The Scoop: Alternative News & Views

Environmental Critique of Bill C-51

Kurt Powell

01 September 2015 in Politics

As of June 9, 2015 the Conservative government of Canada has passed Bill C-51, The Anti- Terrorism Act; a law that has been widely denounced by the public, unions, professors and prominent Canadian figures.

Despite the clarification of specific sections of C-51, like that of when the Bill should be applied under the circumstances of any group or individual interfering “with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defense, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada”. How will it co-exist with environmental activists and legislation?

Environmental activists have been known to participate in civil disobedience from peaceful protests to road blocking. A majority of environmental groups want to regulate pollution output in order to safeguard against health problems in their community. An example is Aamjiwnaang First Nations in Sarnia, Ontario. Here a small group has formed the Bucket Brigade to test for pollution in the area surrounding Chemical Valley, the home of 40% of Canada’s chemical industry, by collecting samples for further testing for hazardous material. The results of the testing are analyzed, and if the results show signs of a threat then citizens will issue a warning to local authorities and the chemical plant that is creating the pollution. This action can result in the plant temporarily halting production and/or create a situation where the industry must begin to spend more money on certain areas of production1. The Bucket Brigade are in a way, regulating the industries on their own time and money in order to protect themselves; however they are potentially disrupting the economic stability of that local industry as well as the property value for new industries to move in – does this constitute as economic instability? The Bucket Brigade is rocking the boat on the issue of air pollution in the Sarnia area, and they have previously hosted protests and created short documentaries on the issues surrounding chemical valley. Under Bill C-51, the Bucket Brigade is disrupting 40% of Canada chemical production and its economic and financial stability; specifically, this group is violating the law by their interference of critical infrastructure. Thus the government now has the jurisdiction to surveille this group in order to ensure that they do not have a terrorist agenda or affiliate with the wrong group of people; if they do, then the government has the right to detain them without full processing.

The message that is being sent by the Canadian Government in this case study is "do not disrupt industry because of your community health concerns as it is more important to protect the economic stability of the area". What I am suggesting is not a radical criticism. The RCMP has stated that as "…violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment."

That report was in response to environmentalists hanging a banner over the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, B.C. to advocate for halting the production of the oil sands. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged during that event. Yet the RCMP portrayed them as “violent extremists”.

Can environmentalism coexist with Bill C-51?

So if you’re the kind of person who wants to regulate pollution output, I suggest you continue reading this article. In Canada we have the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (EIA) Act, and its primary purpose is to understand the current environmental situation and investigate how future projects will impact a particular environmental situation. This piece of legislation was born out of the 1970's environmental movement, where the bulk of society’s pollution was not being regulated, resulting in disastrous consequences. This time period was captured in Rachael Carson book Silent Spring in which she writes on the adverse effects of DDT. Carson called upon citizens and government to take personal responsibility for the poor management of our environment. Thus the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (as called in its current form), among other supporting pieces of legislation, were formed over the decades.

In the EIA the outcomes of a project are predicted and the best mitigation practices are applied to prevent further harm to the environment. However, this process takes up to 365 days to complete due to the amount of information required to ensure environmental precautions are being met. An entire year can pass before any sort of construction of infrastructure can be started or before any economic gains can be made. In fact, the institution must commission an EIA for their project, which is very costly. Furthermore, the results from the EIA can impact local businesses and cause delays to local infrastructure if a problem develops on the project site.

The EIA protocol itself, could be infringing on Bill C-51. The first infringement would be the disruption of economic and finical stability - the EIA can be commissioned up to 365 days by the institution. The second infringement could be accusations of espionage and sabotage by the commissioned EIA decision-makers if the project site failed to pass inspection. The third infringement could be the interference with critical infrastructure where the project is a required service by the government and the EIA prolongs and/or prevents its development. Thus, how can both EIA and Bill C-51 coexist or even support each other?

Now that the precedent of passing C-51 has been set how will we co-exist?