The Enbridge pipeline hearings in Victoria last week were, in one important respect, a total failure. The intent was to give concerned citizens an opportunity to be present while an important public matter was debated.
The issues were indeed debated, but the public was barred from attending. The meetings took place in closed sessions, behind uniformed police officers. Even Victoria’s member of Parliament, Murray Rankin, was excluded.
Video feeds were set up in a hotel three kilometres away where anyone still interested could watch. But the hearing room itself, members of the review panel, the presenters and the interaction between them, were shut away behind locked doors.
This was, for several reasons, an unfortunate decision. Public opinion is, at best, hesitant about the project. Conducting such an important hearing behind armed guards was scarcely reassuring.
And barring a duly elected member of Parliament from a public event in his own riding? There will be a price to pay for that somewhere down the road.
The larger question is what prompted the review panel to choose such a panicky course. It certainly wasn’t the first decision of this kind.
A hearing in Bella Bella was cancelled last April after a large crowd showed up. Then, as now, it appears the panel members were concerned about security.
Of course, it’s incumbent on public officials to avoid undue risks, though it is also important to show resolve. Even in the face of a potentially hostile audience, calm determination and cool heads can settle things down.
However, it turns out that the panel’s fears may not have been entirely unwarranted. A new assessment by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service suggests that events of this kind face a real and growing threat.
Some caution is needed here. Absurdly, the predecessor of CSIS, the RCMP Security Service, considered Tommy Douglas, the former premier of Saskatchewan and founder of medicare, a danger to national security. The agency is still refusing to release its dossier on Douglas, compiled 50 years ago.
This new assessment, heavily blacked out and released under the Access to Information Act, is thin gruel.
Foreign terrorist cells with exotic names like the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei in Greece or Germany’s Hekla Reception Committee for More Social Eruptions are thrown in as filling. And some of the deeds attributed to Canadian groups are merely juvenile pranks — pouring glue in door locks and the like.
Yet some of the incidents have more serious implications. The report notes the violent clashes that accompanied the G-20 economic summit in Toronto.
It also lists nine separate fire-bombings. Some of these attacks were on banks during the 2008 recession.
Some were directed at the western oil industry, proof, according to the report, “that opposition to the oil and gas industry in Alberta and British Columbia can at times become violent.”
Most troubling of all, a number of the violent incidents were venue attacks. These are occasions when terror groups use high-profile public events like G-20 meetings to get their message across.
Combine violent opposition to the oil industry with the trend toward venue attacks, and the Enbridge panel’s fears come into focus.
Of course, we don’t know if an actual threat was made. Quite possibly none was. But that is exactly the problem.
The real purpose of terrorism is not to blow up a pipeline or burn down a bank. It is to create a climate of fear in which basic civil rights are suspended.
And that is what happened in Victoria last week. The right of assembly was set aside as a risk not worth running.
Without lifting a finger, a handful of extremists won out.
© Copyright 2013