There’s a limit to protests by pipe­line op­po­nents

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - KEN­NETH P. GREEN Ken­neth P. Green is se­nior di­rec­tor of nat­u­ral re­source stud­ies at the Fraser In­sti­tute.

In Novem­ber, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau gave Canada, and par­tic­u­larly Al­berta, an early hol­i­day present of not one, but two oil pipe­line project ap­provals: The Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion and the Line 3 re­place­ment project.

Chal­lenge now will be to see things through. Some groups are threat­en­ing heavy re­sis­tance to the projects, in­clud­ing ac­tions akin to those in the United States at the site of the Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line.

Mike Hudema, a spokesper­son for Green­peace, said, “If Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau wanted to bring Stand­ing Rock-like protests to Canada, he suc­ceeded.”

Civil dis­obe­di­ence has a long, of­ten distin­guished his­tory, but this is not your grand­mother’s civil dis­obe­di­ence.

Civil dis­obe­di­ence is most ap­pro­pri­ate when a group faces op­pres­sion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and mem­bers of that group are will­ing not only to break laws, but to face the full pun­ish­ment for do­ing so.

Muham­mad Ali would be a case in point. Amer­i­cans, par­tic­u­larly black Amer­i­cans, were be­ing drafted into the Viet­nam War and had lit­tle re­course to avoid such le­gal­ized (and of­ten lethal) in­den­ture. Ali’s civil dis­obe­di­ence had a strong im­pact on Amer­ica’s view of the war, and his will­ing­ness to risk se­ri­ous pun­ish­ment ( he was fined $10,000, sen­tenced to five years in prison — later over­turned — and sus­pended from pro­fes­sional box­ing for three years) would later earn him heroic sta­tus in the eyes of many.

Cana­di­ans to­day have op­por­tu­ni­ties to ap­peal un­de­sir­able ac­tiv­i­ties by both the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tor. Cana­di­ans have not one “so­cial li­cence,” but at least four, all quan­ti­ta­tive and legally bind­ing.

(I’m omit­ting a fifth, “vot­ing with one’s feet,” as to­day’s chal­lenges in­volve peo­ple with a unique bond to their na­tive lands, and re­lo­ca­tion for many would be in­con­ceiv­able.)

First, Cana­di­ans can al­ways ex­press op­po­si­tion with their wal­lets. They can choose not to buy prod­ucts they ob­ject to, can support com­pet­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, and can spend their money to rally pub­lic op­po­si­tion.

Sec­ond, Cana­di­ans can ex­press their opin­ions with their bal­lots. As we have seen most vividly, Cana­di­ans can re­place gov­ern­ments they dis­like, and vote in gov­ern­ments that prom­ise to do things dif­fer­ently. Elections are one of the most im­por­tant ways to re­dress griev­ances.

Third, Cana­di­ans can ex­press opin­ions and de­sires di­rectly in tes­ti­mony and sub­mis­sions of ma­te­ri­als to pro­ceed­ings of fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment.

Fourth, Cana­di­ans can seek re­dress through the le­gal sys­tem, bring­ing le­gal suits, again, at the pro­vin­cial, fed­eral and mu­nic­i­pal level.

Some will ob­ject that these sys­tems are im­per­fect, and of course, as all hu­man en­deav­ours are im­per­fect, these are as well. But a well­reg­u­lated mar­ket econ­omy, with sound rule of law, has proven to be, by far, the best sys­tem for pro­vid­ing the most peo­ple the great­est good. Gov­ern­ment by fiat, whether it’s govern­men­tal fiat or the fiat of protest camps and protesters threat­en­ing to vi­o­late the law, is not peace, nor or­der, nor good gov­er­nance.

Peo­ple should feel free to peace­fully protest pipe­lines, but what’s crit­i­cal is that gov­ern­ments at all lev­els send the sig­nal that they, and their reg­u­la­tory pro­cesses, are le­git­i­mate and em­body the rule of law in Canada.

Po­ten­tial protesters should un­der­stand the gov­ern­ment will have the will to en­force its de­ci­sions for the good of all Cana­di­ans, not sim­ply one in­ter­est group or an­other. With­out that as­sur­ance, the re­cent pipe­line ap­provals by the prime min­is­ter might ring hol­low.

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