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First Nations feel targeted by counter-terrorism unit
From being accused of using money from foreign interest groups to now having protests against oil sands development targeted as acts of terrorism, action taken by First Nations continues to come under scrutiny by the government.
Eriel Deranger, spokesperson for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, scoffs at what is being considered subversive activity by First Nations. She points to the incident this past April when members of the Joint Review Panel for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project declared safety a concern when they were greeted by protestors in Bella Bella, BC.
“I don’t feel that was a terrorist act. There were women and children there,” she said.
However, the federal government feels differently about protests in Alberta.
In June, the government announced it would set up a counter-terrorism unit in Alberta aimed at protecting the natural resources and infrastructure.
“The government has been imposing threats to the economic driver of Canada, which is the oil sands, and the Alberta government is currently ramping up their efforts to look at terrorist activities,” said Deranger.
And First Nations and certain environmental groups have been labelled as extremists and radicals.
The new 32-member counter-terrorism unit is led by the RCMP with offices in Edmonton and Calgary. It will be Canada’s fifth Integrated National Security Enforcement Team. Under the province’s plan, companies that operate facilities such as oil sands mines, pipelines, petrochemical plants and refineries must have policies to deal with and respond to threats. There are approximately 400,000 kilometres of provincially regulated energy pipelines throughout Alberta. That does not include federally regulated or smaller distribution pipelines.
“We’ve seen articles released where the RCMP and police services have been specifically looking at First Nation communities for activists,” said Deranger. “They’re specifically targeting us because our communities are becoming more vocal for pretty just reasons.”
The creation of the counter-terrorism unit is one more way government and industry is cutting off dissenting voices before they can even be raised, she adds.
“This is to pro-actively try to thwart efforts to oppose industry and pro-actively do that. A lot of the environmentalist groups are reactionary to the projects,” said Deranger.
A document obtained earlier in January by Climate Action Network Canada indicated that Aboriginal groups were listed as “adversaries” when it came to promoting tar sands development and First Nations were called “influencers” in the fight over tar sands. The strategy document entitled Pan-European Oil-Sands Advocacy Strategy dated March 2011, was obtained through the Access to Information Act.
In February, Fort McMurray MP Brian Jean began what could be seen as the public effort to discredit action undertaken by First Nations to protect the environment when he accused Chiefs of taking money from foreign environmental groups.
In response to Jean’s comments, Fort McKay First Nations Chief Jim Boucher and council sent a letter to the Edmonton Journal stating, in part, “These uninformed opinions and insinuations that question our people’s integrity are profoundly insulting not only to us as a First Nation but also to all Aboriginal people across this country. We take issue with the suggestion that we are not a people of integrity.”
Said Lewis Cardinal, New Democratic candidate in Edmonton Centre in the last federal election, “We’ve been standing up for the environment long before environmentalists came along.”
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