Thursday, October 22, 2009

CANADA: Govt Threatens Tar Sands Activists with Anti-Terror Laws--IPS News Canada

By Chris Arsenault

VANCOUVER, Oct 20 (IPS) - The provincial government in Alberta, Canada is threatening to unleash its counterterrorism plan if activists continue using civil disobedience to protest the tar sands, Canada's fastest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In recent weeks, Greenpeace has staged three daring protests inside tar sands mines, temporarily shutting down parts of the world's largest energy project. On Oct. 3 and 4, activists blocked construction of an upgrader needed to refine heavy tar sands oil, belonging to Shell in Ft. Saskatchewan, Alberta.

Civil disobedience from Greenpeace, leading to 37 arrests, has enraged Alberta's conservative government. "We're coddling people who are breaking the law," complained Premier Ed Stelmach during a media scrum in early October.

"Premier Stelmach's public suggestion that he will use the 'force of the law to deal with these people' confirms his lack of knowledge of the limits of his authority and the clear rule that our system of justice cannot be interfered with or manipulated for political reasons," responded Brian Beresh, the defence lawyer representing arrested activists, at a news conference in Edmonton.

Legal scholars, including University of Alberta law professor Sanjiv Anand and Tom Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, have criticised the provincial government for attempting to politicise legal proceedings.

"We're going to be working very closely with industry and our solicitor general will be reviewing all of the guidelines we have in place," said a visibly irritated Premier Stelmach in early October.

Fred Lindsay, the solicitor general, went a step further, suggesting the province might use its counterterrorism plan against future protests.

"I think there is an agenda in linking Greenpeace to concerns about terrorism," Bruce Cox, the executive director of Greenpeace Canada, told IPS. Cox is being charged with mischief and faces a fine of more than 5,000 dollars for his participation in the civil disobedience.

The recent campaign began on Sep. 15, when 25 Greenpeace activists snuck into Shell's Albian sands mine in northern Alberta, chaining themselves to a three-storey high dump truck and hanging huge banners to coincide with meetings between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

Shell officials temporarily shut down the site. Shell was targeted again in early October at its Ft. Saskatchewan upgrader.

On Sep. 30, activists canoed down the Athabasca River into a tar sands facility operated by Suncor. They blocked a conveyer belt which moves heavy oil, causing a temporary shutdown of Canada's second largest oil sands mine. Suncor didn't respond to repeated requests for comment from IPS......continued.....