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Blockade against TMX

Zain ul-Haq

September 25, 2020

On the 21st of September, Extinction Rebellion Vancouver along with some members of the tiny house warriors, rallied almost 40 people to block the railway tracks that transport pollutants to the port of Vancouver. The purpose of the blockade was to remind everyone in the environmental movement that some of us are in a state of rebellion against a state that has broken the social contract by not protecting the population from the consequences of the climate crisis, instead constructing more pipelines. This particular action was organized to raise awareness about the resistance to the Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline (TMX).

Media coverage

A lot was revealed about the political economy of our media institutions. For the last few days of the trial of indigenous land defenders against TMX, there was a great deal of effort put into press release and media outreach, and there was no attention paid by the media. This led some to believe that there is something being missed by the organizers. However, some people noted that relatively less effort was put into media outreach for the rail blockade, and yet, the local media and some national online media were quite interested in covering the blockade. Revealing, unsurprisingly, that disruption causes the comfortable political classes as well as the self-appointed arbitrators of consensus to get out of their bubble and pay attention.  Some journalists wrote and published pieces minutes before the location of the action was revealed, in doing so, not spreading the word about the location, which may or may not have been intentional.


The surprising number of people who showed up at the blockade reveals the appetite for direct action and escalation. Petitions, letter writing, and rallies, as important as they can be, have proven to be futile in forcing governments to enforce radical change in the economic structure, which is necessary and in fact the only way to tackle the climate crisis in any meaningful manner. A Liberal candidate for the upcoming BC elections, Peter Milobar said “The fact that radical groups like extinction rebellion think they can shut down our critical infrastructure is a direct result of the NDP government encouraging illegal blockades through inaction……We need a government that can restore confidence in British Columbia and start the hard work of rebuilding our economy and protecting jobs”. This person seems as detached from the political reality of people’s material conditions as he is detached from the climate crisis. At the very least, the blinding smoke in the sky caused by wild fires should’ve been an indicator to Mr. rebuilding the economy that we cannot have a functioning economy when things start to burn down, a reality that will unfortunately get more familiar in the coming years. When he says that the blockades are a result of lack of “inaction” on part of the NDP, he has a different understanding of “inaction” than those at the blockade. The inaction he is concerned with isn’t inaction on the climate crisis, but rather inaction of not being quick enough in going back to the old economy. The situation in BC would be worse if the Liberals get their way.

Blockades are part of an ongoing effort to escalate the resistance against the Trans Mountain Expansion. Purely as a strategic move, escalation is the most effective way of raising awareness regarding an issue of existential significance.  Resistance can exist on paper, but will be useless if it doesn’t manifest itself as disruption of business as usual.

Covid safety

Railway blockades have the potential for serving particularly useful in causing trouble effectively, while ensuring safety. They do not require large quantities of individuals close together- minimizing quantity and maximizing disruption. During Covid, direct action efforts in Vancouver, such as the Holmes Creek protest camp, faced difficulty in getting more people involved and informing the general population that citizens had been blocking a pipeline worth billions. The direct action camp has been successful regardless, campers and the tree sitters have now delayed the construction efforts by one year, if TMX abides by the ironic ‘environmental regulations’.

Indigenous land defenders are exposing the crimes of the Canadian ruling class

Stacy, Jim and Tawahum are names of the three Indigenous land defenders who might be put away by the organized crime syndicate or the “crown” for the apparent crime of non-violent opposition to the state-capitalist project we call TMX. These specific charges are of “contempt of court” or more accurately, “how dare you demand autonomy and expose our crimes”. The scenes at the courts from the 16th-18th of September display the state’s desperate insistence that colonialism be continued, and if the Indigenous population does not abide by colonial law, there is an entire infrastructure of ruling class institutions and snobs who preside at their high tables, who will uphold the superior British law, empowered by a norm held together by centuries of propaganda and servility on the part of slightly more privileged classes. Outside of the court, one of the supporters dressed as lady justice holds the sign: “Justice is not blind…to race and corporate interests”, a true representation of the real judge who sits inside the court and is always ready for another day of iron bottomed proceedings with snobbish comments, condescending demeanor and a dismissive attitude towards the people on trial, on whose stolen land she lives, and laws she rejects, knowing full well that they exist.  

This particular judge is notorious for their lack of respect for indigenous law and dismissal of arguments made by the defense that the Indigenous people arrested were simply doing what they are obligated to do by their customs, which is protecting the planet for the future seven generations, and as a gratitude to the preceding seven. It shouldn’t be surprising that the crown doesn’t get this argument since it was involved in wiping out as much as possible of the previous seven, and couldn’t care less about the future seven given the zealous support for the pipeline expansion. At the rally on the 16th  (to which no press showed up), one of the defendants, Stacy, said “these people aren’t evil, they’re sick”, referring to the officers of the court who are trying him, and that if a fellow human were to come to you complaining about a sickness, you won’t condemn them, but would want to help them.   

This should make us revisit Leon Trotsky’s quote: “the true criminals are cloaked as the accusers” in his condemnation of the emerging Stalinist dictatorship, a quote that can be used to explain the attitude of the crown in this trial. This is also not a surprise, this is what the role of a political commissar is, which is what the judge is in reality. The state requires you to do a job, you do it, if you need to ignore the threat of climate change, you do that, and if you need to put away the people who are exposing the crimes of the state, you don’t even hesitate, because you have all the power.

There were numerous letters that were written to the court by supporters of the defendants, explaining why they do not deserve to be sent to prison.

An anthropologist called Dr. Bruce Miller has devoted his life to the study of Coast Salish law, and was brought in by the defense to explain the importance of protecting the natural world in Coast-Salish law, made compelling arguments that seemed to have been going over Judge Fitzpatrick s head. At one point, irritated, she said “I know you have your books but….” A statement that itself implies a haste to return back to the sanctity of colonial law. In the past, some judges have been known to not be as cruel, some have even gone as far as to have councils of decision making, in accordance with indigenous law.

The struggle against the pipeline is gaining momentum. People are increasingly being made aware of and educating themselves that this pipeline is unaffordable and will be judged to be a major crime against the people, the liberal government will be seen by the future generations as the present ones view the government of Chamberlain. Those who accept climate change, but refuse to enact radical change, if at all, will be judged to be the modern “appeasers”, while little attention was being paid by the press and mainstream parties that are supposed to be on the side of such resistance.

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