The railroad blockades that are plaguing the country are the wrong tactic based on wrong facts and aimed at the wrong victims. They are nothing but the result of a political exploitation of an internal and localized west coast First Nations dispute that has spilled into the national arena. It is time that governments at all levels cure their impotency caused by fearful sensibilities and move against those who are quite simply trespassers occupying property belonging to others. Property — the rail lines — that are essential for the nation’s security. This is one of those crises where a people decide if they are to have rule by bully or ballot.
The crisis started in British Columbia. That province, its courts, environmental protection agency, elected officials and five of six elected Wet’suwet’en band councils approved the 670 km CGL natural gas pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. The Hereditary Wet’suwet’en Chiefs did not approve. But because of the Indian Act of 1876, Hereditary Chiefs lost their power to the elected Councils. Some 145 years later that fact still does not sit well with many in the First Nations. The Chiefs’ supporters, and indeed those who would reform the relations between First Nations and Ottawa, used this discord as an excuse to start the blockades.
Now, as much as we all sympathize with the injustices meted out to Canada’s First Nations and as flawed as the Indian Act may be, dissent is distinct from destruction. Those who have brought Canada’s rail system to its knees are demonstrating a concerted pattern of behaviour that is threatening to destroy the security of Canadians’ lives. That is as criminal as their original trespass and seizure of the rail lines.
What may be for now the “inconvenience” — as one native leader called it — of Canadians, including members of First Nations, not being able to get to work because commuter trains aren’t running, we are rapidly approaching the point where municipalities, hospitals and military bases can’t get essential supplies because national rail traffic has been suspended. Corporations can’t ship or receive product. And the reality is that as we go to press we are in day 14 of the blockade. If it goes on for two more weeks our GDP will be affected. The federal budget will be as well.
As much as what many in Canada and the First Nations may justifiably believe to be unforgiveable original sins by this country against our First Nations, the fact is that our indigenous citizens are fully participating and contributing shareholders in this nation. And recipients of appropriate benefits from it.
According to a 2016 study released by the Fraser Institute, the federal department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) alone spends $8,578 per year on every First Nations adult and child in the country. Over the past 60 years, INAC has given $215 billion to First Nations which include Treaty obligations. Health Canada has given another $41 billion. And that’s just two departments. There are nearly 30 federal departments and agencies that give money to aboriginal Canadians. Together, all federal spending on First Nations and First Peoples is closer to $13,000 per capita. The entire federal budget for non-aboriginal persons is $7,295 each per year.
The bottom line is that the outlaws who are carrying out these blockades are hurting their own most of all. Including the potential loss of revenues from the CGL pipeline to the Wet’suwet’en. Outside of BC, the blockades are being carried out by other First Nations in solidarity. No one is doing anyone any good.
The desire to be politically correct has led our political class to remarkable excuses for inaction. Reaching even to the Prime Minister who made the unintentionally amusing remark that, “This is not a country where the Prime Minister can tell police what to do.” Technically he is right. But what made the remark amusing to many seasoned observers was the memory of what his father did during the FLQ crisis. A Prime Minister may not be able to tell police what to do, but he can call out the army.
We urge the government to demonstrate that this nation is ruled by the ballot and not the bullet. And it had better do it quickly before, in Jonathan Kay’s elegant words last week, “.... we lose the ability to enforce the systematic organization of property rights on which every functional society, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, depends.”