If I could ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet one question before their Winnipeg retreat this weekend, it would be: "Would you shoot the children?"
I admit this is a brutal way to start a column. But it does cut away the fluff and go straight to the heart of the problem.
As this is being written, RCMP officers in full tactical gear have barricaded the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia, and blocked journalists from entering the area. We don’t know what orders have been issued around the potential use of lethal force against anyone who breaches their lines.
Forget the unresolved issues of Indigenous land claims, the court cases still unfolding, the opinion of human rights tribunals, and any other number of issues. The pipeline goes through. Period.
Forget the climate crisis, the need to keep the oil in the ground, and especially forget we signed the Paris Agreement to limit global warming. Ignore the fires in Australia — and ignore that, except for a miracle, the same fires could have burned in dry northern Manitoba this past summer. Spin the issue of carbon tax some more, offer smoke and mirrors, distract the crowds with bread and circuses, and make sure the pipeline goes through. Period.
Around the world, children are staying out of school, by the millions, to strike for the climate. Greta Thunberg became the face of that global movement, but there are many other young people, including right here in Canada, who will fight just as hard for their future.
But what does that mean? Will it mean the kind of civil action that #ExtinctionRebellion has led elsewhere? Does it mean there will be demonstrations, blockades, protests — attempts to block pipeline construction, among other things?
Of course, it will. The global system is not working. We are literally burning up our children’s future and yet somehow still avoid dealing with what is so obvious to them. There are very few predictions of what lies ahead past 2050, when today’s teenagers will only be middle-aged. We don’t even talk about that nightmare, anymore.
Young people can see we are not making decisions that respect the land and all of the children of Earth, as we should. Forget considering the seventh generation — we can’t even manage to care for the next one.
Because of our lazy luxuries, our sluggish and indolent response to the climate crisis, their future — and that of their own children and grandchildren — is going up in flames, as surely as that Australian bush.
Why should we expect them to say nothing, in response? Why should we expect them to do nothing, either?
Thankfully, the protests so far are non-violent — the next generation has learned what happens when popular opposition resorts to violence. The young people march instead.
But when young people take to the streets in increasing numbers, as they will — supported by the adults who care for them and understand their concerns for the future — what will our leaders do?
Will they order out the riot police, in mirrored helmets, to beat them down with clubs? Gas them? Use water cannons? Fire rubber bullets to maim them? Perhaps shoot to kill?
Before you say such things could never happen here, remember how the Harper government dealt with the G20 protests in Toronto a decade ago.
When unjust social or environmental policies are enforced by the machinery of the state, confrontation is inevitable. People may get hurt or die as a result. Situations such as the one on Wet’suwet’en land are the result of our failure to find another, better way forward, one that not only respects everyone involved, but offers ecological justice, too.
Political leaders who raise their own children to respect other people and the Earth they share can expect tough days ahead, because the next demonstration may see their own kids in the front row, walking toward those same riot police.
One way or the other, children are preparing for the future we have created for them. They would be in school, studying, if we had solved the climate crisis. But the fact they are on the streets instead is a sign of our failure, our cowardice, our hypocrisy — and what’s worse, makes me wonder about our apparent willingness even to use force against them rather than change the course of our society toward a sustainable future.
So, Trudeau, as the movement for climate justice grows, do you plan to deploy RCMP tactical squads or the Canadian Armed Forces to suppress Canadians, including children who object to government policies or protest government inaction?
Or will you publicly commit, here in the Heart of the Continent, to finding another way, one without such dangerous potential for us all?
Dance on a cliff, and someone certainly will fall.
Peter Denton is Manitoba activist, author and speaker.
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