A recent column in Britain’s The Guardian, was titled “Canada’s environmental activists seen as ‘threat to national security’.” In it, Stephen Leahy, an environmental journalist living in Uxbridge describes how security agencies see green activism as a ‘form of attack’. An attack on ‘what’ is a little bit unclear, but presumably it is that dismally vague trope of ‘national security’.
It is disappointing to see security agencies unable to differentiate between terrorism and activism. The former wants to destroy society while the latter doesn’t want to see society destroyed.
It is similar to the 1960s, when separatists, socialists and feminists were among many groups advocating change who were investigated by the police. Anybody threatening to the status quo was singled out as a threat, and many people lost their jobs or had their lives disrupted as a result.
The tactics used eventually resulted in intelligence being taken out of the federal police agency in the 1970s, and now it is CSIS which monitors domestic environmental groups.
However, I think it obvious to point out that while blocking roads might be seen as an ‘attack’ on ordinary transportation and commerce, it is hardly an attack on infrastructure. And while protests and petitions might be seen as an ‘attack’ on ideas, they are hardly an attack on institutions.
Politicians might feel they are under attack, but that is a different matter.
Environmental activism is an attack on accepted ways of doing things, a declaration that ‘business as usual’ is dangerous and needs to be defied. It’s a demand that governments need to be more risk-averse, because corporations can come into an area, deplete the resources and then leave.
So the idea that environmentalists are the danger is more than a little unsettling. However, as the NB Media Co-op points out in “Shale as opponents face intimidation,” surveillance has become the ‘new normal’.
Jeffrey Monaghan of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University is quoted as saying that in 2011 a Montreal man who wrote letters opposing shale gas fracking was charged under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act.
And if the RCMP has been monitoring opposition in Quebec, a province which has imposed a moratorium, you can bet they are doing it in no-holds barred New Brunswick.
Here, environmentalists have come out in criticism of the new shale gas regulations. While the government has said it will investigate property owners’ claims that developers have damaged property, Stephanie Merrill of the Conservation Council is quoted by the CBC as saying that it is in a conflict of interest.
Clearly, collecting royalties and encouraging development on the one hand, while threatening lawsuits and court action on the other puts the government in an ambiguous situation. It’s hard to be seen as a province friendly to business if you’re litigious, so it won’t be, and environmentalists will become the bad guy, again.
Meanwhile, prepare for a summer of protest, and surveillance, just for speaking out.
©Chris McCormick, 2013. Chris is a member of the NB Media Co-op.