FEDS WON’T RULE OUT PIPELINE SOLDIERS IN B.C.
This year’s DTES march for action on overdose deaths will focus on decriminalization of drugs; also, Ottawa won’t promise a local MP that the Kinder Morgan pipeline will be soldier-free in B.C.
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A B.C. MP has dared Liberal ministers to guarantee that the military and police will not be used against opponents of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline-expansion project.
Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart issued the challenge as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged that the $7.4-billion twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline will be completed.
Stewart first hurled the question at Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr during debates in the House of Commons last Monday (February 12).
“Will he stand in the House today and say that he will never do this, that it would never be considered, that he would not use the army and the police forces against British Columbians in their own communities, on the reserves, and in their municipalities?” Stewart asked.
Stewart prefaced his question by noting that Carr told business leaders in the past that “he would use military defence and police forces to push this pipeline through.”
The Burnaby South MP was referring to a December 1, 2016, comment by Carr in Edmonton about the military and police dealing with nonpeaceful protests, for which he later apologized.
Responding to Stewart, the Liberal minister said he was “disappointed” that the issue was being brought up again.
“Within a few days of having said it, I realized it would invoke images that were not healthy to the debate, and I apologized to Indigenous leaders,” Carr said. “I will say again, as I have said many times over many months, that I apologized and misspoke.”
At another point during the debates, Stewart made the same challenge to Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi.
“Will he guarantee British Columbians that he will not use the military or police forces to ram this pipeline through our beautiful province?” Stewart asked.
Sohi replied that the pipeline expansion will “go ahead, because this project will create thousands of jobs for Alberta families as well as for British Columbian and Canadian families”.
Stewart was not satisfied with the responses he got from Carr and Sohi, which he later described as “disturbing”.
The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from Edmonton to Burnaby, will triple daily capacity to 890,000 barrels and lead to a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic on the West Coast. One of the largest demonstrations to march through the Downtown Eastside in recent years occurred in February 2017, when hundreds of people called for government action on overdose deaths.
The crowd was motivated by an unprecedented number of fatal overdoses, from 518 in 2015 to 993 in 2016. Since then, the climb has continued, to 1,422 last year.
Jordan Westfall, president of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD), told the Straight that organizers expect an even bigger turnout this Tuesday (February 20).
“The last few years, thousands of people have died of an overdose,” he said in a telephone interview. “We tackled the pubic-health aspect of that last year with the national day of action. This year, we want to change the focus to the Ministry of Justice.”
Specifically, Westfall said that drug users are calling for decriminalization: for the federal government to remove criminal penalties for the personal possession of all illegal narcotics.
“Criminalization impacts every aspect of a person using drugs,” he said. “Criminalization pushes people into the shadows, into the darkness, where they don’t disclose their drug use.…it makes it much more difficult to access services.”
The idea might once have sounded impossibly radical. But last September, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal NDP, said his party supports decriminalization because members believe it will help reduce overdose deaths. Then, on February 2, Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway, formally raised the proposal in the House of Commons and asked the Liberals: “When will this government abandon the failed war on drugs and adopt a health-based approach to addiction and drug use?”
Decriminalization likely won’t come before a change in government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said his government will not discuss the idea.
In the immediate term, Westfall said demonstrators will also call for an end to so-called red-zoning, a term that refers to when someone has been charged with an offence and not yet convicted but is released with strict rules about where they are not allowed to travel.
An October 2017 study by researchers with Simon Fraser University and the University of Ottawa found that red-zoning often equates to a denial of social services. “We’ve found people being excluded from safe-injection sites, making it harder for them to access clean needles, which then places them in greater risk of negative health outcomes,” SFU’S Nick Blomley told the Straight then.
Westfall argued that in the middle of an overdose epidemic, red zones are killing people. He said people participating in the national day of action are therefore asked to wear red on February 20. “In Ottawa, they’re going to wear red to the attorney general’s office, the minister of justice’s office, and redzone it,” he added.
Vancouver’s march for Canada’s national day of action on overdose deaths will begin on February 20 at 12:30 p.m. at Victory Square (West Hastings and Cambie streets). Rallies are also planned for Victoria, Prince George, and, across Canada, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.