Tag Archives: civil disobedience

Raven Coal Mine meeting in Courtenay, May 30 - Photo by Carolyn Walton

Comox Valley Ready for Civil Disobedience as “Insane” Raven Coal Mine Review Pushed Forward


A little over two years ago we held a town hall meeting in Fanny Bay, where a standing room only crowd discussed the proposed Raven Underground Coal Mine Project. It was at this meeting that concerned citizens formed CoalWatch Comox Valley. The events over the past two years have revealed many interesting details.
It’s clear that the “harmonized” environmental assessment of the Raven Project is deeply flawed. Numerous local governments, community groups, and thousands of British Columbia citizens have called for a more rigorous environmental assessment, a so called independent review panel with public hearings. Unfortunately, the calls for a more rigorous assessment have been rejected at all federal and provincial levels of government.

The near record amount of comments submitted during the two comment periods thus far indicate widespread public concern and opposition to the proposed massive coal mine. Citizens at three public meetings also voiced overwhelming opposition to the Raven Project. The proposed Project is also contradictory to Official Community Plans and Regional Growth Strategies adopted in both the Comox Valley and Port Alberni. Despite all of this, the environmental assessment of the Raven Project is being pushed forward.

It’s fairly obvious that a coal mine project that calls for a mine to be located only 5 kilometers from Baynes Sound, home to a thriving and economically important shellfish industry, is an insane idea. Couple that with an environmental assessment that doesn’t include any mechanism for public consent, and it’s no wonder that the residents of the Comox Valley, Port Alberni, and Vancouver Island are fed up and disgusted.

This cynicism and disgust has led numerous groups and organizations in the Comox Valley to form a Peaceful Direct Action Coalition, to educate the public on peaceful direct action. Many of us see peaceful direct action and civil disobedience, as another tool to use in the fight against this massive coal mine proposal near Fanny Bay.
The year ahead will be a challenging one for those opposed to the Raven Coal Mine Project. But make no mistake, the thousands of people who are opposed to this Project are dedicated, determined, united, and in solidarity, we will be victorious in our fight against this Project.
In solidarity,

John Snyder,  Fanny Bay, BC
President, CoalWatch Comox Valley Society


Mainstream Media Paying Attention to “Occupy Wall Street/Bay Street” – Great Story in the Globe and Mail


Read this excellent summary of the growing “Occupy Wall Street” in the Globe and Mail – a sign that the mainstream media is beginning to pay attention to this citizen movement.

“Occupy Wall Street has grown exponentially since its inception on Sept.
17. And now that the story has belatedly exploded in the news media,
everyone is paying attention. Inspired in part by the Arab Spring, the
movement is defined by leaderless, participatory democratic action and
nonviolent civil disobedience…Canadians should welcome this collective protest against concentrated
corporate power when the occupation comes to Canada on Oct. 15. As long
as the protests remain peaceful, we all have much to gain from an open,
democratic dialogue about the ways that our government privileges
corporate profits over the public good.” (October 12, 2011)



Dealing with Rigged Game; New Local Issues Page


Two items for you today.
I have written a bit lately about civil disobedience and have got some feedback.
Civil disobedience must not under any circumstances be violent and it must be carried out as Mohandas K Gandhi saw it – passive resistance. If there is any violence it must come from the other side. There must be no damage done and, most importantly, those who commit civil disobedience must be prepared to take whatever the law dishes out. This was Gandhi’s history and has been, as a good example, the history of roadblocks which have been raised by First Nations when the Government (usually) has refused to recognize their rights.
Civil disobedience comes after civil dissent has not brought about justice.
Traditionally, the story goes like this: A project is approved by the government, and dissenters, having done all the peaceful dissenting they can, try to stop the process by standing in front of bulldozers and similar deeds. The company, with the active assistance from the government, goes to court and a judge issues a ruling that the dissenters refrain from impeding the undertaking; when the dissenters disobey, the court orders them jailed until they have “purged their contempt”, meaning they have said they’re sorry and promised never to do it again. In short, the court turns a civil matter into a crime.
Those who support these kind of legal shenanigans say “the dissenters broke the law and therefore should pay, smothered by pious statements about the Rule of Law. On the surface this is a very tempting argument but it ignores the facts leading up to these “crimes”, namely, that the public has not been consulted about the project in question. There has been no opportunity for the public not only to speak on the matter but also be heard.
The Public hearings on environmental matters arising of private power cases tell the story: they are held by the company, which invariably holds them at an inconvenient location, far from where most people live, in a venue which is not big enough to accommodate those who wish to be heard. The hearing is chaired by a government suck and no questions as to the wisdom of the project are allowed. Whether or not the people want their river to be destroyed is totally out of order – EXCEPT when the company rep wants to sing the praises of the project he can do so to his hearts content. I have been to several of these and ruled out of order in all of them and rather than go through that sham again, I’d rather have a root canal without anaesthesia!
The strategy has been worked out in advance by the government, which you would think would strongly support the right of the people to be heard, but, knowing where its election funds come from, conspires with the company to go through the motions of a sham then put people in jail.
Hundreds leave these meetings feeling cheated of their democratic to be heard and they have indeed been cheated. When they refuse to obey a sham decision it is they, not the ones abusing their democratic rights, who go to jail.
When, out of this disgraceful exercise in dictatorship the bulldozers come out, it’s the moment of truth – do dissenters simply walk away saying, “Oh, well, the fix was in as usual but I must do as I’m told” – or do they continue their dissent right into the jail cell?
They know that the judge, just like the chair of the so called environmental hearing, will rule as out of order any defence demanding the right to be heard on its merits.
The mindset of governments in general but especially the Campbell/Clark government has was neatly set forth by its former Transport Minister and now Finance Minister Kevin Falcon as follows: ”China really has the ultimate government structure…the Chinese don’t have the labour or environmental restrictions we do. It’s not like they have to do community consultations. They just say ‘we’re building a bridge’ and they move everyone out of there and get going within two weeks. Could you imagine if we could build like that?”

Civil Dissenters who become civilly disobedient have shaped the democracies we live in be it for the vote, women’s rights, or fairness in the workplace and by so doing have consistently demonstrated that the self centred and comfortable establishment don’t support anything, including justice, to interfere with their privileged position.

Since Damien Gillis and I founded the Common Sense Canadian a year and a bit ago, the response has been overwhelming and we have to accommodate ourselves to that. There are but two of us without clerical staff to help us. Because of what was going on at the time, we tended to work mostly on private power issues (both of us having been part of the Save Our Rivers Society), fish Farms, because of my long association with Alexandra Morton, and pipelines and tankers, as a direct result of their harm to fish and rivers and farmland. These are by no means the only issues and that’s my point – almost daily it seems another environmental outrage comes across our desks. We want desperately to help but just don’t have the wherewithal.
Damien and I have thought about this – a lot. Our website, TheCanadian.org gets wide readership, so why not create a bloggers’ page where we can give publicity to efforts we just don’t have the time ourselves to do them justice.
We’re working out the details now so stay tuned – changes are on the way!


Public Can’t Rely on Government Processes to Stop Tankers and Pipelines


This is the third part of a three part series from Rafe Mair on civil dissent.

In the last article I discounted the possibility that any hearing into the Enbridge pipelines or tanker traffic, to and out of Kitimat and Vancouver would dare stop these projects. I considered and rejected, without saying so, any intervention by the federal procedures, specifically the National Energy Board’s Federal Panel Review which held against the Taseko proposal at Fish Lake. I don’t believe for one moment that this Panel would put an end to the pipelines permanently but at most would attach conditions. Since there are no environmental conditions that would prevent horrendous and permanent damage to our environment, the NEB, will, at most, be a slowing down process.

Assuming that the pipelines and tankers are supported by both the federal and provincial governments I don’t believe that any review panel would have the jam to reject the projects outright (nor can it, in fact – it only has the power to make recommendations to the Minister of Environment, who has the final say) but most surely would use the weasel word “mitigation”, where no mitigation is possible or acceptable.

A far better bet is that the Federal cabinet will, as it did with the original Kemano II project, waive the requirement for such a hearing or any other.

Consider the Harper government’s position – to reject the pipelines and tankers would be to reject the Tar Sands, especially if the US Keystone XL pipeline is rejected by President Obama. Even if it is passed by Obama, the heat from China, the projects themselves, plus the pressure of the business community that finances the Tory government will be too strong for Harper & Co. to resist. In fact the approval of environmental destruction comes naturally to right wing governments so that, in my view, the issue moot. When it comes to fighting these projects, the public of BC will be on its own.

What about majority rules? Isn’t that the end of the matter? Both senior governments have mandates so they can do as they please?

This simply is not so. Neither government has faced this as an issue and there have been no referenda. There will not, in my opinion, be any meaningful forum for popular opinion. But the critical question is this: the proposals will do permanent and egregious harm – what government ever has the moral or even legal right to make such a decision without direct citizen approval?

Friends – we must face the fact that neither government will stand in the way of these projects.

I must be careful with my next point. First Nations have, thus far, made it clear to Enbridge that they will not accept the projects. They have recently refused a bribe of 10% of the action. Careful though I must be, it must be recorded that some First Nations have accepted financial inducements to permit fish farms, although most First Nation have opposed; more tellingly, perhaps, some have been induced to supported Independent Power Producers (IPPs) ravishing their rivers. Indeed, in the Klina Klini project, First Nations have sued the provincial government for nixing the project.

One must ask, then, is First Nations rejection of the Pipelines an outright refusal or just part of a negotiation process?

We must prepare for the worst. We must assume that the projects will be approved and, govern our actions accordingly. Clearly, then, we must be ready for civil disobedience.

This, in my view, means three things:

  1. There must be an obvious flouting of the public will. In the absence of a public referendum on the matter, the flouting of public will becomes clear.
  2. We must understand that civil disobedience carries with it penalties. Even though these penalties will involve the governments and corporations subverting justice by proceeding criminally in a civil matter, we must realize that this is a penalty we will pay and be prepared to pay it.
  3. The Civil Disobedience must be on a large scale. We must have leadership and we must provide that leadership with our support and enough money to stand behind those who are fined, go to jail, or both. People’s savings will be attacked and their families will suffer. We can expect no mercy from companies or our very own governments.

The notion of lawbreaking does not come easily to me, a lawyer. The fact remains that the great United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was right when he said that the courts decide the law, not justice.

The cause of preserving our province is too important for us to meekly accept a judge’s finding that prevention of that cause is to be supported by jail sentences. As Justice Holmes so tartly observed, law and justice are not synonymous.

Our question is simple to state: is it justice when any tribunal, parliament, legislature or court destroys our environment, not as a vital need of society but for private profit?

Actress/activist Daryl Hannah being arrested at a recent protest in Washington, DC, to stop the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from the Tar Sands to Texas

When Civil Disobedience is Justified


Last week I advised that we must be prepared to lie down in front of machinery aimed at creating the pipelines from the Tar Sands to Kitimat and, as I fully expected, got some heat.

We have to face this question before we get into morality and legality issues – why do you suppose that there is no public process dealing with the merits of this idea?

The answer is simple: the Campbell/Clark and Harper Governments know that we won’t try to physically stop the undertaking, so why bother holding meaningful hearings? To do so would raise the expectation that we care and would listen.

I realize that the above is cynical but cynicism has been Campbell/Clark’s hallmark since they took office in 2001, announced that the NDP had left us in penury and promptly gave over a billion in tax cuts to the well off.

(And let me set out once more the issue – building and using pipelines or tankers does not pose risks but absolute mathematical certainties of catastrophic consequences. If you take a “risk” without any limit on how often or how long you will run this “risk”, that risk becomes a certainty; the only question remaining being the extent of damage done).

When the public has no influence on the making of a law it has no option but to oppose it on the ground.

Let me make something clear that I omitted in my last article: the defiance must be peaceful. The example of Mahatma Gandhi must be the by-word. Such violence as may occur must be by the authorities, not the protesters. Please take what I just said as being in deadly earnest.

Moreover, any who disobey the law must be prepared to accept the consequences.

To the morality. Civil disobedience must be in consequence of a wrong being done, not a political whim. There is a large difference between protesting and active flouting of a law and one crosses the Rubicon with very great care. CD must be in response to a serious change in policy not warranted by any public approval. It is not enough to say that a free government approved the project because in our system, parliaments (legislatures) are not free agents voting the wishes of their constituents. Moreover our governments don’t even trouble themselves with legislatures – it’s just time wasted on getting a rubber stamp. As Finance Minister Kevin Falcon has remarked, it would all be so much easier if we were like China and didn’t trouble ourselves with tiresome procedures in such matters and just let the government get on with it.

Let’s get down to principles and morality. If a government, with its friendly construction companies, decides to irrevocably destroy large tracts of wilderness, exposing it to the absolute certainty of ongoing catastrophes, can they do this at their pleasure? Must the public be content with their right, several years down the road, to throw out the government after their policy is a fait accompli?

All of what I argue prevails with equal if not even greater impact against oil tankers down our coast.

Have we not got the right nay, duty to do all within our power, save violence, to stop this from happening? Are these not, in Tom Paine’s words, ”times that try men’s souls”?

Where is the illegality, the immorality here? Is it immoral, should it be illegal for citizens to stand against a tyrannical government which, hand in hand with its bankers, destroys our wilderness, ruins our rivers and the ecologies they sustain and poses the never-ending threat of horrific oil spills on land and in the oceans?

How can the people be wrong to reject the outright lies of government and industry flacks? What is the only option left a citizenry when a dictatorial government demolishes our land for all time?

How can citizens be wrong to stop, with their bodies and freedoms, the ravishing of nature’s bountiful and precious endowment so that world’s filthiest energy source can be spread like black ooze across one of the last wildernesses on earth?

I suppose it gets down to this: is it a sufficient answer for generations to come that we tried to stop the carnage they see by sending letters to editors and carrying placards?

I think not.

Sign of the Times: A placcard from the recent rally against expanded oil pipeline and tanker traffic through Vancouver

Tar Sands Pipelines: Our Moment of Truth


I’m writing this in Bergen, Norway, after a cruise from Leith (Edinburgh) Scotland that took us past many oil rigs – giving pause to remember that we’re as dependent on oil as we ever were – in fact, perhaps more so. A day or two ago I read in an article in the Guardian Weekly how the US, by growing corn for methane gas for cars, was contributing to starvation in the Horn of Africa. I thought of the passionate embracing of weaning ourselves off carbon fuels done by our governments as they rush to help Alberta further screw up the environment. While this is going on, I watch as president Obama wrestles with the long Trans-Canada pipeline from the Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico as celebrities march their way into jail in protest.

I reflect. We are, I think, at the moment of truth. Either we stop these pipelines or the environmental movement becomes like unions were under communism – pallid burlesques of what we once were, now reduced to patronizing speeches by corporations and governments when they feel the need for some fuzzy warmness from the inert masses that now do precisely as they are told.

Of course there is no environmental movement as such. I can’t even define what an environmentalist is when you have turncoats calling themselves environmentalists as they figuratively peddle their ass to corporate interests while pocketing huge bucks in the bargain.

I think I’m an environmentalist and place my record in government and in the media out for scrutiny, but I’m sure many would disagree. No matter, because what does count is how we all comport ourselves from this moment forward.

We are facing massive corporatist takeovers of our societies and the governments that are supposed to be our protectors. It scarcely needs demonstration in BC where, hand in hand, our governments have helped rapacious corporations ruin our fisheries, wreck our environment, make power we don’t need which our own power company must buy at a loss, while we cede our farmland and nature preserves to huge interests which have no stake in preserving our precious resources.

And now it’s pipelines across our wilderness and tankers down our priceless coastline. To rub salt in the wounds, we are asked to be prostitutes without pay – in fact, we are the legitimate hookers’ worst enemies, enthusiastic amateurs.

We must unite! This is the definitive fight. If we lose this, all is lost and we’ll be reduced to a land where there are a few “game” preserves to attract wealthy hunters and the occasional highly expensive streams where the rich can, after a lottery, fish at great profit to large international guide/outfitter companies. It’s as serious as that.

We first must know what we’re fighting – “who” doesn’t matter, for they all wear they same uniform and have the same mission. What we’re fighting for is simply stated: pipelines will burst and tankers will founder. We are not talking “risks” here but mathematical certainties. This is the truth of the matter and we must not be hoodwinked by talk of acceptable “risks”.


Corporations spend huge amounts on “feel good” bullshit and the worse the polluter, the higher it’s piled. We must never lose sight of this.

What must be done?

I spoke of unity but fully acknowledge we can’t have a single coalition of all or even many environmental groups. Apart from the impossibility of such a merger, it would be a bad idea.

What must happen is that we all support those who have made the stopping of these pipelines their #1 priority. Such a group – led by the estimable author and co-founder of Greenpeace, Rex Weyler, is now active. What we all must do is multi-task and continue the battles we all wage, yet throw all the energy and funding we can into the fight against these pipelines and tankers.

I might as well spit it out. We must march and picket and refuse to give way – we will, then, be called upon to disobey the law. And, we must be prepared to go to jail.

The pattern will be the usual abuse of process practiced by the companies, fully supported by the governments they control. Picketers will be ordered by the court – which will issue injunctions turning civil protest into a crime – to cease by a judge from his lofty high paid perch, who will impress upon the sinner the need for the law to be obeyed even though it is a clear affront to justice. Picketers will refuse and will go to jail.

I offer this suggestion: We are up against a foe with a limitless amount of money, which, having obtained the law, not caring that justice was lost in the process, will continue to throw in jail for unlimited sentences decent citizens whose only sin is trying to protect their heritage.
We must also set up an ongoing fund to look after those attacked by the corporation/government. Not only will these folks lose their income, the companies will sue for damages and seize their assets, including savings and pension funds. This fund should start now and be set up with a trustee to look after those who will not only lose their freedom but also have their assets on the line for the common good.

Now…let us go to work, beat the bastards and save our heritage!