Friday, March 13, 2015

Harper's War on Environmental Dissent: Bill C-51 Turns Community Leaders into Eco-Terrorists

In a thinly veiled attempt to clear the way for fossil fuel and mining interests, Canada's ruling Conservatives are trying to push through draconian legislation that would stymie environmental dissent. In what can only be described as an Orwellian nightmare, a new law would authorize Canada's secret police to target peaceful protestors including environmental groups and indigenous peoples.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government's new legislation, called bill C-51, is being sold as an attempt to reign in violent terrorists. However, its sweeping scope could also target peaceful opposition. The bill's deliberately vague wording is a license for Canada's spy agencies to go after environmental and social opposition. This could include respectable Canadian citizens who are peacefully protesting things like fracking, the tar sands or fossil fuel pipelines.

This bill vastly expands the powers of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and it does so without any oversight. Canada has a long and distinguished history that respects freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest. Now the Harper government wants to dismantle this tradition just as it has systematically destroyed Canada's once great environmental reputation.

Under Harper's Conservatives the federal government has amassed a woeful rap-sheet of environmental indignities. Bills like C-38 and C-45 have gutted environmental protections in Canada. These are but a couple of examples of the Harper government's heavy handed anti-environmental policy stance. They have muzzled scientists and they have a track record of advancing oil interests and disregarding wildlife protections. A number of independent international organizations have ranked Canada as one of the worst environmental and climate offenders in the world.

As reported by David Suzuki, an RCMP report specifically names environmental organizations like Greenpeace, Tides Canada and the Sierra Club as part of “a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels.”

The RCMP report characterized pipeline opponents and First Nations as “violent anti-petroleum extremists.” The report says, "extremists believe" that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change, it fails to mention the fact that the science proves that fossil fuels are the leading cause of climate change. Instead of science the report relies on the partisan views of fossil fuel lobbyists.

Bill C-51 not only ignores climate science it curtails freedom of speech. If passed it would inhibit hard won civil liberties we now take for granted. Good people who protest against environmentally destructive activities like those perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry could be targeted by Canada's secret police. Under the new law the simple act of taking part in a peaceful march could have legal consequences.

Advocating a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or suggesting that Canada should decrease its reliance on fossil fuels could be construed as “interference with critical infrastructure” and “interference with the capability of the Government in relation to…the economic or financial stability of Canada.”

Under the legislation, peaceful protest could be interpreted as a security concern and legitimate civil dissent could be taken as unlawful protest. Environmental activists could be deemed radicals and criminalized. As Conservative Minister Peter MacKay told VICE, people could be incarcerated for something as simple as protesting a pipeline or voicing dissenting opinions.

The bill allows for people to be detained for up to seven days without charges on little more than a suspicion that they may commit a violent crime. Under the new bill CSIS could execute what is known as a disruptive warrant that does not need to conform to existing laws.

In essence, the broad powers contained in the bill give the federal government the right to "criminalize dissent."  Rather than a focused attempt to combat terrorism, this bill should be understood as an attempt to neutralize opposition under the veil of security concerns.

Donald Gutstein is among those who have stated that Harper's intent is to neutralize opposition. There is a far more expensive agenda afoot of which bill C-51 is only a part. This view is eloquently explained by Gutstein in his new book "Harperism: How Stephen Harper and His Think Tank Colleagues have Transformed Canada."

Gutstein's argument is that on issues like environmental policy, Harper is advancing a Conservative ideology based on free market orthodoxy that works to influence public opinion to stave off climate solutions like carbon taxes and emissions reduction. Harper's advocacy of market logic and economic freedom has run roughshod over Canada's long history of democratic participation and scientific integrity.

Gutstein states that as part of what he calls "Harperism" the reputations of environmental groups have been systematically undermined and sullied.

The collusion of government, the oil industry, law enforcement and corrections is troubling. The government awarded Canada's first mega-prison construction contract to a company owned by Enbridge executive J. Richard Bird and a Northern Gateway pipeline lobbyist by the name of Chuck Strahl was briefly appointed as the head of CSIS.

The Leadnow community is among those who are pushing back against C-51. More than 50,000 Canadians have signed the Leadnow petition calling for amendments to the law. Thousands wrote personal letters to the Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau, urging that they take a strong stance against the bill. When the Conservatives attempted to limit debate and restrict the amount of time allotted for expert testimony on the bill, hundreds called their Members of Parliament to protest. 

Bill C-51 is an abuse of democracy which a diverse network of people across Canada came together to express their outrage in a day of national protest on Saturday, March 14th.

Peaceful environmental protestors are not terrorists they represent Canadian patriotism at its best. Indigenous people fighting for the health and well being of their communities are not a threat to Canada. Climate change is the real threat not those who are fighting to stop it. People who protect the land, air and water are heroes not criminals. Fossil fuels should be understood as the real enemy, not those who seek to reduce our reliance on dirty energy.

Equating environmental dissent with terrorism is a dangerous and manipulative ruse. This may be Orwellian but is is not science fiction, it is happening now. The Harper government is in the process of passing bill C-51 which is why Canadians must stand up and express their opposition.

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