A few weeks ago, I was accelerating as I pulled out of town. I exceeded the 60 kilometre speed limit, I guess because once you are out of town, the natural tendency is to speed up, even in a speed zone that is artificially low. There was an Estevan cop going the other direction. She nailed me on radar, and I immediately pulled over before she even turned around or put her lights on. I knew my goose was cooked, and I got a ticket.
But it struck me that if I could have done something different instead of speeding. Instead I could have taken my SUV a mile south of where I got the ticket, parked it on the Canadian Pacific rail line passing through Estevan, and gathered a dozen or so other people to join me with a few signs saying I supported the Wet’suwet’en’s fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. I highly doubt the police would have touched me. And if I had done so, I would have shut down Western Canada’s mainline rail connection to the American Midwest, causing a huge portion of the Canadian economy to grind to a halt.
Just me, a dozen people, and few signs and maybe a flag. And no real consequences.
This is what has been happening across the country.
On Feb. 13 CN announced they were shutting down large portions of its network. Via Rail was shutting down entirely, across the country.
“Law enforcement should enforce the law,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said in Ottawa on Feb. 14, the day I write this. He was saying what almost every other elected leader has said in the first half of February.
But the same words were heard, almost word-for-word, with regards to the Regina Co-op Refinery Complex lockout and subsequent blockade. The premier of Saskatchewan called on the Regina Police to enforce the law, and yet the blockade stayed up for weeks, in direct defiance of two court injunctions.
The Coastal GasLink and Co-op blockades are different in focus, but similar in operation. More significantly, both have proven the utter impotence of police to react and enforce clearly defined court injunctions.
The difference between the two is that there’s still a very small amount of intestinal fortitude for police to enforce court orders against union protestors. But there’s next to none if the protest/blockade/barricade/what-have-you has any sort of Indigenous element.
This is continued fallout from the Oka crisis of 1990 led to the Ipperwash crisis of 1995, both of which saw someone die. This led to the Caledonia crisis of 2006, in which police inaction was so grievous that people were issued “passports” to go to their own homes. The recently deceased Christie Blanchford even wrote a book about it called Helpless: Caledonia's Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, and How the Law Failed All of Us. For 30 years, we’ve suffered Oka paralysis.
Here’s the pattern – someone feels wronged, so they set up a barricade. A court injunction orders the removal of the barricade. And the police do… nothing, for days, weeks, or, sometimes, ever. If it’s Indigenous, lean towards never.
It reminds me of the quote widely attributed to Mark Twain saying, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
The politicians have all been talking about “the rule of law,” and that “police should enforce the law.” But the feds say the provinces should be dealing with the rail blockades, Quebec says the feds should, the provincial ministers (and Regina mayor) are saying they can’t specifically direct police, and the police do … nothing.
Indeed, in the Regina Co-op situation, the Regina police chief went so far as to issue a public statement basically telling the premier to buzz off, saying, “For the effective function of a democracy, police must be independent of elected officials.”
Okay, you’re independent, so long as you enforce the law, including the specifics of court injunctions handed down from the bench. Do your job. And if they’re not going to do that, the police commission should fire the police chief.
Oh, eventually the Regina Police got around to removing the barricades, and the effective camps at the refinery. It only took the better part of two months to limit the nearly impenetrable picket lines and the total barricades. And eventually the RCMP got around to opening access down a logging road in the B.C. interior. But the whole of Canada cannot wait for “eventually” when there will be layoffs in the thousands, or tens of thousands, or even more, with CN shut down where it counts.
If the court issues an injunction, it needs to be dealt with, now.
If the police are not going to do this, the situation is going to get much worse as frustrations boil over and people start doing what the police will not. In recent days I saw a video of a pickup blowing through a blockade. Another shows a man arrested for removing one. (It didn’t help he had a mask on, however.)
You get some good old boys who can’t get to work mad enough, and the fur is going to fly. Then the police are really going to have a problem on their hands.
If the police aren’t going to enforce these court injunctions and clear all the blockades across the country, should I pay my ticket? Do I get to ignore the police and the judge, too? Or do only some laws count?
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.