By Adam Pankratz
At last week’s Oscars Leonardo DiCaprio sat front row, as he always does. The Hollywood star’s influence in film is well known, but lately he and numerous activists have extended their gaze to blocking Canada’s resource development. Mr. DiCaprio has a rare talent for flying in on a private plane, denouncing fossil fuels, declaring steadfast support for indigenous populations and then immediately jetting off to an exclusive party in St. Tropez. Yet despite these obvious inconsistencies his and like messages seem to be sticking in certain quarters and cross-country chaos is the result for Canada. Logic, facts and respect have departed the resource development field to the detriment of the rule of law, First Nations communities, and all Canadians.
The latest spark to set off the blaze of activist protests to “Shut down Canada,” has been the RCMP enforcement of a court injunction – which was granted back in December – to remove protesters from the Unist’ot’en site on Wet’suwet’en territory near Smithers, BC. The country-wide protests result from the willful ignorance of reality and facts, which now characterize anti-resource development activism in Canada. Protesters blockaded streets, ports, bridges, and rails allegedly to demonstrate their solidarity with First Nations groups and opposition to pipelines. Yet, these protesters conveniently and consistently ignore two important aspects of resource development when it suits them: the rule of law is a two-way street, and many First Nations strongly support the projects protesters are determined to stop.
Let’s begin with the rule of law, as the consequences to it being undermined will have the most grievous effects on our country. Though the most recent protest rounds are ostensibly more about the Coastal Gas Link (CGL) project, they must be viewed together with the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) as part of a larger discourse of anti-resource development activism and its current disregard for the courts.
In 2018, when the courts ruled that the government had failed to adequately consult First Nations groups on TMX, pipeline opponents celebrated. Their celebration was justified. Consultation had been inadequate and the courts recognized this. The affirmation of a duty to meaningfully consult and respect the rights of indigenous peoples was a good thing. Without the rule of law and respect for the courts, the 2018 TMX decision would not have had the impact it did. This would be detrimental to all.
Sadly, it seems the current protesters are only interested in the rule of law when they win. Yet, respecting a court ruling is perhaps even more important in loss. The rule of law must go both ways at all times.
The Federal Court of Appeal ruling that the second consultation on TMX was “reasonable”, “meaningful” and “anything but a rubber stamp exercise,” validated the government’s consultation process with First Nations when proposing energy infrastructure projects that affect their territory. Though groups opposed to the pipeline may not like it, this judgement must be respected in the same way the 2018 ruling was by those who wanted the pipeline to proceed.
The Wet’suwet’en issue represents a variation of the same problem. The court injunctions granting the CGL access to construction camp 9A through Wet’suwet’en traditional territory must be respected if the rule of law has any value. Refusals to accept the injunction and the resulting arrests are not, as some will say, the death of reconciliation, but an easily foreseeable consequence of ignoring a court order.
The overwhelming First Nations support for the aforementioned projects and the opportunity they provide is also routinely dismissed out of hand. Former Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation and current MLA Ellis Ross has been one of the most eloquent voices in support of the CGL and what it means to local indigenous communities. Chief Michael LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines First Nation is a strong advocate for First Nations ownership of the TMX. Both are clear about the prosperity these projects bring to their regions and people, and the stake it gives First Nations in the economic future of BC and Canada. They are supported in their view by all twenty elected councils of First Nations along the CGL pipeline route and all forty-three of the Nations along the TMX route.
Both Mr. LeBourdais’ and Mr. Ross’ messages are routinely ignored by the pipeline protesters, politicians opposed resource development, and even, in Mr. Ross’ case, the United Nations. Why? Because their on-the-ground reality does not fit the narrative the opposition has constructed for themselves and the world. Benefit to local First Nations communities be damned if it gets in the way of activist propaganda. This was exemplified in the saddest way only a few days ago when Mr. Ross, while trying to access the BC Legislature, was yelled at by a student to stand up for indigenous rights.
The pipeline debate has been contentious, passionate and emotional. For these reasons, clear-eyed decisions by the courts and respect for the facts are essential. Respecting the rule of law must apply to both sides and both sides must acknowledge the benefits to First Nations communities, just as both sides wrestle with climate change. The protesters and environmental activists on this issue are not dealing in reality, facts or respect. As Mr. DiCaprio’s elder colleague Jack Nicholson might say: “They can’t handle the truth.”
Adam Pankratz is a lecturer at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He is on the board of directors at Rokmaster Resources Corp.