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EDITORIAL: New law needed for blockades

February 27, 2020   ·   0 Comments

WE USED TO THINK railway blockades were caused either by avalanches or by train robbers in the Wild West.

Not any more in Canada. They have become the first choice of those opposed to pipelines of all sorts, supposedly “in solidarity with” some hereditary native chiefs in northern British Columbia.

Blockades have long been a feature of modern life, the most famous one being the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49.

Running from June 24,  1948 to May 12, 1949, the blockade was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin that were under Western control.

The Western Allies organised the Berlin Airlift to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin. The Americans and British then began a joint operation in support of the entire city. Air crews from the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force flew over 200,000 sorties in one year, providing to the West Berliners necessities such as fuel and food. The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict.

Closer to home, we routinely experience road blockades ordered by police following traffic collisions. They have become sufficiently commonplace that we recently saw new signage erected on nearby county and regional highways designating them as emergency traffic routes (ETRs) for Highways 9 and 10. (For some reason, the ETR for Highway 10 south of Orangeville is Airport Road (Peel 7) rather than the much closer Heart Lake Road.

While all blockades involve at least some inconvenience for travellers, none cause the damage created by a single blockade on the Canadian National railway’s main line near Belleville, which halted all passenger and freight service east of Toronto for 19 days untul the demonstrators and the blockade itself were removed by police.

This intolerable situation caused a huge debate in Parliament, with Opposition Leaxder Andrew Scheer correctly observing that the Belleville blockade was not only illegal but involved protesters with little or no ties to the hereditary chiefs in B.C.

The blockade featured  Mohawk Warrior Society flags raised in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline that’s being built to permit huge liquified natural gas exports from Kitimat, B.C. to the Orient.

At almost the same time police succeeded in reopening the Belleville barrier, another group of pipeline protesters blockaded the CNR line at Aldershot, near Hamilton, preventing GO Train service to Milton and Niagara Falls and all CN freights to and from Toronto.

While the Conservatives were likely correct in suggesting that the Liberal government’s call for dialogue instead of police action to end the blockades had merely emboldened the protesters and encouraged the new blockades, it’s too bad Mr. Scheer and his colleagues didn’t suggest there was a need for legislation instead of simply support for imediate police action.

As we see it, railway blockades are never an appropriate form of free expression and should be cited specifically in the Criminal Code.

As matters stand, police cannot legally intervene in a rail blockade without first seeking an injunction granting a search warrant.

In light of what has already happened and may happen frequently in future, we think that any blockade of a railway should be grounds for warrantless searches and arrest of the perpetrators.

In the circumstances, the appropriate role for the federal government and the provinces should be to have continual dialogue with indigenous leaders everywhere in the country aimed at dealing with legitimate complaints.

For their part, the hereditary chiefs ought to poll their members on whether to support or reject a pipeline in their territories, if necessary holding referendums on the question.

In this particular case, the pipeline is already being built and abandonment of the project would amount to an inability of Canada to facilitate a reduction of the massive greenhouse gas emissions by coal-fired power plants in Asia.



         

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