OKT: “Do We Need the Rule of Law to Deal with Native Protestors?”

SOURCE: http://www.oktlaw.com/blog/do-we-need-the-rule-of-law-in-new-brunswick-to-deal-with-native-protestors/

October 23, 2013 4:47 pm

By Michael McClurg

Elsipogtog First Nation is only the most recent in a long line of examples of Aboriginal communities protesting resource development on their lands without their consent, and police force being used to ‘take down’ Aboriginal protest sites.  This is not a “new” story – it has happened before. In some cases, like Oka and Ipperwash, it led to full blown public inquiries to get to the roots of why the Aboriginal protests occurred in the first place, why violence escalated, what could have been done to reduce violence, and how to avoid future conflicts.

You would think that after the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Ipperwash Inquiry Report, we would have learned a lesson or two about helpful and unhelpful ways to deal with these types of conflicts over resources, including appropriate police responses. But watching reactions to Elsipogtog, we at OKT have a strong sense of history repeating itself.

When conflicts arise about Aboriginal people protesting resource development, you often hear people talk about the “rule of law”; it has come up regularly in media reports and commentary during the current occupation and protests involving the people of Elsipogtog. The concept refers to the idea that power needs to be applied uniformly and not arbitrarily. Some people invoke this term to suggest that the Canadian authorities are not applying the rule of law to Aboriginal protesters in the same manner that they would apply them to non-Aboriginal protesters in similar circumstances.

This argument is often raised by people who support “cracking down on” or quashing (possibly through violence) protests in the same manner that the RCMP raided the occupation at Elsipogtog. This refrain has been repeated many times over the past decades, in response to Aboriginal protests in Canada such as Burnt Church, Kanesatake (Oka), Ipperwash, and Caledonia. It is a simplistic and emotional response to highly complex situations which often have deep roots in historical conflicts. It also  misrepresents the “rule of law” by suggesting that it means applying the law strictly under all circumstances regardless of context. This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, courts and other authorities have repeatedly endorsed a contextual approach to Aboriginal occupations and protests.

The Ontario Court of Appeal in Henco Industries Ltd. v. Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy Council et. al. regarding charges for contempt of court for violation of an injunction spoke of the complex nature of the rule of law in the context of Aboriginal protest and occupation:

“… the rule of law has many dimensions, or in the words of the Supreme Court of Canada is ‘highly textured’… The rule of law requires a justice system that can ensure orders of the court are enforced and the process of the court is respected. Other dimensions of the rule of law, however, have a significant role in this dispute. These other dimensions include respect for minority rights, reconciliation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal interests through negotiations, fair procedural safeguards for those subject to criminal proceedings, respect for Crown and police discretion, respect for the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and respect for Crown property rights.”

Picking up on this language two years later, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Frontenac Ventures Corporation v. Ardoch Algonquin First Nation endorsed its holding in Henco that enforcing the rule of law involves a complex balancing. It said that this balancing should be performed before an injunction is ordered in an Aboriginal protest and it emphasized the importance of negotiation in this balancing.

In other words, the rule of law is not just about issuing and strictly enforcing court orders. Upholding the rule of law involves looking at each matter contextually through the lens of the long history of relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada. An excellent synopsis of this history and context is provided in the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, a commission that was created in the wake of the Kanesatake (Oka) standoff. You can read the highlights of that report here.

A very helpful resource for better understanding the rule of law in the context of Aboriginal occupation/protest is the report of the Ipperwash Inquiry. The Ipperwash Inquiry was headed by the Hon. Justice Sidney B. Linden, a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice and was formed by the Government of Ontario in the aftermath of the shooting of Dudley George during the protest at Ipperwash Provincial Park. Part of the purpose of the inquiry was to consider how violence could be avoided in similar circumstances. The report that emerged from the Ipperwash Inquiry is invaluable to understanding these conflicts and the appropriate police response to them.

If you want to understand what is happening at Elsipogtog, and recommended ways to deal with a conflict like this, we highly recommend reading the Ipperwash Inquiry report, as there are many parallels and many of the final recommendations are relevant.

Here are some highlights from the Ipperwash Inquiry report that provide important context on the current events at Elsipogtog:

  • Aboriginal occupations and protests are a symptom of our collective inability to fairly resolve centuries-old tensions and conflicts between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities over the control, use, and ownership of land. Until we “design institutions or implement processes that can resolve these tensions more effectively”, protests and occupations are very likely to continue
  • Aboriginal occupations differ from other kinds of protest and occupation in part because of the long history of mistrust between the police and Aboriginal people – “Police strategy must emphasize the development of communication networks and trusting relationships with Aboriginal people before, during, and after protests”
  • The role of the police is limited to maintaining public order. It is not the role of police to resolve the underlying issue, that is the role of government and government should not duck it – “(G)overnments should not avoid their constitutional obligations to First Nations and Aboriginal people under the cloak of keeping out of police ‘operational matters’”
  • Occupations and protests over land and resources are not new: Historically both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities have used occupations and protests to secure lands and resources from one another, however, non-Aboriginal people have secured much more land and resources this way than Aboriginal people have
  • Studies have shown that, despite commonly held misconceptions, Aboriginal occupations and protests over the past 50 years have been notable for their low levels of violence

It is this context that informs the “rule of law” as it pertains to Aboriginal occupation and protest. Respecting the rule of law is about more than simply charging and arresting people according to the strict letter of the written law. A nuanced and contextual approach is required. An approach that recognizes the underlying history of these protests is needed. An approach that addresses the need of governments to uphold the rule of law by meeting their legal obligations to respect Aboriginal rights is needed.

An extremely important part of the legal context at Elsipogtog is that the protests are occurring on land (and are about land) that the people of Elsipogtog never ceded title to. Aboriginal people in this part of Canada signed Peace and Friendship Treaties with the British in which they never ceded any territory. Canadian law recognizes that the occupation of land by an Aboriginal community at the time of the arrival of Crown sovereignty means that the Aboriginal community owns that land. So, the rule of law in this case would arguably dictate that the protesters have every right to be on their traditional land and that in fact, others, including the Crown and resource extraction companies, are trespassers.

In cases like Elsipogtog, injunction orders and police enforcement cannot and should not exist in a vacuum, separated from the extremely complex historical, cultural, and legal nuances of the situation. If such a simplistic approach is taken to Aboriginal protests, as some in the media would encourage, trust and the potential for negotiation and reconciliation is greatly reduced and the potential for violence and continued protest greatly increases. Those results are not consistent with upholding the rule of law. And they will not bring peace to the land …

OC: Op-Ed: Heavy-handed response to the Elsipogtog blockade in New Brunswick

SOURCE: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/op-ed/Heavy+handed+response+Elsipogtog+blockade+Brunswick/9054564/story.html

Op-Ed: Heavy-handed response to the Elsipogtog blockade in New Brunswick

By Peter Raaymakers, Ottawa Citizen October 18, 2013
Op-Ed: Heavy-handed response to the Elsipogtog blockade in New Brunswick

Photograph by: Andrew Vaughan , THE CANADIAN PRESS

On Thursday morning, RCMP officers were deployed with rifles, non-lethal bullets, pepper spray, and dogs to enforce a court injunction and attempt to disperse a blockade of protesters on New Brunswick Route 134, about an hour north of Moncton. At least 40 people were arrested for continuing a protest against natural gas exploration in the area, which comprises traditional lands of the Mi’kmaq people.

Perhaps it can be seen as an extension of the Canadian “pioneer” spirit mentioned by Governor General David Johnston in the most recent speech from the throne. That spirit, according to the current government, pushed settlers to build “an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.”

Of course, Canada wasn’t depopulated when settlers arrived here from Europe. Our country’s wealth and prosperity has been built through the persistent and usually violent removal of First Nations from their traditional lands in order to make room for resource development — and, as we saw Thursday, that’s as true today as it was centuries ago.

As we watched the blockade, we also witnessed the violent response that often follows violent provocation. Although thankfully there were no serious injuries reported, five flaming police cars have a way of catching the attention of the general public. After RCMP officers converged on the blockade, Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren James Sock — who was allegedly “roughed up” in the process, according to at least one eyewitness — was among those arrested, and as matters escalated, police also began using non-lethal bullets, pepper spray, and physical confrontation in an attempt to break the blockade.

It seems that cooler heads have prevailed and the RCMP pulled back their offensive for the time being, but it’s unfortunate that the violence seems to be what’s generating headlines in the aftermath. It’s distracting many from the injustice of gas exploration and fracking around Richibucto and Canada’s relations with First Nations in general.

The Mi’kmaq people of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, including the Elsipogtog First Nation, have never signed a treaty relinquishing authority to the land on which the Route 134 blockade stands today, or that on which SWN Resources is conducting exploratory testing. They signed a Peace and Friendship Treaty in 1761, which was re-affirmed in 1982 with Canada’s Constitution Act and then again in a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision, but that agreement included no mention of the surrender of any lands. Although the federal and New Brunswick governments are currently engaged in exploratory discussions to address issues of land ownership, rights, and sovereignty, there has been no agreement yet.

Given this reality, SWN Resources’ exploration permits aren’t legitimate. Nor was the court injunction criminalizing the blockade, and the police action was ridiculously illegitimate, not to mention unjust, unreasonable in its heavy-handedness, and terribly bad public relations for the RCMP.

In the above-mentioned Supreme Court case, the federal government was encouraged to negotiate with all First Nations in Canada in order to resolve the many outstanding issues and fulfil its treaty obligations. The negotiation process takes a lot of time, but that’s the point. It’s designed to be a meaningful engagement to avoid violent confrontation and find a mutually acceptable solution to these complex issues. If we hope to avoid more destructive events like that which took place on Thursday in New Brunswick, negotiation is the only way forward.

Negotiations are taking place with the provincial government, too. Premier David Alward and Chief Sock met as recently as last week to find a way to end the blockade, and they agreed to form a working group with representatives from the governments of the province and the Elsipogtog First Nation as well as the energy industry. Why the RCMP felt that it was appropriate to intervene in what was at the time a peaceful protest in the midst of active negotiations is unclear, but thankfully all sides have agreed to resume negotiation now that the police have stepped back.

Before gas exploration continues, those negotiations must reach a settlement. Continuing them while the industry conducts testing is disingenuous, putting the cart before the horse and assuming that the settlement will allow fracking without any indication that it’s an acceptable component. If New Brunswick was negotiating in good faith, SWN Resources would be required to stop looking for shale gas deposits — and if testing were halted, the blockade and the hugely excessive police response that followed it could have been avoided.

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which outlined the First Nations land rights. That proclamation was further guaranteed in 1982 within the Canadian Charter or Rights and Freedoms. With that in mind, it’s high time the federal government redoubles its efforts to resolve the many outlying issues that are causing conflicts such as that in New Brunswick.

Peter Raaymakers is an Ottawa resident who thinks 400 years should have been long enough to build peace between Canada and the indigenous people who live within its borders.

CBC: N.B. shale gas solidarity protests spread to other regions

N.B. shale gas solidarity protests spread to other regions

Events held in Montreal, Ottawa, Thunder Bay and elsewhere in support of New Brunswick demonstrators

CBC News Posted: Oct 18, 2013 3:45 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 18, 2013 10:16 PM ET

Demonstrators rally in Calgary to show support for members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, who have been protesting seismic testing in New Brunswick. (CBC)Demonstrators rally in Calgary to show support for members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, who have been protesting seismic testing in New Brunswick. (CBC)

READ MORE: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/n-b-shale-gas-solidarity-protests-spread-to-other-regions-1.2125627

MC: Elsipogtog: “Clashes” 400 Years in the Making

Elsipogtog: “Clashes” 400 Years in the Making

Corporate media coverage creates ignorance, which enables violence

by Dru Oja Jay

"What the RCMP are aiming at," a photo from the blockades in Rexton. Photo by @mykelone
“What the RCMP are aiming at,” a photo from the blockades in Rexton. Photo by @mykelone
RCMP snipers. Photo by @ToddLamirande
RCMP snipers. Photo by @ToddLamirande
Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrol boat running over Mi'kmaq fishers in 2001.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrol boat running over Mi’kmaq fishers in 2001.
“NB protest turns violent,” a CBC headline solemnly proclaims. 1,280 news stories about anti-fracking protests in Rexton, New Brunwick, indexed by Google use the word “clashes.” Most stories are decorated with photos of burning police cars.
All this points to one thing: the way that Canada’s corporate media discusses Indigenous protests is fundamentally broken.
Let’s put it this way. If a hockey player gets in a fight or takes a boarding penalty, we can count on the intrepid investigative team at Hockey Night in Canada to find the footage, if it exists, of the “victimized” player instigating the conflict by making a nasty play when the ref wasn’t looking.
When it comes to Mi’kmaq traditional territory, the stakes are infinitely higher, but the effort reporters put in falls short of a typical Don Cherry segment. Most of the reporters currently flocking to rural New Brunswick can’t be bothered to crack one of hundreds of history books that might give them the background they need to understand the situation.
In fact, they’re not even interested in the months of peaceful protests which “turned violent” when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) brought in snipers dressed in camouflage and armoured riot police who attacked protesters with pepper spray, physical assaulting those who stood in the way of violations of treaty rights and the destruction of their land.
The corporate media’s interest in the issue seems to have coincided with the exact moment when unprotected police cars were set on fire (by whom, we have no idea), and their curiosity does not extend back from the present moment. Reporters and editors seem happy to allow the racist anti-Native narratives, which are themselves hundreds of years in the making, fill in the blanks for their readers and viewers.
Are we to understand that reality and accurate understanding is what reporters are supposed to provide? If so, it’s worth telling them that the situation in New Brunswick is impossible to understand the situation without a bit of history.
In the mid-1700s, the Crown signed Peace and Friendship treaties with the Mi’kmaq. The Crown — the entity that puts the “Royal” in “Royal Canadian Mounted Police” — understood that to maintain their settlements on someone else’s traditional territory without worrying about attacks, they needed a treaty relationship with the folks who live here.
Here’s what the Mi’kmaq warrior society says about the treaties:
Under the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and 1761 in the Maritimes, the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet signatories did not surrender rights to lands or resources.
Oops, that wasn’t the warrior society. It’s actually what the Canadian government said about the treaty. It’s what they have to say, because a long string of court decisions has upheld that the Mi’kmaq nation holds collective rights to the land they share with European settlers.
Let’s put this another way. If the British hadn’t signed a treaty that acknowledged the rights of the Mi’kmaq to the land, British, Scottish and Irish settlement (as well as subsequent waves of migration) might have either not happened at all, or happened in a totally different way.
All those who live on the land governed by the treaty are bound by that relationship, by law and by history. That, at any rate, is how many Mi’kmaq people see it. Non-Native Canadians are more likely to know nothing about the relationship that allows them to live in parts of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. If they do know, they probably see it as a social studies curiosity rather than the basis of their legal rights in this country.
And that’s where the media comes in. People who have been reading newspapers and listening to CBC News on the radio for years still have no idea about what should be the most basic self-awareness.
It’s hard to say why any given reporter or editor chooses to continue not providing this essential information. But we can identify the effects of this ongoing neglect.
In the early 1800s, Mi’kmaq people were forced onto reserves. Then the colonial government made a law which allowed European squatters to claim ownership over lands set aside for Mi’kmaq. During this time, Mi’kmaq status was taken away from anyone who decides to become Canadian (necessary at the time to gain voting and other rights).
In the 1900s, Mi’kmaq settlements were encroached upon continuously, with many imposed relocations. The Canadian government forced children into residential schools starting in 1930, followed by “centralization,” which again forced Mi’kmaq families to move into two reserves (Shubenacadie and Eskasoni). Many resisted the move, and the government was only able to centralize about half of the Mi’kmaq population. It was only in 1951 that a ban on traditional ceremonies was lifted.
All of these actions violated the Peace and Friendship treaties, but settlers have simply ignored the law because their numbers are greater. This history leads straight up to the present.
In 1981, Mi’kmaq at Restigouche were attacked by police to prevent them from managing their own fishery (there’s a film about it).
In 2000, Mi’kmaq fishers near Burnt Church once again decided to assert their right, which had been upheld by the Supreme Court, to fish for lobster. They were subject to racist violence from both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which literally ran over boats of people trying to fish, and non-Native mobs, who attacked people trying to fish and destroyed traps and boats. (There’s a film about that, too.)
Every day, non-Native Canadians make a choice. Are we governed by laws and treaties, or by the will of those with the power to use violence and legitimize it via the media? So far, laws have won in courts while violence has won on the ground.
When Mi’kmaq people stop fracking trucks from entering their territory, they’re defending land that they never gave up. Land which the Supreme Court says they have rights to, rights which they government continues to prevent them from acting on.
The growing list of solidarity actions speaks to a different way of doing things, but ongoing widespread ignorance of the actual situation is what makes this violence possible. It’s far beyond time for the corporate media to stop talking about clashes, and start talking about reality.