Since Bill C-51 was first introduced by the Conservative government in January, hundreds of protests have sprung up in communities across Canada. People from all backgrounds have poured on to the streets in collective opposition to the federal government's latest attacks on our rights. While the Conservative government introduced the bill as a measure to protect Canada against terrorism, it clearly targets anyone who is in opposition to the government or any of its policies. This creates serious consequences for anyone in Canada, and it has added problems for Indigenous people who are standing up for their inherent and legal rights.
Native People Standing Up = Terrorism
“We believe this bill is less about Jihadists under every bed … and more about increasing the output of the tar sands, and facilitating the heavy oil pipeline proposals across the country, and will serve to severely undermine the constitutional and human rights of Indigenous peoples.”
-Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, appearing before the House Public Safety Committee on Bill C-51
The biggest fight for dignity and justice in Canada has been the long-fought struggle of Indigenous nations for their land, resources and self-determination. This struggle has characterized every aspect of Canadian history and its development. Every action that the Canadian government and its predecessors made towards Indigenous people has been to expand, maintain and control the rich land and resources that Canada exploits its wealth from. The early direct wars, the reserve system, the Indian Act, the residential schools (and the list goes on)...these were all tools used in this effort. Today, Indigenous people continue to pose a threat to big business, resource companies and the government who have a lot to gain and a lot to lose on Native land. Bill C-51 is their way of stacking the deck in their favour.
To be clear, Bill C-51 is a threat to the rights of anyone in this country; rights that people have fought long and hard for. It tramples on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and broadens the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and its cyber-security partner, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC). While CSIS was created as a civilian spy agency whose only purpose was to observe and collect information, under the new bill, CSIS will now be allowed to 'take measures' to reduce threats in Canada. What exactly those measures will be are not revealed under the new bill and, considering this bill does not also improve public oversight of CSIS' operations, we cannot expect to be told what these measures are after the bill has passed. Essentially, there will be a new secret police force in Canada.
One of the most significant parts of Bill C-51 is the fact that its definition of 'terrorism' is extended and interpreted to include 'an activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada' that includes 'terrorism,' 'interference with critical infrastructure,' and 'interference with the capability of the Government in relation to...the economic or financial stability of Canada.' This loose definition basically covers all forms of dissent against the government of Canada and the huge oil, gas and pipeline projects it is trying to push through on Indigenous land. Native people who blockade a highway, road or rail line would be interfering with Canada's 'critical infrastructure' and now have a new set of government arsenal used against them, no matter how justified they were in taking the action in the first place. While this bill is so concerned with Canada's 'sovereignty, security and territorial integrity', the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Indigenous nations obviously holds no value.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation Chief Donny Morris shared his worry that lives would be lost with Bill C-51. In 2008, he and six other community leaders were imprisoned for peacefully protesting development on their traditional land in Northern Ontario by Platinex Inc. In an interview with CBC he said “...we got sentenced. We got sent to jail, what's going to stop an officer from taking that next step?”
Chief Donny Morris has reason to worry because, even before talk of Bill C-51, Indigenous people faced violence from the Canadian state. All we have to do is look at this country's recent history. In what became known as the 'Oka Crisis' in 1990, nearly 3,000 Canadian soldiers were deployed against Mohawk warriors who were trying to prevent the expansion of a golf course on to their burial ground. In 1995, Dudley George, an unarmed Indigenous activist, was shot and killed by an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) sniper during the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park which demanded the return of stolen Native land. Also in 1995, more than 400 RCMP officers with the support of the Canadian military, laid siege to Secwepemc warriors at Gustafsen Lake in British Columbia, firing thousands of rounds of ammunition and an IED. In 2006, heavily armed OPP officers botched a raid on Six Nations community members who were reclaiming a suburban development outside of Caledonia, Ontario. Just two years ago, heavily armed RCMP tactical units in New Brunswick raided a Mi'kmaq-led anti-fracking camp near Elsipogtog. In all of these cases, the Indigenous activists were portrayed in the media and by the government as 'extremists' and 'terrorists' to enforce the anti-Native racism in Canada and justify the government's heavy force.
Another aspect of Bill C-51 is to isolate Native people who stand up for their rights by criminalizing those who 'promote terrorism'. Once again, with the loose definition of 'terrorism', Indigenous people who promote the defense of their homelands and non-Indigenous people who even show solidarity with Native people on social media could be covered under this legislation. This is a direct attempt by the government to not only criminalize Native protests, but create the climate of fear among non-Native people to be careful of what they support, further isolating Native people in their struggles.
Native People Won't Back Down
Bill C-51 is not the first omnibus bill that has threatened Native people in this country. In late 2012, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-45 which removed federal protection of forests and waterways, absolved companies from being accountable for damage they inflict on the environment and fish habitat, and made sweeping changes to the Indian Act, among many other attacks on Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. In response, the Idle No More movement was born and its Native-led round dances, drum circles and rallies spread through every community and reserve across the country. The shock waves of Idle No More were felt in shopping malls, streets, highways and living rooms across Canada as the government was trying to find a way to deal with the rising Native anger. Ultimately, Bill C-45 passed in to law, but not without a fight and a larger awakening of Indigenous people and their rights.
While Bill C-45 was a huge attack on Native peoples' lands and governance, Bill C-51 will take away Native peoples' rights to prevent that from happening voice of opposition. This is why many Indigenous people are joining in to fight against it. While protests have been taking place across the country, Indigenous leaders have been part of the opposition during the parliamentary hearings. Appearing before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde called on Stephen Harper to withdraw the bill and re-introduce it only after adequate consultation with First Nations and has joined in the many groups that will legally challenge the bill if it passes. Pamela Palmeter, Indigenous lawyer, activist and chair of the Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, also appeared before the committee, and outlined the hypocrisy of the government in introducing this bill in violation of a nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and Indigenous nations. UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip also attended and confronted the government on its real motivations behind the bill: security of profits, not of people.
Native Rights are Human Rights! Defeat Bill C-51!
Bill C-51 doesn't discriminate solely against Native people. Whether you are Muslim, an immigrant, refugee, worker or student, this legislation is aimed at silencing the voices and tying the hands of oppressed people in this country. This is why people are standing up now. In a recent statement by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart said “As an act of civil disobedience, I was arrested at Burnaby Mountain because I believe mega-projects, like Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines, do not respect the Indigenous laws and inherent authority of Indigenous Peoples to protect their territories, land and waters from the very real potential and increased risk of oil spills and increased coast tanker traffic along our coast. I believe under the draconian measures of Bill C-51, I would be identified as a terrorist. Regardless, I will continue to do what is necessary to defend the collective birthright of our grandchildren.” This resolve is demonstrated across Canada, from the Unist'ot'en Blockade Camp to the rallies against Bill C-51. We need to push further to stop this legislation that only pushes the agenda of Canada's Native genocide forward.
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