I completely agree with Irving’s latest commentary on Shale Gas in New Brunswick (Telegraph Journal, 27 Nov): We must respect the law. But, should we have respected the rule of law that said women couldn’t vote? Were the suffragists wrong? Should we have respected the law that forcibly sterilised people (Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta)? Was it wrong to oppose that law? Should we have followed the rule of law that said that Native peoples were not allowed to vote until 1960?
If Irving’s recent opinion piece wasn’t so gut-wrenchingly hypocritical, it would be funny. It would be funny that Irving, a company that has been charged with gas price fixing in Quebec and has paid $77,852 in fines for more than 800 alleged violations of Maine’s child labour laws in the past, feels entitled to lecture New Brunswickers about “respecting the rule of law.” On charges of violating New Brunswick’s Clean Environment Act three times, Irving was fined $50,000 after a white blanket of dust blanketed a neighbourhood near the Irving refinery in the east end of Saint John. More recently J.D. Irving Ltd. was fined $60,000 after pleading guilty to destroying blue herons nests in New Brunswick.
As activist and writer Kerry-anne Mendoza states: “The protester is a person who is not only asking questions of their world, but is willing and able to put their personal liberty at stake in the name of transforming the situation. There is not a human right, a civil liberty, a personal freedom that we do not have protesters past to thank for, yet despite this legacy of delivering standards for respect and freedom that we all benefit from, the protester is about as popular in mainstream circles as a fart in a lift [elevator].”
The reality is, protest works. Amongst many other rights and freedoms, nationwide protests in 1872 are part of what eventually got us the 9 hour work day (as opposed to 12 hours+). Yet the establishment of vested interests within politics and the media wish to convince us that protest is “ineffective or dangerous or that protesters themselves are dirty hippies or feral thugs,” said Mendoza.
Today, we talk of the bad old days when people were exploited by feudalism. The mask of modernity dupes us into believing that we live in a radically fairer world. We don’t. Howard Zinn once said: “The rule of law has regularized and maximized the injustice that existed before the rule of law, that is what the rule of law has done.” Zinn also said, “When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this.”
If there is one idea that we all need to keep fresh in our minds, it is, that the law is only as fair as the people with the power to make it. It was once lawful to employ children in factories to do perilous, gruelling work. We call that “child labour and exploitation” today. If Irving’s latest opinion piece is anything to go by, I suppose that opponents of child labour should have stayed home and composed erudite letters for newspaper columns. No one needs to be told how profoundly absurd that is.
Like countless others across Canada and the world, I stand in solidarity with New Brunswick’s anti-shale gas protesters. Thank you for your brave defence of our present and our future.