While the state arrests land defenders and the press, a new report highlights government apathy toward climate change


Josh Kaye

Josh is the main author of Northern Currents – A Leftist perspective on Canadian politics. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow on Twitter at @ncjoshkaye.

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An all-to-familiar juxtaposition has arisen with the recent arrests of Indigenous land defenders and journalists by the RCMP. On the one hand, we have politicians like Justin Trudeau and John Horgan insisting on the importance of climate change and that we must act now. On the other, these same politicians buy or approve new pipelines, grant fossil fuel subsidies, and arrest protestors.

Under the cover of catastrophic flooding that displaced thousands of people in British Columbia, the RCMP saw their opportunity and seized it. While most of us, including the media, were hyper-focused on these mass-flooding events (how could we not be?), the RCMP flew about 50 officers to a remote service road to arrest Wet’sewet’en land defenders.

The RCMP was heavily armed, equipped with machine guns, military equipment, K9 units, and even threatened to use a chainsaw to break in to a building to “extract unarmed Indigenous land defenders inside.” Defunding the Police has never looked so good as now.


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All of this for a pipeline that could have been re-routed. All of this while Wet’sewet’en hereditary chiefs were in the process of finding a diplomatic solution.

Lessons learned?

More recently, The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development have released a new report, Report 5 – Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change. The report was very critical of Canada’s (in)action on climate change, stating:

Canada’s record on climate change should be judged not only on the
targets and commitments that Canada has made over the years, but also
on its actions. Despite commitments from government after government
to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past
3 decades, Canada has failed to translate these commitments into real
reductions in net emissions. Instead, Canada’s emissions have continued
to rise.

Repeated commitments, strategies, and action plans to reduce emissions in Canada have not yielded results. According to Canada’s 2021 National Inventory Report, Canada’s emissions were 730 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, while its target for 2020 was 607 megatonnes. Canada’s new target for 2030 equates to approximately 406 to 443 megatonnes. Despite progress in some areas, such as public electricity and heat generation, Canadian emissions have actually increased by more than 20% since 1990.

On our current track, Canada will come up short on the goals of the Paris Agreement, that is, keeping global warming below 1.5-2 degrees: “current global commitments fall far short of [the Paris Agreement], leading to projections of warming by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.”

The report does acknowledge that Canada has made some progress in “decoupling emissions from population growth and its gross domestic product.” Canada’s emissions have slowed down relative to population and economic growth. At the same time, it finds policies such as Trudeau’s buying of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion as being “incoherent” with progress toward averting climate change.


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Luckily, it isn’t all doom and gloom. If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown what strong, concerted government action can do for large-scale societal problems. If our governments were serious about dealing with climate change, they could invoke emergency measures to get things done, rather than insufficient market-based remedies like the carbon tax.

Market-based remedies miss the underlying issues of our economic system that have created the climate crisis. Our economic system relies on constant, never-ending growth and consumption, on a planet with finite resources. This inherent contradiction of capitalism is manifesting itself in the form of climate change.

Provincial problems

Another core issue related to climate change is the infiltration of economic interests into our democratic systems. Even our left-leaning, social-democratic parties (in name at least) are highly susceptible to this process.

For a clear example, take a look at the career of Mike Farnworth, BC’s Minister of Public Safety. Previous to his career in politics Farnworth worked for energy and resource extraction companies like CP Rail, Gulf Oil, and Mt. Isa Mining. Is it really that surprising that the BCNDP, and indeed it’s federal counterpart, has sided with large energy companies? Or that they have remained relatively silent about the crackdown on Wet’sewet’en protesters, Hereditary Chiefs, and journalists?

Is that not an obvious example of large corporations exerting influence into our democratic institutions? The RCMP are simply there to do the bidding of large corporations, in this case.

The Maple reports that “the B.C. Civil Liberties Association published a letter sent by Farnworth to the RCMP’s ‘E’ Division in January 2020 which authorized the temporary redeployment of police resources to ‘maintain law and order’ in the construction area of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.” According to the same report, David Milward, a law professor at the University of Victoria said that “even if such a directive was not issued, said Milward, it would still be appropriate for Farnworth to speak up publicly if he believed the police’s conduct was inappropriate or unlawful.”

This is emblematic of a larger shift within the NDP over the last 20 years. In an effort to recover from near-collapse at the polls in the 90’s, the NDP sought to meet voters where they were at and moderated their platform and image. This has culminated toward the present day, in which the party boasts many small business owners as elected MP’s and MLA’s.

Some of us, with more socialist sensibilities, would say this shift has gone way too far. It’s one thing to meet voters where they are at, but not at the expense of major issues of climate change and Indigenous reconciliation.


Reconciliation is a sham to our political leaders


Josh Kaye

Josh is the main author of Northern Currents – A Leftist perspective on Canadian politics. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow on Twitter at @ncjoshkaye.

Given the recent events in which Wet’sewet’en land defenders were arrested by BC’s militarized RCMP, it is obvious now that what we call reconciliation is a sham, in the most literal sense of the word, when spoken of by our political elites.

Reconciliation has a double-meaning in Canada. To most of us, it refers to “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country,” as defined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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Photo: Gidimt’en Checkpoint Facebook

This implies a nation-to-nation relationship – between many nations in fact – in which each nation stands on equal footing. Indeed, many reconciliations are required to overcome the Canadian state’s colonial acts of aggression toward Indigenous communities.

Unfortunately, our political leaders have another deficient definition of reconciliation though. What they want to reconcile are the contradictory interests between Capital and Indigenous self-determination. Ultimately, our political leaders, embodied by the Canadian state, side with Capital.

RCMP arrest Wet’sewet’en land defenders

Under the cover of catastrophic flooding that displaced thousands of people in British Columbia, the RCMP saw their opportunity and seized it. While most of us, including the media, were hyper-focused on these mass-flooding events (how could we not be?), the RCMP flew about 50 officers to a remote service road to arrest Wet’sewet’en land defenders.


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At least 14 have been arrested by the RCMP so far.

The RCMP was heavily armed, equipped with machine guns, military equipment, K9 units, and even threatened to use a chainsaw to break in to a building to “extract unarmed Indigenous land defenders inside.”

All of this for a pipeline that could have been re-routed. All of this while Wet’sewet’en hereditary chiefs were in the process of finding a diplomatic solution:

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Surely the cops could be put to better use, given that the province is under a state of emergency due to mass floods driven by climate change? Nope, the interests of capital always prevail, it seems. The RCMP are simply doing the bidding of Coastal Gaslink.

It’s almost a yearly ritual at this point. Land defenders make a stand and claim what is theirs, and soon enough RCMP swoops in to crush democratic expression. Maybe it’s possible that policing isn’t the solution to all of our problems?

To me, this sounds all much more like reconciliation from the barrel of a gun, for the benefit of oil and gas companies.


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Silence at the top

To bring the focus back to our political leaders, the most unsettling fact about these recent events is the sheer volume of complete silence from our political leaders. If one were following Justin Trudeau or Erin O’Toole in recent days, one wouldn’t even know this was going on. No statements or even acknowledgement of these developments. This isn’t surprising to those of us on the left.

Even worse, our social-democratic (in name at least) leaders have been nowhere to be found. Leader of the federal NDP, Jagmeet Singh, was very quick to comment on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict – happening in another country – but has still remained silent on the issue. John Horgan, premier of BC and leader of the BCNDP, has also remained silent. These are arguably the two most relevant leaders with the ability to center attention to this issue in national media.

It’s worth noting the NDP has finally put out a statement, but it’s simply too little too late. If acted upon earlier, the reckless RCMP invasion could have been avoided altogether.

Other lesser known political leaders have made statements of solidarity with the land defenders such as Dimitri Lascaris, Leah Gazan, Niki Ashton, and members of the Communist Party of Canada.

Equality vs Autonomy

This double-meaning of the word reconciliation has been elucidated by others. In his essay Paved with Comfortable Intentions, published in the book Pathways of Reconciliation, David B. Macdonald has made the distinction between two conceptions of reconciliation: liberal equality and a more radical, transformative Indigenous autonomy, including over land.

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His essay spells out how most Canadians (here I would include our political leaders) view reconciliation as an issue to be resolved under a liberal framework of equality under the law. In this view, everyone within the borders of Canada becomes a Canadian citizen, the Indian Act is abolished, and private property is instituted in reservations defined by the Indian Act. Indigenous authorities and Canadian governments “work together” under the same system and the colonial government retains its control.

This view is very convenient for our political and corporate elite; if Indigenous people become solely subjects of the Canadian state, they are therefore subject to its laws, without any special protections or right to self-determination. Thus, an injunction becomes valid, and the RCMP have the right under Canadian law to enforce the interests of Capital, even on unceded land.

This view contrasts with a more transformative view of reconciliation in which emphasizes political autonomy over liberal equality. Macdonald brilliantly explains:

Transformative reconciliation, by contrast, is about fundamentally problematizing the settler state as a colonial creation, a vector of cultural genocide, and one that continues inexorably to suppress Indigenous collective aspirations for self-determination and sovereignty. In this type of reconciliation, we will see the rollback of settler state control over Indigenous individuals and communities, commensurate with Indigenous lands, cultures, laws, languages, and governance traditions. […] We might understand Indigenous self-determination as the “right to political autonomy, the freedom to determine political status and to pursue economic, social, and cultural development.”

In this more radical, anti-colonial interpretation of reconciliation, injunctions and RCMP invasions into politically autonomous regions are invalidated, and Indigenous law would overcome colonial state law.

Understanding the distinction between these two competing concepts is crucial to grasp how our political leaders use words like “reconciliation” or “nation-to-nation relationships.” Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, recently went as far as asserting, “it’s time to give land back.” Does anyone think he has any intention of ceding land in any meaningful sense? Or is it the corporate-friendly framework of liberal equality under the law, which turns Indigenous communities existing on this land for millennia into Canadian state subjects?

Real nation-to-nation relationships require substantive political autonomy as a precondition for determining how the Canadian state interacts with Indigenous communities and individuals. This conception of reconciliation is largely omitted from mainstream news sources, political leaders, and corporate stakeholders. This is for good reason too: it threatens their esteemed positions within capitalist power structures, therefore undermining their ability to profit from environmental destruction and displacement of people.