Quebec Mohawk Chief Vows Civil Unrest If B.C. Pipeline Moves Forward

Above Photo: “I’ve always said my favourite form of action is civil disobedience,” Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon says. JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Quebec Mohawk chief is promising a coordinated campaign of civil disobedience if recently approved pipeline construction encroaches on aboriginal territory in British Columbia.

The actions could range from demonstrations and rail blockades to people occupying government offices across Canada, according to Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon.

“I’ve always said my favourite form of action is civil disobedience,” said Simon, in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “If the government insists on ignoring its commitment to First Nations, we’re looking at unrest in many areas of the country, not just in British Columbia.”

The chief’s comments come as Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr suggested Friday that the federal government will consider deploying military forces in response to non-peaceful forms of protest.

“If people choose for their own reasons not be peaceful, then the government of Canada — through its defence forces, through its police forces — will ensure that people are kept safe,” said Carr, in an interview with BNN.

Simon is one of the co-founders of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, an anti-pipeline group that now comprises 115 chiefs from First Nations across Canada and the United States. He helped start the group in the summer of 2015 to protest the proposed Energy East pipeline.

Members of the Treaty Alliance met last Tuesday in Winnipeg after the Liberal government approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project — a 1,150-kilometre twinned pipeline that will link the Alberta oil sands to the B.C. coast. Upon completion, the structure will ship the equivalent of 890,000 barrels of crude per day.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced the approval of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline — a 1,700-kilometre structure that would carry Alberta oil across the American border and into Wisconsin.

Simon said the treaty alliance’s provisions are rather simple. “The way it works with our allies is their fights are my fights and vice versa,” he said. In Quebec, the Mohawk, Algonquin, Innu, Malécite, Atikamekw and Mi’gmaq nations have signed on the agreement.

Perhaps the alliance’s most high-profile signatory is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — which is embroiled in a bitter struggle over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

Protesters in and around Montreal have blocked rail roads in recent weeks in solidarity with the Standing Rock tribe but Simon says those activities will intensify if Trans Mountain and other pipelines move forward.

Meanwhile in B.C., aboriginal leaders say they’ll take their fight to the courts but won’t rule out direct action protests.

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes, and that means to get arrested in acts of civil disobedience,” said Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “This about the future of our lands, but it has implications that affect all Canadians. It’s about what kind of planet we want to leave for our grandchildren.”

Like a great number of indigenous leaders on the west coast, Phillip worries what effect a pipeline breach or an increase in oil-tanker traffic would have on the marine life that supports many traditional economies.

Phillip was arrested in 2014 alongside about 100 protesters demonstrating against a Kinder Morgan pipeline on Burnaby Mountain. The chief is leading an online campaign where users can pledge to do “whatever it takes” to stop the expansion of Alberta’s oil sands.

The campaign has garnered more than 14,500 signatures.

In announcing his government’s decision to approve the pipelines, Trudeau said there’s a way for Canada to balance economic growth with environmental stewardship. The prime minister wants offset the effect of new pipelines approval with a national tax on carbon emissions.

Kinder Morgan claims its pipeline expansion will create 15,000 jobs a year during Trans Mountain’s construction and generate $46.7 billion in government revenue over the first 20 years of operation. The company expects to break ground on its expansion in late 2017.

B.C. aboriginal leader Rueben George says the fact that his nation is opposing the pipelines doesn’t mean it’s anti-development. George’s Tsleil-Waututh Nation owns a wind turbine company and a golf course north of Vancouver.

“We have multiple business partners and projects that we invest in,” said George, manager of Tsleil-Waututh’s Sacred Trust Initiative. “But we’re also cleaning our territory up. Our salmon count from one of our main rivers was down to 6,000 in 2005. We brought it up to 10 million within a decade — that’s huge for our economy.

“We recently reintroduced elk into our forests, and that’s brought bears, wolves and all kinds of new plants with it. We fear that a pipeline and the risk of an oil spill or more shipping traffic puts all of that in jeopardy.”

For now, George, Phillip and Simon believe they can block these projects through the courts. The National Energy Board held a series of hearings leading up to the pipelines’ approval. But the chiefs do not believe this meets the Crown’s constitutional obligation to consult with and accommodate indigenous people affected by the projects.

“For now, we’re going to do everything we can through the official channels,” Simon said. “But the government shouldn’t test our resolve.”