Caso Chevron

FUREY: It’s time we stopped using First Nations as anti-development props

Toronto Sun - Anthony Furey 23/04/2018

An RCMP officer reads a court order to Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, right, and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, second right, before they were arrested after joining protesters outside Kinder Morgan's facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday March 23, 2018. Photo: Toronto Sun

An RCMP officer reads a court order to Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, right, and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, second right, before they were arrested after joining protesters outside Kinder Morgan's facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday March 23, 2018. Photo: Toronto Sun

Last week the Ontario Court of Appeal began hearing a case where a group of Ecuadorian Indigenous peoples are suing Chevron’s Canadian branch in the hopes that a Canadian court will enforce a judgment made by the Ecuadorian government against Chevron’s American parent company.

The case has been dismissed by American courts, been denounced as the “legal fraud of the century” by The Wall Street Journal, and the lawyer behind it was found to have engaged in racketeering.

But it’s no wonder the case has wound its way up to Canada – the original Ecuadorian settlement is $9.5 billion, the largest of its kind. In the unlikely event that they manage to pull it off, that’s quite of lot of cash to go around for the plaintiffs, lawyers and investors who’ve been bankrolling this endeavour.

(This fascinating case goes back decades and there are books and documentaries on it, some backing Chevron, others against.)

There is one group that presumably won’t share in any of the spoils though. That’s Canadian First Nations. Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was on hand last week to pose for photos with the Ecuadorians who had flown up for the two days of arguments in a Toronto courtroom.

While this is all about collecting billions for the plaintiffs (or whatever is left after the lawyers and investors take their cut), the spiffy Manhattan PR agency doing publicity for the case argues that the Toronto court proceedings are all about “the battle to strengthen the rights of Indigenous peoples everywhere.” They’re shamelessly trying to co-opt Canadian First Nations, their allies and environmental activists to help them collect their cash.

It’s a cynical spin but it’s not the first time we’ve seen it. In fact, a similar game is being played right now in the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline dispute. There’s a natural assumption that all First Nations people are against the project and the likes of Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh have no problem invoking them as props to support their own opposition to it.

The problem is it’s far more nuanced than that. Yes, some First Nations are opposed. But some are firmly in support. A recent pieceby Postmedia columnist Mike Smyth tells the story of Whispering Pines First Nation. The current Trans Mountain pipeline already runs across their land. They currently receive $300,000 yearly for the right of way and this is set to double once the pipeline is twinned. Plus they’ll be receiving $5 million that’ll be held in trust with the annual interest used for community programs.

“We need that revenue,” Chief Mike LeBourdais told Smyth. “If they shoot us in the foot on this, I’d like to know if that revenue will come from (B.C. Premier) John Horgan.”

LeBourdais is one of the pipeline’s most vocal supporters and Whispering Pines is one of 33 First Nations that have signed mutual benefit agreements, an under-reported fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau drew attention to during his media remarks last Sunday.

Meanwhile, Maureen Thomas, chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, is one of the leaders most vocally opposed to the project. She’s in a slightly different position than LeBourdais though. While the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Burrard Inlet 3 reserve is very close to where the pipeline concludes in Burnaby, it doesn’t run across any of their land.

So you have situations where First Nations most directly affected by the pipeline support it and those nearby but not actually on it opposing it. If this tells us anything it’s that perhaps progressive politicians and activists should stop rolling out any sentence that begins with “First Nations oppose…” because to suggest there’s unity on the issue just isn’t true.

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