Will Bill C-51 show its teeth at Unist’ot’en?
Monday, August 31, 2015 @ 3:45 AM
By Bill Phillips
Earlier this year, when I was still at the Free Press, I ran a front page photo of Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the grabber headline: “Is this man a terrorist?”
The sub-head was: “He thinks he might be.”
Phillip had posed the question in response to the Bill-C51, the anti-terrorism bill. Because he is unabashedly against pipelines and not averse to manning blockades, the First Nations leader feels that under the controversial bill, he could be labelled a terrorist.
He may get a chance to put that to the test.
Phillip made his way up to the Unist’ot’en camp near Houston on the weekend.
The Unist’ot’en been camped in the area for months protesting the Chevron Trails pipeline project, which is slated to go through Unist’ot’en territory.
Phillip, along with the Unist’ot’en feel that the RCMP are getting ready to take down the camp. They claim the RCMP have booked hotel rooms in Houston and Smithers and feel that is an indication they are readying to move in and dismantle the camp.
Shortly after Phillip announced he was heading to the camp, the RCMP issued as statement saying that isn’t the case.
“The BC RCMP respects the rights of individuals to peacefully protest,” said Cpl. Janelle Shoihet, on behalf of North District RCMP, Friday. “To clarify, the BC RCMP has no intention of ‘taking down the camp’ set up by the Unist’ot’en. We value the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing.”
She emphasized that the RCMP remain impartial in the dispute. In other words, they won’t move in unless there is a court injunction or someone way higher up the line who makes the order.
Should the RCMP move to dismantle the camp, it could be the first time provisions in the new anti-terrorism are used.
Josh Paterson of the B.C.Civil Liberties Association told a Prince George crowd earlier this year that under the bill the definition of terrorism is so broad that it can include such things as interrupting or interfering with critical infrastructures. That could, he said, include things like blockades or demonstrations that block highways or rail lines or, perhaps, voicing support for action on the land on social media.
“So you don’t have to set out to actually blow something up or commit some kind of awful crime to, potentially, be considered a terrorist,” he said.
In addition, should the RCMP move on the Unist’ot’en camp, they will be able to haul people away from the camp and hold them for seven days without laying a charge against them. It used to be that the RCMP had 72 hours to charge someone or let them go after they arrest them. Now it’s a full week. Yes, those at the camp can be held for a full week without the police having to lay any charges against them. During that time, the police, or more likely, CSIS, can snoop around to see if they can find anything to charge them with.
Will the Unist’ot’en camp in the wilderness near Houston be the first example of what the RCMP can do under the new bill? Only time will tell, but if it’s not at the Unist’ot’en camp, it will be somewhere else.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org