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 Title

Lubicon Tactics

 Synopsis

Tactics used by the Lubicon native band to advance their land claims are injuring innocent third parties, and should not be protected as free speech.

 Author

Tom Flanagan

 Author Notes

Professor of political science, University of Calgary, former director of research for the Reform Party of Canada (1991-1992), president of the Canadian conservative society Civitas

Books by Tom Flanagan
Click on the bookseller link(s) to learn more about these books

First Nations? Second Thoughts
View details at Amazon.com

Waiting for the Wave: The Reform Party & Preston Manning (1995)
View details at Amazon.com
 Essay - 4/23/1998

Lubicon Lake is situated in north-central Alberta, in the area ceded by Treaty 8. The treaty commissions that visited this vast wilderness in 1899 and 1900 inevitably missed some Indians in remote locations. A few of these later joined the Whitefish Lake band, then in the 1930s asked for a separate reserve at Lubicon Lake, closer, they said, to where they were accustomed to live. Their request was approved in principle in 1940, but the reserve was never surveyed, due to fiscal shortfalls during World War II and the complexities of legal jurisdiction subsequent to the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement of 1930.

The delay was not the fault of the Lubicon, and it didn't matter much for thirty years. The Lubicon continued to live as they always had, by hunting, fishing, and trapping, until in the 1970s the oil and gas industry moved into the area, interfering with their traditional way of life. Now it became essential to obtain a reserve and settle down.

Influenced by the native activism of the 1970s, the Lubicon escalated their claim from treaty entitlement, which Alberta and Canada had always accepted in principle, to aboriginal rights. They depicted themselves as possessing unextinguished aboriginal title to their "traditional lands" -- almost 10,000 square miles -- and therefore entitled to negotiate a "comprehensive claim" with the federal government.

The Lubicon claimed that they still had title to a large tract of unsurrendered land in the middle of the Treaty 8 area, like a hole in a doughnut. The federal government could not accept this claim, which contradicts the wording of Treaty 8, without upsetting the whole treaty system in the western provinces.

Hence the impasse that has never been broken.

The Lubicon could have an agreement immediately if they would accept the legal framework of Treaty 8, as several nearby bands in similar circumstances have already done. Neither the provincial nor the federal government wants to deprive them of the treaty benefits to which they are entitled. If they think Treaty 8 should not apply to them, they can have recourse to the judicial process. But perhaps realizing that their legal theory is novel and shaky, the Lubicon have never been willing to test it in court.

Instead they have pursued political strategies inspired by Saul Alinsky, the legendary American community organizer. (Fred Lennarson, political adviser to the Lubicon, is a disciple of Alinsky.) In his book Rules for Radicals, Alinsky advocated "mass jujitsu," which he defined as "utilizing the power of one part of the power structure against another part."

In practice, mass jujitsu means inflicting damage on third or even more remote parties, hoping they will influence your true adversary to make concessions at the negotiating table. Thus, the Lubicon tried but failed to get an injunction to block all resource development in the area. Later, in an unsuccessful effort to make the federal government negotiate on their terms, they sought to disrupt the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, urging museums around the world not to loan aboriginal artifacts to Calgary's Glenbow museum for an Olympic exhibition. Lubicon supporters also picketed the Olympic cross-country torch relay because it was sponsored by Petro-Canada, which had resource properties in the area claimed by the Lubicon.

Their project for the 1990s has been an elaborate secondary boycott designed to make Daishowa a corporate hostage. Daishowa's timber-cutting license for its Peace River mill overlaps the Lubicon aboriginal claim. Even though Daishowa agreed voluntarily to put off logging in that area, the Friends of the Lubicon threatened to picket and boycott Daishowa's customers unless they stopped buying paper products from that company.

This is an unusually long chain of causation, even by the inclusive standards of secondary boycotts. Threaten to harm Daishowa's customers in order to reduce Daishowa's business, in order to get Daishowa to pressure the Alberta government to pressure the federal government to come to the table. Too bad if the strategy causes layoffs at the Peace River mill, but that might even increase the pressure on the Alberta government.

Secondary boycotts are generally illegal in collective bargaining. Not surprisingly (Saul Alinsky was an icon of 1960s radicals), they are reminiscent of '60s-style political fanaticism. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

It will be regrettable if Mr. Justice Macpherson's recent Ontario court decision on the Daishowa case has the effect of legitimizing secondary boycotts under the heading of free speech. They are much more than speech; they are an attempt to inflict economic harm on innocent third parties. The law should confine conflicts, not encourage them to spread throughout the society.


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