Thursday, December 8, 2022
December 8, 2022

Viewpoint: Legal Does Not Mean Just

By JAN SLAKOV

On Twitter someone asked, if it’s OK to block rail lines, isn’t it OK then to block abortion services?

Let’s see: First, like many others who felt heartbroken when people who have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect their territory were arrested, I’m no fan of blockades. But, given the context of these blockades, it would be very wrong to use violence to bring them down.

Canadian law stipulates that women have the right to seek abortions. It also recognizes that Indigenous people have rights. Indeed, although First Nations were not allowed to hire lawyers from 1927 to 1951, in 1997, the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary leadership obtained a court ruling that they never surrendered title to their ancestral lands. An open letter signed by numerous Canadian lawyers explains: “The fact that band councils have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink cannot justify the erasure of Indigenous law or negate the Crown’s obligation to meet with the Hereditary Chiefs.”

It’s especially shocking that the B.C. government would adopt UNDRIP legislation and then support RCMP and Coastal GasLink invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory without free, prior, informed consent. Journalist Dirk Meissner explained that Premier John Horgan said the declaration didn’t apply to the Coastal GasLink project.

Of course, legal does not necessarily mean just. (For instance, although it was legal for RCMP to forcibly take indigenous children from their families in an effort to “kill the Indian in the child”, it was clearly wrong.)

Determining what is right requires honest information, adherence to core principles and dialogue; allowing “might” to determine what is “right” undermines our humanity and ultimately our future.

Is it right to flout Indigenous rights (and Canada’s efforts towards reconciliation) in order to allow a climate-disrupting mega-project, owned largely by foreign companies, including three state-owned companies, to proceed? And we know this project would not be viable without substantial government subsidies.

The ecological consequences of fracking and using vast amounts of electricity to make LNG are devastating.

In January I spoke with a senior employee of a mainstream media outlet. They seemed to think my Wet’suwet’en solidarity walk from Swartz Bay to the legislature was of little consequence; like who would even see my signs? But they recognized I’m not the only one losing sleep over the mess we’re in. We were discussing Indigenous resistance when the employee suggested “they” would save us. I was shocked; tears rolled down my cheeks. Only afterwards could I see how the idea that this media outlet would continue to spread misinformation about the crisis we face, while relying on “them” to save us, when “they” have suffered through genocidal conditions, was a bit much for me.

Even as major investors back away from fossil-fuel projects, many politicians speak as if divestment were a cardinal sin. But clinging to devastating industries, especially when other ways to meet basic needs are readily available, makes about as much sense as continuing to pay church indulgences, when unscrupulous church officials were using them as a cash cow.

There is good news. The Teck mine is off the table, divestment is gaining traction, people are flying less (and buying offsets). Still, to quote Adrienne Rich: “So much has been destroyed/ I have to cast my lot with those who [. . .] reconstitute the world.”

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