imposing like me but much more likely to be younger (thirtyish), slim but physically fit, adept, articulate, very likely bilingual, somewhat militaristic, congenial, perhaps long haired and bearded and exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable about outdoorsmanship.

    Make sure you have more than one trusted individual who can vouch for ‘supporters’ before you reveal too much logistical information to them because the RCMP are not averse to breaking our laws to enforce their laws and they will never be truly held accountable for anything they deem necessary to do.

  7. And why are we, British Columbia taxpayers and owners of BC Hydro, spending $500 million to hire Albertans (who contribute no BC income taxes, and pay no PST) to do ‘preliminary’ work (the eagles will be long dead before any real damn work is done) for a Project which (hopefully) has a snowballs chance in hell of ever becoming a reality.
    What’s the matter with awaiting the Court’s decision on this ill thought out scheme?
    What’s the matter with hiring BC Contractors? (No self respecting BC contractor would respond?)
    What’s the matter with holding open tenders?
    Who the hell is Morgan Construction and Environmental Ltd?

  8. Questions –
    – why must Damien and others have to write articles to get taxpayer owned BC Hydro to behave as decent, caring people?
    – why does the Court have to compel BCH to behave as decent, caring people?
    – what did this Court Case cost the citizens who were forced by Hydro’s brutal insensitivity to come to the defence of the Eagles?
    -,what did the case cost the taxpayer?
    – where in hell was, and indeed is John Horgan and the NDP in this entire issue? They clearly have no understanding of what is expected of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in a parliamentary system, or don’t give a damn, or both. For shame! Christy Clark, the worst premier in my long life, is getting away with murder. She will get re-elected because John Horgan, under the influence of his close pal and hero former Premier Dan Miller, a shill for Enbridge and Woodfibre LNG, now is an energy capitalist and has dragged his gutless Caucus with him.
    What a sorry mess. A premier who makes LNG deals with crooks and has the same human sensitivities as her dear pal Stephen Harper has, and a leader of The Opposition who’s an enabler.

    1. Oh for pete’s sake, Rafe! What do you think the NDP should do: respond to your bombast?

      Your suggestion that the NDP is colluding to flood Site C runs provocative cover for your own interesting interpretation of how parliament—or anything else—works. You talk as if the NDP is negligent in not calling the Assembly into session when, as you should know, the Opposition doesn’t have that authority (the Lieutenant Governor does, but, as you also know, it would be extraordinary—nay, unprecedented—for the LG to recall the Assembly on the Oppositions’ advice); with MSM owned and operated by Site C proponents, the legislature’s the only place where the NDP can’t be completely ignored. They understand well enough what it’s like to be Opposition in BC: their parliamentary budget is purposely inadequate to penetrate ordinary, day-to-day, secret government activity. As the fixed-election date law intended, political donations to the NDP tend to arrive just in time for the “big day,” so even if they wanted to protest the BC Liberals’ Site-C plan buy purchasing MSM coverage, they can’t really afford it. You make it sound like that’s their own fault. Anyways, do you really think Horgan wants BC Liberal-friendly MSM to headline, incessantly for the next 19 months, how the NDP is “interfering” with matters “before the courts?” Get real.

      Same goes for expecting the NDP to seek by themselves an injunction on some ground or other.

      Really, your grouchiness goes so beyond the pale here, it’s hard to know exactly what “human sensitivities” it should be compared to.

      1. “Oh for pete’s sake, Rafe! What do you think the NDP should do: respond to your bombast?”

        At the very least the NDP should be opposing or offering opposition to the government on initiatives especially this one.

        Instead they pick up their paychecks and remain silent on many issues; so as to appear invisible.

      2. I’m on social media an awful lot, and the BC NDP are making no discernible effort to reach out and lead us in any kind of opposition. They are simply absent.

    2. Thank you Rafe. The BC NDP are certainly no alternative. The void in options is allowing the current government to rule by default. The smell is overpowering.

  9. Very insightful article. While many informed Canadians who are concerned about Harper’s obsession with remote national security threats (created, in my opinion, by his own ill conceived and frequent unconstitutional conduct and policies), and the prospect of a desperate act to create a false flag “terror” event under deficient Bill C-51 definitions, in an attempt to justify unilaterally rewriting Canadian’s civil liberty rights – all for electoral posturing…I doubt many would have thought that he’d stoop so low as to enable/incite a domestic conflict between the RCMP and First Nations/environmental activists who act in the common interest.

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