Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bill C-51 Chill in Northern Ontario Air? Mayors Accuse Greenpeace of Terrorism, Genocide

Is Greenpeace Canada engaged in terrorist activities, leading to genocide?  That seems like a pretty over-the-top question for any sensible-minded person to ask themselves, but this  week, a group of Northern Ontario Mayors, including failed provincial Progressive Conservative candidate, Peter Politis from Cochrane, ramped up its rhetorical attacks against Greenpeace, referring to the pro-environment organization as engaging in “eco-terrorism” for its advocacy related to protecting caribou habitat (see: “The threat ofeco-terrorism has no border”, the Cochrane Times-Post, June 3, 2015). 

Earlier today on Twitter, Politis went further in response to a tweet that I made to him asking him if he considered me a terrorist, too, because I support the protection of threatened caribou habitat.  In Politis’ response, he associated environmental activism as he believes is being practiced by Greenpeace as a form of genocide – there’s really no other way to interpret a comment which alludes to “wiping out an entire race of people to enforce ur “belief”? as anything but engaging in genocide.

Bill C-51: Chilling Public Discourse

Welcome to the post-Bill C-51 world, folks.  Even though that legislation hasn’t quite worked its way through the Conservative-dominated Senate yet, it’s clear that those who are standing on the frontlines of protecting our environment and natural resources are coming under increasingly hostile fire from right-wing paranoids like Politis.

And it’s too bad, really.  Politis and other Northern Ontario Mayors have some real concerns about the economic health of our part of the Province.  However, when they ramp up the rhetoric, and accuse those with whom they don’t agree as being “radicals” and “terrorists”, it does nothing but polarize the debate – and make themselves and what otherwise might be their legitimate issues and grievances look foolish.

Or does it?  I used to believe that.  But now with Bill C-51 looming on the horizon, I’m not so sure.

The Realm of Crackpots and Cranks

Where once I and others might have been content to write off these absurd accusations as little more than the simple ravings of an emotionally disturbed individuals, Bill C-51 has changed things.  Greenpeace, an environmental organization which was founded on the notion of non-violent activism and intervention, has got to be the furthest thing away from a terrorist organization as one could contemplate.  Or it used to be.  Apparently in today’s paranoid political environment, the non-violent protests of Greenpeace and others seem to constitute a form of terrorist activity – at least in the minds of some (I’m sure there’s more than one Peter Politis lurking out there, ready to drop the “eco-terrorist” label on those engaged in non-violent actions in the name of a sustainable future).

Legal experts have warned that the provisions now contained within Bill C-51 which add new measures to the Criminal Code related to terrorism provide for an overly broad application (see: “Bill C-51, Anti-Terrorism Act,2015” submission from the Canadian Bar Association, and in particular, Section C of the Executive Summary, “Criminal Code Amendments” – page 4).  Throughout the entire Bill C-51 debate, civil libertarians and others have warned that the Bill could be used to silence dissent over certain matters – especially those having to do with the environment. 

What it Means to Be A Terrorist in Canada

There are already problems with the existing definition of “terrorism” in Canada’s Criminal Code.  As written, the current definition of terrorism could be applied to an organization which one might not believe to be engaged in terrorist activities. The Department of Justice writes about the “Definition of Terrorism and the Canadian Context” on its website,

“In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as an act committed "in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause" with the intention of intimidating the public "…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act." Activities recognized as criminal within this context include death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; risks posed to the health and safety of the public; significant property damage; and interference or disruption of essential services, facilities or systems.”

Couple the current definition of “terrorism” with an overly-broad new provision to be added to the Criminal Code around “advocating or promoting terrorism” and suddenly the activities that Greenpeace has been engaged in are cast in a new light.

Greenpeace: A Terrorist Organization?

An argument could go like this.

Some members of Greenpeace, and perhaps the entire organization, has been engaged in terrorist activity. Greenpeace has been engaged in a campaign against Resolute Forestry Products in an effort to compel the corporation to alter its current forestry harvest practices (see: “ResoluteForest Products” page on Greenpeace’s website for its take on this long-running dispute). This campaign has included the spread of misinformation (arguable) with the intent of economically disrupting Resolute’s profitability (less arguable – see: “Resolute Feud with Greenpeace Drags on Profit: CorporateCanada”, Bloomberg Business, January 12, 2015).  As a result of this action, Resolute’s profitability has been jeopardized, which then imperils the economic health and vitality of small, single-resource Northern communities, like the Towns of Cochrane and Hearst.

In other words, Greenpeace has engaged in an act, motivated by ideology, with the intention of intimidating consumers and compelling Resolute Forest Products to undertake sustainable forestry management practices, which has led to the public’s health being harmed.

That’s why some have been calling Greenpeace a “terrorist organization” for a while now.  But again, I stress that usually those who have done so have been marginalized as crack pots and cranks.  By any right-thinking person’s point of view, whether one agrees with Greenpeace’s actions or not, it is a complete stretch of the imagination to actually believe that Greenpeace has engaged in terrorist actions.  Even Resolute, which is currently embroiled in a defamation lawsuit with Greenpeace, hasn’t sought to have Criminal Code charges brought against the environmental organization on the grounds of terrorism.

Accusation of "Terrorism" Isn't Rhetorical

So why now are decidedly non-crackpots like Town of Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis and other Northern Mayors crawling out of the woodwork and levelling accusations of terrorism at Greenpeace and other environmentalists and organizations that wish to protect caribou habitat?  (I note that from what I’ve read, I would go so far as to suggest that these Mayors are asserting that Ontario’s Liberal government may also be a terrorist organization, for placing modest restrictions on harvesting wood in the critical habitat of a threatened species – although I’ve not heard that anyone with any credibility has yet accused Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne of being a terrorist – at least not over her desire to protect caribou habitat).  Can it be that they are feeling empowered by Bill C-51 to ramp up the rhetoric?

Only it isn’t really “rhetoric”, is it?  When someone calls you a terrorist or suggests that an organization that you belong to is engaged in terrorist activity, what they’re really saying is that you are breaking the law (the Criminal Code), and in one of the vilest ways imaginable.  While it is true that the term “terrorist” is bandied about far too often and with little thought to the damage it may do (I recall the famous People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – PETA-pie-throwing incident from a few years back, in which a Minister  got pied in the face, sparking Conservative MP Gerry Byrne to call for the investigation of PETA for terrorist activities – see: “Canadian Politician Says PETA Throwing a Pie is Terrorism”, Will Potter, Green Is The New Red, January 28, 2010).  And when language and terminology is politicized, even if it has a specific definition under a criminal or other statute, confusion often ensues. 

Sometimes the whole purpose of using terms like “terrorist” is for the sake of sowing confusion.  But with Bill C-51 about to become law, I for one am no longer willing to write off those like Politis who use this term as simply doing so for the purpose of making a partisan political point.  I think that there is something more sinister going on here – something which is ultimately much more dark for free speech and democracy in Canada.  It’s hard not believe that when one reads the various provisions of Bill C-51 – from those that establish a new regime for sharing information, including personal information, amongst law enforcement organizations and CSIS, about those who may be participating in activities which “interfere with the economic or financial stability of Canada” – to the new use of judicial warrants to allow CSIS agents to break the law, rather than to operate within legal limits.

Bill C-51 and the Law

When arguing the Law, lawyers like to be able to do so with some certainty.  They’re typically not fond of statutes which provide opportunities for broad interpretation.   In its response to  , the Law Society of British Columbia included this little tidbit as one of its last comments, in support of its earlier position about the overly broad and undefined terminology to be inserted into legal statutes.

“In his book The Rule of Law, Tom Bingham (a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales) identified several principles that underlie the rule of law.  The first amongst these was that ‘the law must be accessible and so far as possible intelligible, clear and predictable.’ He said: ‘…if you or I are liable to be prosecuted, fined and perhaps imprisoned for doing or failing to do something, we ought to be able, without undue difficulty, to find out what it is we must do or must not do on pain of criminal penalty.’ “ (see: “Bill C-51, Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 –Submissions to Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security”, the Law Society of British Columbia, March 2015). 

Operating in the Dark

You know who the proponents of Kafka-esque secret governmental and legal operations are, right?  Here’s a hint: they’re not democrats, and they’ve little interest in the rights of people like you and me.  As humans, we have rights – and we rely on the law for the protection of those rights.  When the law can be subverted and interpreted and acted on in secret, our rights are put at risk.

Those with secret agendas who like to operate in the dark clearly be the ones who benefit from the so-called “Anti-Terrorism Act”.  And they know it.  They feel empowered and emboldened by it.  We can expect to see even more accusations about terrorist activities leveled against citizens and not-for-profit organizations engaged in activism to make our communities healthier places, and our economy more sustainable.  Those on the front lines in places like Elsipogtog and Burnaby Mountain will be the first to feel the effects of this new police regime – but others who speak out in favour of social and climate justice may very well find themselves on the receiving end of the most vile sort of accusation possible – that they are terrorists working against the interests of their community and nation.

I note that in today’s Twitter exchange that Mayor Politis didn’t actually say whether or not he believed I was a terrorist because I support the protection of threatened habitat for species at risk – and specifically the woodland caribou.  Politis just kind of left that one hanging there – essentially suggesting that if I stood with Greenpeace, well, maybe…reminiscent to me at least of former Justice Minister Vic Toews infamous uttering about standing with us or the child pornographers.

From Northern Ontario to Augusta, Georgia

Politis and at least one other Northern Mayor, Roger Sigouin of Hearst, were in Augusta, Georgia recently, attending Resolute Forest Product’s annual shareholders meeting.  With Jaques Jean, a representatives from the Kapuskasing Local of the United Steelworkers, Politis and Sigouin spoke out about Greenpeace and other environmental extremists.  I’m sure that their message went over very well with rich Resolute shareholders.   (see: “Northern mayors push back againstGreenpeace”, the Kapuskasing Times, June 3, 2015). 

Of course, Politis, Sigouin and Jean glossed over the fact that Resolute, unlike many of their forestry products competitors, has been delisted by the Forestry Stewardship Council, due to non-conforming practices found going on in Resolute’s Ontario and Quebec operations. Politis, Sigouin and Jean also seemed content to confuse their largely American audience about the reality of Ontario’s woodland caribou – which is listed as “threatened” on the Species at Risk in Ontario list (SARO), and subject to the Endangered Species Act.  Rather than talk about these facts, the Mayors and the Union Rep seemed quite content to spread misinformation of their own, including throwing out the hand-grenade suggestion - reminiscent of a class climate change denial tactic - that the science around caribou being an at-risk species was unresolved. 

Of course, toadies to corporate agendas are used to dragging people’s names through the mud (although as a Sudburian, I can’t help but wonder what on earth a Steelworker was doing in Georgia, cozying up to the corporate elite).  They accuse others of spreading misinformation because they hate the facts which don’t support their own made-up view of the world.  They claim to be in favour of transparency, insinuating that their opponents are hiding behind their own agenda (which has always perplexed me, because I don’t see anybody getting rich from taking on big corporations like Resolute).  Yet they themselves refuse to answer direct questions and operate in the dark.

As part of my Twitter exchange today, I asked Mayor Politis who paid for his trip to Augusta.  I believe that the public should know if he paid for this out of his own pocket, or accepted a corporate or union ticket to travel to a foreign nation to bash a Canadian environmental organization.  Or was the ticket perhaps paid for by another source of funding available to the Mayor of Cochrane?  I think that the public has a right to know.  The Town of Cochrane has failed to adopt a municipal lobbyist registry, so citizens there really have no idea what conversations between elected officials and corporations are taking place behind closed doors, out of sight of public oversight. 

I don’t know what Mayor Politis thinks about the public’s right to know about who paid for his trip to sunny Georgia.  He didn’t reply to my tweet.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...

This is pure madness, Steve. This sort of thing, if it takes hold, is often a precursor to some type of uprising or revolt.