Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 20, 2020
Force won’t fix Canada’s blockade problem — but that won’t let Trudeau off the hook
The most evocative image coming out of this week’s protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline was that of a Canadian flag hanging upside-down outside the provincial legislature in Victoria, with the words “Reconciliation is dead” scrawled across it.
Because it’s 2020, that phrase was a hashtag, too.
Between the declaration of reconciliation’s demise and competing claims that Canada has fallen into “chaos” or “mob” rule, there is a yawning vacuum that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might need to fill — to make the case again for a reconciliation project he embraced of his own volition.
There is more here than can be conveyed in a sound bite or tweet.
“Contemporary events have two-hundred-year-old tails,” Harry Swain, a former deputy minister with Indian and Northern Affairs (as the department was then known), wrote a decade ago in his book Oka: A Political Crisis and Its Legacy.
“Flashpoints like Oka occur when Indian people believe that governments have violated treaties or their own laws, when a long struggle to right the wrong has been unavailing, and when a government crystallizes matters by licensing a further insult or alienation,” he added. “Land is always at the heart of the broken promises.”
On those terms, historians might file the Wet’suwet’en protests against the Coastal Gas Link project alongside events like Oka, Ipperwash, Caledonia and Gustafsen Lake.
But those examples also point to the great danger involved in attempting to resolve such disputes with force. In Oka and Ipperwash, people died. Wherever there is violence, there is lasting trauma. And the last thing the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples needs now is more trauma.
Even if calls for Trudeau to immediately intervene seem either to understate the difficulty of doing so, or to promote a potentially dangerous course of action (one commentator this week invoked Margaret Thatcher’s handling of the miners strike in the United Kingdom, a violent year-long conflict, as a laudable example of leadership), Trudeau’s government can’t be absolved of its duty to safely end this standoff as quickly as possible.
On Friday, Trudeau said that the government’s focus was on “dialogue” and “constructive outcomes.” A day earlier, his government announced that Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, was being dispatched to British Columbia, while Marc Miller, the minister of Indigenous services, will get involved in trying to resolve the blockade in Ontario.
But in the post-conflict analysis, there will be questions about whether the Liberals should have intervened directly sooner. (CBC)