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December 20, 2012
CALGARY, AB, Dec. 20, 2012/ Troy Media/ – In December of 2009, I spoke about Canada’s youth criminal justice system at a conference at the University of Buenos Aires law school. I recall conversations over lunches and dinner with Argentinean and Chilean colleagues in their 40s and 50s who spoke of their student days living under military dictatorships. People spoke in hushed voices and lived in fear during those dangerous times.
What struck me about my South American colleagues was their resiliency and warmth. I was also struck by how they regarded Canada as a model for human rights and decency. They identified the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as one of Canada’s greatest contributions to the world and, arguably, its greatest legacy. I returned to Canada imbued with pride and a sense of purpose. My homeland stood for something decent and important in this world. There could even be a case made for Canadian exceptionalism based on our model of rule of law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the multicultural aspect of Canadian society.
Since those memorable few days in Buenos Aires, I have slowly come to see how the harder, colder reality of international trade and commerce is increasingly dictating how Canadians treat people in the poorer parts of the Americas and elsewhere, as well as each other. Over these past few years, as I have come to know human rights activists and development workers who have worked in places like Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala and Nicaragua, trying to improve the lives of impoverished people in these lands, I have come to know not only the courage of these people. I have also come to realize how complicit Canadian mining companies or Canadian oil companies are in denying basic rights for impoverished people living in South America. It brings me no pride as a Canadian and no happiness as a human being.
However, I never thought I would see the day when the fight for human rights and a battle for sovereignty for the peoples of my homeland would have such a profound pull on me that I can only describe it in terms of what somebody in another time and place must have felt when deciding whether to fight for freedom and rule of law. Because of the nature of Canada’s first-past-the-post parliamentary system, we have in power a federal government that has launched an unprecedented assault on First Nations peoples and their constitutionally-entrenched title to the land, a title born in blood and rooted in tradition. The federal government has also launched an unprecedented assault on our environmental protection regulations through an omnibus bill that, in the putative interest of expediting the environmental review process for proposed projects, in fact undermines the transparency and fairness of that process.
The final stake in what surely must be a calculated plan to push through a pipeline carrying the viscous, tarry unrefined oil product extracted from Alberta’s oil sands west to the British Columbia coast is the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA). Its ratification is imminent as I write this. If this terribly one-sided agreement is ratified by the federal government, China will have unprecedented say in Canadian environmental regulations, energy policy and where a pipeline will be built. The shortest route is to the west coast, so rest assured that is where the battle lines will be drawn. The First Nations people are already aware of this and have begun a series of protests in advance of the environmental assessment hearings which will get underway in British Columbia in January of 2013.
The First Nations peoples need to know they will not stand alone at the barricades should it come to that. I will be there and I know a lot of other people who have never been to a demonstration before will be there too. The battle to defend the constitutionally entrenched rights of First Nations peoples in Canada is reason enough to take a stand. So is respect for Canada’s constitution and rule of law, freedom and Canadian sovereignty.
Brian Seaman is a human rights/civil liberties researcher with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.
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