CANADA: Imperialists Lose Patience as Wet’suwet’en Blockades, Protests Take Economic Toll

Photo: A rail blockade in Toronto on February 8

By Lois Boite, with contributions from Felix Weber, David Martinez

On Monday, protesters in Vancouver supporting the indigenous Wet’su’weten resistance to the Coastal GasLink pipeline blockaded a vehicle access route to the port while others blocked a bridge on a passenger train line, shutting down service for part of the morning. These actions follow weeks of increasing blockades on railways, bridges, and roads across Canada that have paralyzed passenger and freight train service, exacting a major economic impact that has raised the stakes in the battle against the $4.6 billion pipeline and escalated state repression of protesters.

Protesters block a vehicle route to the Port of Vancouver

Nearly every part of the country has seen protests and blockades in support of the struggle against the pipeline. In Halifax, authorities worry that freighters will be permanently diverted as they seek other ports of entry. Passenger rail in provinces like Ontario, Quebec, and others have been halted as a result of the blockades. Each time law enforcement disperses one, others pop up in solidarity. The protests have not only galvanized the fight against the current imperialist resource extraction on and through indigenous lands, but have also given expression to generations of indigenous grievances against the Canadian state.

CanadaPipeline Repression
Police tackle and arrest protesters blocking a rail line in Tyendinaga, Ontario

In a news conference on Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced, “The barricades need to come down now.”

Trudeau is politically weak after a year of public relations scandals, but this conflict could allow him to reassert himself in the eyes of his imperialist masters. Publicly, he has not issued any concrete orders, but in typical liberal fashion he has passed off responsibility, saying it is a matter for law enforcement and asserting, “the law must be upheld,” signaling that police will have free rein to repress the protesters. On Monday, police led an assault on major blockades, allowing some rails to resume service.

The blockade set up by the Tyendinaga Mohawk in Early February.

One of these police actions targeted a particularly militant blockade headed by the Tyendinaga Mohawks. Since early February, the Canadian National Railway has been shut down, halting the passage of freight trains and threatened the supply chains of the oil industry, which has revenue in the tens of trillions of dollars. The Mohawks have historically aligned themselves with the Wet’suwet’en, who stood in solidarity with the Mohawks’ 78 day armed stand-off with the Canadian state in 1990, also known as the Oka Crisis.

Announcing the Coastal GasLink project in 2012, TC Energy Corporation intends for the 416-mile long pipeline to transport natural gas from Northern British Columbia to Kitimat, where it will be converted to liquid gas and exported for sale on the international market. TC Energy has earned the hatred of the masses with its disastrous pipeline projects across North America, most notoriously with the Keystone Pipeline which saw mass resistance from indigenous peoples and environmental activists over the last decade. Last October, the Keystone Pipeline spilled over 300,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota, only months after US President Donald Trump had issued a new permit.

An oil freight train with banners placed on it by protesters.

The pipeline’s path through Wet’suwet’en territory continues the Canadian imperialists’ practice of dispossession and genocide against indigenous peoples. The situation in British Colombia is distinct, as 95% of the land is unceded, which leaves ‘legal’ governance of the land supposedly to the indigenous inhabitants. In these unceded territories, the nation’s hereditary chiefs have technical jurisdiction over the land, but this jurisdiction is ultimately not respected by the imperialist Canadian state.

Canada’s manipulation of Indigenous peoples and territories goes back to the colonial era, when the Indian Act of 1876 created band council systems and reserves to interfere with indigenous self-governance. Band councils do not hold jurisdiction over unceded land, but only on reserves that have been outlined by treaties.

Despite this, 20 elected band councils have signed agreements with TC Energy, showing their own subservience to imperialist interests. The imperialists have cited the support of the elected band councils as proof that indigenous people back the pipeline, all while disregarding months of vigorous resistance and the opposition of the hereditary chiefs.

In the midst of protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline, Teck Resources has dropped a $15.5 billion project to further develop Canada’s notorious oil sands in Alberta, showing imperialists’ growing concern over the mass resistance to ecologically devastating resource extraction and the falling rate of profits in general.

As violent attacks from the Canadian state intensify and persist, the masses have responded with further rebellion. The inspired resistance of the indigenous people and their supporters is based on a fundamental fact: bombarding the economic structures of dying imperialist states, such as distribution networks and sites of production, severely impacts their economic power and makes the ruling class tremble.