Commentary

Enbridge Case Against Todd Williams Obscures Deeper Legal Principles

For true justice, we need deep structural change so that such issues can be resolved for the benefit of courageous land and water defenders and the affected community at risk, not for the profit margin of rich corporations.

By Mary Love
Published October 06, 2017

On Wednesday, September 20, along with several other supporters, I attended the latest superior court appearance of Todd Williams, the Six Nations man accused of "trespassing" on "Enbridge land" by setting rabbit trap lines on land where Enbridge has an oil pipeline.

The main Enbridge lawyer told the judge that Enbridge is "not seeking costs on this motion." Earlier this year, according to the Real People's Media report of April 26, Enbridge had been granted $18,000 in damages for "trespassing" and "intimidation and breaching the peace" in the first injunction against Mr. Williams.

At the same time, the Enbridge lawyer told the court they are "still seeking penalty" while "not getting into broader issues." IANAL but I assume that means they want to make Mr. Williams the guilty party, and therefore will not countenance bringing Mr. Williams' treaty hunting rights into court.

Instead, the fossil fuel delivery company wants to focus on what its lawyer called "enormous disruption and risk" to its ability to do maintenance work. There is ongoing maintenance on the existing pipes, and then the plan is for new pipes of 20-inch diameter to be put in the ground beside the old pipeline to bring tar sands oil through our communities.

One has to ask: where is the real risk here? Is the risk from tending to trap lines and making sure archaeological and other sites on indigenous land are being respected and environmental practices properly carried out? Or is the real risk pipelines going through those sites, over farmland, waterways and delicate ecosystems overseen by Enbridge, a company that has been described in National Energy Board hearings as having "a culture of negligence?"

What seems to have gotten Enbridge upset is that Mr. Williams, who is a professional engineer, told Union Gas it was necessary for them to have monitoring by the Haudenosaunee Development Institute. The Enbridge lawyer spoke repeatedly of Union Gas as their "affiliate," saying it would be "An affront to the administration of justice if [the courts] don't extend the relief [from "blockading or trespassing" by Mr. Williams] to their affiliates."

Not having access to Enbridge's legal briefs, I don't know what "paragraph b)" exactly says, but we heard that it "extends the injunction to Union Gas and Enbridge affiliates." This injunction is for Todd Williams to stay off "Enbridge property," and now, that of its affiliates, for two years.

In a phone conversation on Oct. 5 with Mr. Williams, who had just got out of detention for attempting to resist the cutting down of trees on his traditional land by Hydro One, for which action he has been charged with "mischief," he explained that when he went to see Union Gas, Enbridge's "affiliate," he told them that he wanted them to be more accountable and transparent. Mr. Williams asked them to work with the HDI to ensure that the pipes are safe, and to verify that there are no leaks threatening what he very much feels is still his people's land to care for and defend.

While visiting the Union Gas offices, Mr. Williams pointed out that, unlike many companies, they have not consulted the HDI, but the Union Gas officials told him they don't have to. This is because the National Energy Board parameters state that indigenous peoples only have to be consulted about new projects.

Mr. Williams objects to this viewpoint on the grounds that indigenous peoples were never consulted about the old pipelines when they were put in, so they should be consulted about their maintenance now. Mr. Williams says that the dismissive attitude of Union Gas is an impediment that stands in the way of a good relationship between the Haudenosaunee Development Institute and the company.

Ideally, the company's engineers and project managers should be working with him as equals, especially as Mr. Williams is a professional engineer. Until this happens, impeding work on the Union Gas site is a way of forcing the issue of consultation, said Mr. Williams over the phone.

Toward the end of the September 20 court hearing, the judge ruled that "Efficient administration of justice" requires a penalty that would "encourage ... a sense of responsibility" in Mr. Williams. Considering that this Six Nations man has put himself in harm's way out of a sense of deep responsibility to his people's land, this statement was deeply offensive in its irony.

The judge further opined, "A sentence of civil contempt should be ... applied in a non-punitive approach." He then stated that he hoped there would be "respect for the rule of law, and civility and cooperation between the parties" in "future dealings."

While civility and cooperation is what Mr. Williams is demanding from these fuel companies, this does not seem likely when Enbridge believes that Todd Williams is the one to whom "lessons learned" (yes, they actually said that!) should apply, not their patronizing, colonizing selves. They spoke of how "patient" they have been with Mr. Williams.

I would say it is Mr. Williams, and Indigenous peoples in general, who have shown astonishing patience. How much longer can any Indigenous people, indeed anyone who cares for the land, be patient with these fuel-blinkered fools?

All I can say after sitting through this travesty of justice is: "Bring on the healing and sentencing circles!" For true justice, we need deep structural change so that such issues can be resolved for the benefit of courageous land and water defenders and the affected community at risk, not for the profit margin of rich corporations, their executives and their wealthiest shareholders who have the Crown's courts well leashed.

I believe the real reason that Enbridge prosecuted Todd Williams is so that the broader issues could become clouded by hot-button words such as "trespass," "collateral damage," and 'disruption."

Among these broader issues are Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), coupled with the resulting justice imperative that First Nations and indigenous peoples all over this land be fairly compensated for the use of their traditional lands by incredibly bloated fuel, logging and mineral corporations.

Oh yes, at all costs, "Dear lady, Dear man" (as Buffy Ste. Marie put it), these key issues of justice must not trespass on the consciousness of the general public, nor disrupt the flow of bitumen and profit.

Happily, however, the recent decision of TransCanada Pipelines to pull out of the Energy East pipeline project puts all new pipelines carrying dirty tar sands oil to market in doubt.

Mary Love is a Hamilton transit rider, writer, bird watcher and hiker who respects the land and Indigenous rights.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 12, 2017 at 19:22:46

If your child (wife, partner, dog, bird whatever) was injured by this person's "rabbit traps" you would call him the asshole that he is.

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