Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 13, 2020
Rule of law must prevail in gas pipeline dispute
A common misconception about the blockades and protests disrupting business and travel across Canada this week is that they are taking place with the support of the majority of Indigenous people. Obviously, some people — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their efforts to stop the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.
But to suggest that the chiefs, or their supporters across the country, speak on behalf of Indigenous people in general is misguided.
Consider the situation among members of the Witset First Nation in the area of the pipeline.
All 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink and support the pipeline. Some of the communities held referendums that showed majority support. But, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline say those councils were established by the Indian Act and only have authority over reserve lands.
CBC’s “As It Happens” interviewed Wet’suwet’en resident Bonnie George who said, in part: “There’s quite a bit of support for this project. But people are afraid to speak up because, in the past few years, people that (have) spoken up were either ostracized … ridiculed, bullied, harassed, threatened, and being called a traitor — a sellout … People are afraid to speak up.”
Another resident, Philip Tait, told Global News: “Right now, this is probably got to be one of the biggest job creations in the province here, and we want to be part of it,” he said. “The hereditary chiefs’ office, they don’t speak for the whole clan.”
And yet, here we are. The chiefs’ protest has become a cause celebre across the country, with supporters blockading roads and railways, disrupting service. Some of the consequences are merely inconveniences, but others have serious economic impact. The lack of propane delivery, for example, threatens agricultural businesses that rely on it to heat barns during winter.
The pipeline project has met all environmental requirements. It has all the requisite approvals. It has the official support of Indigenous communities along the route.
And it has the potential to serve an important purpose, aside from the obvious one that it moves liquid natural gas from point A (Dawson Creek) to Point B (Kitimat).
The natural gas moved through the pipeline will end up at a huge complex in Kitimat. From there, LNG will be moved by ship to markets around the world. Some of those markets will include large nations like China and India that still produce a great deal of their needed energy by burning coal. LNG, while not perfect, is much less harmful to the environment as coal energy. So the LNG that comes from the $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline has the potential to make a significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries.
But for that to work, the gas has to get from its source to market. And the best, safest, way to do that is by pipeline.
Given that construction has all official approvals to proceed, governments were left with little choice but to issue injunctions demanding protesters leave the area. When they refused, RCMP removed and arrested some. RCMP were operating under the rule of law, just as police in other jurisdictions, including Ontario, are doing by following legal direction to remove blockades on rail lines, ports and roadways.
Negotiations with the chiefs are continuing, as they should. But the rule of law must be observed, across Canada. That’s of paramount national importance. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)