Oil, civil liberties, and the G20 Summit

A statement written for Climate Justice London, Ontario

Members of our group took to the streets around the G20 Summit in Toronto with concerns about climate change, the Alberta tar sands, assaults on native sovereignty, and other environmental injustices. The Summit police in Toronto threatened, searched, arrested, and detained Climate Justice London activists, while other local climate justice activists stayed away from Toronto to avoid the G20 police regime. Our dissent was not permitted at the Summit. In fact, anyone who was outdoors in downtown Toronto was a potential target for the snatch squads, the riot cops, the mounted horse brigades, and thousands of other police at the Summit.  Our allies and our friends were pulled into this ‘security’ sweep, and all of us are left wondering which of the local police officers we encounter have brought their G20 summit training and hostility back to our cities.

Because we condemn this trampling of civil liberties, and because we always will call for democracy and social justice, members of our group have taken on leading roles in preparing a statement about police conduct and detention conditions at the G20 summit in Toronto.  People for Peace (London) activists helped to develop that London-specific version of the original statement from Toronto.  We hope that more Londoners will sign on to communicate their support.

Threats to our civil liberties will make it even more difficult to continue campaigning against environmental injustices — in a non-violent manner, without destructive sabotage tactics.

More than anyone, the people who need more freedom and more capacity to resist are residents of the front lines of water pollution, oil refineries, and other unjust environmental devastation — in native communities near the Alberta tar sands, in Sarnia, in Nanticoke, in southwest Detroit, and elsewhere, in far too many other areas of the world.  The rest of us also will need more (not less) ways and more resources to support those victims, by challenging the industries, policies, and oppression behind the Alberta tar sands, and other fossil fuel systems.

Yet, the federal government has been aligning with those petro-industries.  The Prime Minister and the ‘Environment’ Minister are based out of Calgary, Alberta — the leading centre of oil money in this country.  And Calgary petro-finances are much more intertwined with the ruling faction of the Conservative Party, given roots in the former Reform Party, which was, more than anything, a vehicle for Calgary oil money.

Liberals around Ignatieff also are among the officials who have been vocal supporters of the Alberta tar sands — and thus, intensified carbon emissions, rampant air and water pollution, rapid deforestation, and absurd amounts of energy and water wastage.  Such devastation extends much farther, given a web of pipelines, shipping, ‘refineries,’ and other such tentacles of the tar sands industry.  The Trailbreaker pipeline may well pump tar sands bitumen right through the London area, as this sludge is sent to and from ‘refineries’ in the region.

To defend all of these tar industry operations, Alberta’s premier and his associates already have deemed tar sands campaigners ‘terrorists.’ Even the professionalization and resources of Greenpeace have not been enough to prevent such attacks.  Environmental activists often are more vulnerable to this backlash, since we rely more on banner-drops, die-ins, and other direct action tactics that help us to make distant and systemic issues more visible and tangible.  In the future, rhetoric about ‘eco-terrorism’ likely will be used to ‘justify’ surveillance or arrests of tar sands campaigner targets, who certainly have already been threatened.  It’s a huge understatement to say that corporate liberties trump civil liberties in this country.

Any democracy in Canada was already under attack before the Toronto Summit.  The unilateral proroguing of the federal parliament is one aspect and outcome of these anti-democratic shifts.  The outrageous expenses and police force build-up around the G20 summit are a more extreme case, which still is unfolding — while unpopular Canadian military interventions in the oil-rich Middle East are prolonged.  Ultimately, Canada seems to be heading into authoritarianism and corruption which is similar to conditions in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in which extractive industries are leading centres of national cash flow, which props up industry and state regimes.  (Some people describe those international trends as a “resource curse.”)  Lobbying, revolving doors between industry and government, and oil subsidies are three of the sides of Canada’s petro-regime. For instance: federal officials, acting across Party lines, recently cancelled an 18-month investigation into tar sands water pollution, for example. Drafts of the report were destroyed.

At the G20 Summit, fossil fuel subsidies and carbon emissions were defended behind closed doors.  Canadian officials successfully evaded commitments for constructive change, while (for the most part) dodging public scrutiny of their meetings behind the fence.  If we had a strong climate justice movement, we could take advantage of the fact that Canadian officials barely are hiding behind the rosy PR gestures which are staples of Summits for our ‘world leaders.’

As we look back on the G20 Summit in Toronto, it also is important to remember that tar sands money, in particular, has been a huge part of Canada’s economic standing among G20 countries, and on the world stage.  Banksters and financiers see Alberta as a (dirty) investment bonanza, and Canadian officials certainly aren’t standing in their way.

The Alberta tar sands should be viewed as another of various major mining operations that are based out of Canada — at the expense of many vulnerable communities in Canada, and abroad.  While billions upon billions are invested into tearing up Alberta, companies based in Canada are international mining industry leaders, destroying communities and environments in Ecuador, Chile, Papua New Guinea, and beyond.  These industrial assaults must not be allowed to continue.




That statement basically is an effort to situate the G20 policing regime and the ongoing fightback campaigning from activists in a climate justice frame. When these words were sent out — just after July 17th — there was more regional mobilizing for legal defence, to call for an inquiry into G20 Summit policing, and so on.  Those battles could be drawn out for years, and the wider fossil fuel issues covered in the statement will be at the centre of more and more struggles in upcoming decades.  Conflicts around pipelines and tar sands operations certainly are escalating in Canada and the U.S.

Indigenous oppression and struggles aren’t covered so well in the statement, and other important interconnections between fossil fuel systems and injustices aren’t communicated in there — though the related "London call" statement addresses some of that inequality.

Climate justice is made up of a much wider array of goals, principles, concerns, and mobilizing, yet I think the statement covers a lot of ground for a local activist group, organizing in a city that certainly is no hot bed of radicalism (see below).  The fossil fuel issues raised in the statement also recieve next to no attention around here, so the write-up is at least a good starting point.

On behalf of the climate justice group, I presented a shorter and more informal version of the statement at a civil liberties rally on July 17th.

At first, the statement was a way of connecting a July 17th tar sands day of action to a civil liberties day of action on the same day. Then the statement became something more.

I was the one who actually wrote it, but I didn’t do that alone. There was some collective dialogue behind it, among activists here who had gone to the Summit in Toronto.

The written version of the statement has been re-posted on a couple of international web sites (namely, Climate & Capitalism and the Energy Bulletin), and it has been sent out through some other channels; so it was worth writing.  And, by composing it for the group, I could send it out without feeling like I was promoting myself in an opportunistic or otherwise self-absorbed way.

Before and after the statement was finished, I gave some thought to how London, Ontario is similar to Calgary, Alberta. Earlier this year, those two cities were the only placeswhere Ann Coulter spoke during a Canadian tour. Looking further back: Imperial Oil happens to have had its first headquarters here in London (Ont.). (Here‘s a corporate version of that history.) One of the first commercial oil wells in the world was drilled near London, and there was an oil economy boom town around here called "Petrolia". According to the Wikipedia page about that town, "oil men from Petrolia travelled to the far reaches of the world (Gobi Desert, Arctic, Iran, Indonesia, USA, Australia, Russia, and over 80 other countries) teaching others how to find and extract crude oil."  Petro-industries were relocated to nearby Sarnia, Ontario.  In addition to these oil connections with Alberta, there is some common racism and fascism as well. There is a neo-nazi circle in London (Ont.), and Alberta seems to have relatively more of those sorts of people and activities.  So, in general, there are links in terms of different forms of conservatism in these two areas of Canada.

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