Protesters here have their own battles in play
With its echoes of Hollywood movies, it’s not surprising that an armed uprising by white ranchers in the American West wanting free range over public land has gained international attention.
But while the ranchers and self-proclaimed militia are occupying an abandoned federal building in southeast Oregon, there’s a similar — albeit more peaceful — occupation taking place in northeastern British Columbia.
The unarmed British Columbians are refusing to leave the site where BC Hydro plans to clear-cut parts of the Peace River Valley and flood 57,000 acres of farmland in order to construct an $8.3-billion hydroelectric dam.
This is a massive infrastructure project touted by Premier Christy Clark for the nearly 2,000 construction jobs it will create and as a much-needed, clean energy alternative. In Oregon, it’s a dispute over rangeland versus parkland.
In July, RCMP shot and killed a protester outside an information meeting about the dam, known as Site C.
On Wednesday, RCMP arrested three people, including former Peace River Valley District director Arthur Hadland, according to local media. The Alaska Highway News stated he was among a group of protesters blockading two entrances to the dam’s construction site.
Hadland has long been a vocal opponent. But it is Helen Knott who is described on blog and Facebook posts as the “emerging leader and warrior.” Far from the camouflage-clad images of Bundy clansmen in Oregon, Knott’s Facebook photo shows a smiling, bespectacled young woman with a female elder.
(Knott is at the camp and did not respond to emailed questions before deadline. However, based on the photos and comments on Knott’s page, this protest appears to be an iteration of the Idle No More Movement — a peaceful protest movement largely driven by young First Nations people.)
Aboriginal treaty rights, land title, the loss of farmland and other environmental concerns sparked seven court challenges involving the dam.
Three remain to be heard or decided by the B.C. Court of Appeal. Those appeals were made by the Peace Valley Landowner Association and the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations.
(Two other legal challenges — both by First Nations — were either discontinued or the parties have withdrawn.)
Regardless, the B.C. government issued construction permits last July after the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the provincial environment minister’s discretionary right to approve construction without considering the recommendations of an independent environmental review.
That review panel’s 471-page report said the dam would be beneficial, providing enough electricity to power 450,000 homes a year.
But the review also noted that there would be significant negative impacts on the environment, wildlife, aboriginal people, farmers and other users of the Peace River Valley due to flooding of the valley to create an 83-kilometre-long reservoir.
The approvals also came within days of James McIntyre being shot dead by RCMP outside BC Hydro’s public consultation meeting in Dawson Creek.
Anonymous — the international network of hacktivists — claimed the Guy Fawkes-masked, knife-wielding McIntyre as one of its members and vowed to use vengeance if necessary to seek justice. Local environmental and farming groups opposed to the dam said at the time that they didn’t know McIntyre and that they oppose violence of any kind.
The province’s Independent Investigations Office has yet to make its report.
Site preparation work began in the fall of 2015 and protesters set up a camp at the mouth of the Moberly River in December. It includes a small cabin and hunting tent as protection against the -20 C temperatures for a rotating group of people including Knott.
On Dec. 31, BC Hydro gave protesters 24 hours to remove their encampment. But nothing happened until this week.
In the birthplace of Greenpeace, after decades of wars in the woods in British Columbia over timber cutting and after a year of protests involving pipelines that included arrests on Burnaby Mountain, what is happening in the Peace River Valley is all too familiar: First Nations people, local landowners and environmentalists pitted against private and public corporations in disputes over the use/misuse of public lands.
There ought to be a better way than this.
And there is. It’s supposed to be due process and the rule of law.
Yet when governments don’t wait for those processes to fully play out or when they rewrite the rules to their own advantage against the perceived public interest, it’s hard to condemn peaceful protests of frustrated citizens as long as they remain peaceful.
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