May 09, 2018

The Kinder Morgan protests are not ‘child’s play’ and may constitute terrorism

This piece was published in The Hill Times on April 30, 2018

I consider myself a fairly reasonable and rational person.  I also have had a hankering for science since I was a kid and do everything possible to keep up with developments in a variety of fields. Among those is environmental science and of course that particular study is focused a great deal these days on climate change.  There are no solid conclusions yet – science after all is constantly evolving – but the consensus remains that we are heading towards a significantly warmer planet and that is on the whole not good.  I accept these findings and do not thus count myself among the ‘climate skeptics’.

If, then, we are burning too many fossil fuels which constitute a major contributor to global warming it stands to reason that we should collectively do something about that. Such as burn less oil and gas and substitute with cleaner technologies.  We do appear to be headed in that direction although some fear that we have already passed a point where warming is inevitable and we will have to develop mitigation strategies.

Canada is obviously a country where natural resources constitute a big part of our economy and where there are large numbers of environmentalists who want oil and gas to stay in the ground.  Hence the protests in BC over the Kinder Morgan project, a move to open up more markets other than the US for Alberta oil.  While you almost need a scorecard to keep track of who’s who, in a nutshell the Notley government in Alberta wants the pipeline to be constructed, the Horgan government in BC does not and the Trudeau Liberals, who campaigned on many environment-friendly promises, have stated clearly that the pipeline approval process is a federal matter (that it crosses a provincial border seems to be throwing a wrench into things).

Then there are the protesters.  First Nations members, environmentalists, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and others.  They are doing what they can to prevent the construction from going through and have vowed to up their action if it appears that the project will proceed as planned.  Some of that action may stray into territory that could be construed as terrorist in nature under certain circumstances.

Now before you cancel you Hill Times subscription or fire off angry letters hear me out.  Recall that terrorism, broadly speaking, is a serious act of violence that targets civilians (or civilian structures) in the furtherance of a political, ideological or religious goal.  What, then, would be ‘serious violence’?  Blocking a construction crew?  No.  Sabotaging a work site?  Maybe.  Attacking an employee of Kinder Morgan?  Probably.  Blowing up stuff and seriously wounding or killing someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Absolutely.  It is not as if we have not seen serious violence committed by leftists in BC before.  The ‘Squamish Five’ (a.k.a. Direct Action) engaged in the ‘propaganda of the deed’ in the 1980s including the explosion of a Litton Industries factory in Toronto (to protest that firm’s involvement in the US cruise missile program).

What of the motive?  That clearly lies in the domain of ideology (maybe verging on religion to some).  Protests and more concrete actions taken in this regard are closely tied to the mindset that the Earth is in trouble and it is no longer OK to sit back and do nothing.  As frustration builds or opponents sense their positions are having less than  the desired effect, responses could escalate in terms of severity and level of violence employed.  Lastly, the targets are civilian and not military.  On balance then some of the acts of those opposed to the Kinder Morgan plans could meet the definition of terrorism.  Whether or not the Crown would lay terrorism charges is another matter entirely.  As we are seeing in the Alexandre Bissonnette case in Quebec City it is not always crystal clear when an act of violence strays into the realm of violent extremism.

We have become habituated to seeing terrorism as acts of violence carried out primarily by men yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ (i.e. Islamist extremists).  Yet as Quebec City demonstrated, and as Burnaby may show one day, terrorism is not the sole purview of one ideological bent.  We need to be open to other possibilities and let the facts dictate our response.  At the same time, those who passionately defend our planet need to be told that they will be held accountable for serious acts of violence.  I don’t know about you but having a charge of ‘terrorism’ held over your head cannot and should not be seen as a badge of honour.