The increasingly diverse make-up of Canadian resource protests – is violence around the corner?

We all recognise the right to express dissent: so what do we do when groups espousing violence jump on the bandwagon?

We all recognise the right to express dissent: so what do we do when groups espousing violence jump on the bandwagon?

This contribution appeared in The Hill Times on March 2, 2020

OTTAWA, CANADA — Looking briefly at the headlines of not just The Hill Times but just about every other newspaper these days it is not hard to see that stories on the current wave of protests and rail blockades tied to energy projects out West are dominating. This is, of course, not surprising: the disruption to our economy (layoffs, lost productivity) and the impact on Canada’s climate change promises are indeed a big deal.

Well, it turns out that these events are also being reflected in other media outside Canada as well. J. J. McCullough wrote recently about this in the Washington Post and one phrase in particular struck me (in keeping with my interest in all things public safety and national security). Here is what Mr. McCullough penned:

…the indigenous rights cause now unifies a broad coalition of Canadian activists, including those involved in climate change, social justice and anti-capitalism. This only makes sense. A movement that believes it is desirable to severely weaken, or even dissolve, the state in order to achieve some larger goal, whether it’s a socialist utopia or green one, will naturally latch onto any movement with shared objectives.

J. J. McCullough

In other words what began as a rather small, narrowly-focused opposition to a specific project has blossomed into something bigger, both in terms of geographic impact (i.e. the barriers on the VIA line in Belleville) as well as issue focus (climate change, indigenous rights, etc.).

So far so peaceful. Both sides do not appear to have any interest is seeing this escalate into something out of control. The variety of protest groups may be breaking the law, but they are not doing so violently. And as for the government, I cannot see the Trudeau team wanting to engage in action that could lead to an Ipperwash, an Oka or a Burnt Church (although we have to recognise that it the whole thing goes pear-shaped we could find fault on multiple sides, not just that of law enforcement).

Jumping on the bandwagon

But what if others jump on the bandwagon whose intentions are not so peaceful? There are already rumours that some individuals and groups could see the protests as an opportunity to make some noise of their own. According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network “the protests in support of Wet’suwet’en heredity chiefs are the ‘number one’ topic of conversation among hate groups and far-right fringe groups online, with many calling for violence to remove the protesters”.

This is not shocking: these actors have a lot to hate and need to be active to keep their bottom-dwelling fans happy. In fact, we have already seen an incident in Edmonton where United We Roll For Canada (UWR) took down a barricade (I am not calling UWR a hate group for the record, but their action could indeed spur others to take similar action).

How about this: what if some right wing or anarchist extremist groups see the protests as a great way to rise up against authorities, police or otherwise? It is clear that there are actors out there that are anti-government, anti-law enforcement, anti-order, even in Canada. Will some grab this opportunity? Fingers crossed that this will not transpire but never say never.



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Legitimate opposition

All demonstrations and legitimate opposition can head in unforeseen directions. Just ask Tunisian authorities who saw the immolation of a fruit vendor in December 2010 spark a nation-wide movement that overthrew the government and spawned the Arab Spring.

I am not Nostradamus and my crystal ball in in the shop for repairs. You will thus not get any ‘predictions’ from me. Nevertheless, federal and provincial authorities, and yes this includes law enforcement and security intelligence agencies folks, have to prepare for the worst, while all the time hoping for the best. We cannot criticise their need to collect intelligence and information to see where this whole thing ends up. Anything short of that would be negligent.

This may upset a lot of Canadians. Tough. We have these organisations for a reason and we must allow them to do the jobs we expect from them. Of course we can demand professionalism and respect but we cannot tell them to go away.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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