Am I an Eco-terrorist? Convince me Mr. Harper...  | photo by Public Herald  | photo by Public Herald

Political rhetoric is often laced with ambiguity, hidden intentions, and governmental motives. The authoritative tone of political statements can create a significant shift in public opinion. The government is responsible for keeping citizens safe via laws and precautionary action; however, at what point does social protection overlap with government motives?

In response to the radical environmentalists who were determined to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline, Stephen Harper’s new anti-terrorism strategy, labels “eco-extremists” as social threats. The government assures that the strategic plan does not serve to hinder “ordinary” environmentalists from expressing opinions, and does not target “legitimate dissent.” It is difficult to determine what the Harper government is really trying to do with this new strategy. Is it a precaution for potentially dangerous protests? Or is it a tactic to silence environmentalists? Hard to say.

Of course, other political parties in Canada are capitalizing on the Harper government’s new policy. New Democratic Party MP Megan Leslie perceives the strategy as the government’s attempt to demonize the environmental movement and, more so, anyone opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline. Leslie focuses on several buzz words in the strategy that could be interpreted as provocative. For example, the word “adversaries” is used in reference to eco-extremists. The term “adversaries” suggests that some environmentalists are perceived as enemies to the government and are an obstacle to oil-sand development. Leslie also points out that the anti-terrorism plan has grouped environmentalists with white supremacists in terms of their negative impact on societal progress- quite a stark comparison. Although Leslie’s close analysis on the Harper strategy is convincing, is it just another move in the political chess match?

Terrorism is a very problematic, politically loaded, term. The word terrorism assumes that activists are willing to sacrifice lives to bring recognition to their cause. There are surely different forms of environmentalism- some people write letters and sign petitions, some actively participate in protests, and some do their part by becoming greener in their daily lives. The reckless use of the word terrorism is a drastic statement and certainly a declarative accusation. How does one become an eco-terrorist? Especially following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the word terrorism stirs public fear and in some ways infers a political scheme to dilute dissent.

When reading many articles discussing eco-terrorism I came across an incredibly interesting definition of the term. According to the online Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, eco-terrorism has two definitions: 1) Sabotage intended to hinder activities that are considered damaging to the environment, and 2) Political terrorism intended to damage an enemy’s natural environment. The first definition descrbies what the Harper government calls “radical environmentalists” while the second describes a war-like tactic to weaken enemies during conflict. It seems that both definitions are active today. Environmentalists are working towards eliminating environmentally destructive practices while the government continues to damage the environment. Therefore, is the Harper government using eco-terrorism against eco-terrorists? Destroying the environment is unacceptable to environmentalists, and can even be life threatening to those who use that land, such as many Aboriginal peoples, for example. Destroying the environment places more urgency and hardships on those protesting the government’s actions- creating a vicious circle that leads to further animosity and misunderstanding.

Through government training, media spinning, threats to environmental organizations (such as funding cuts and tax increases), and political rhetoric, environmentalists are being increasingly labeled as terrorists. The situation is more complicated than I can express in this short article, since it is evident that future actions will dictate the true intentions of the Harper government. However, my hope is that the new strategy and condemnation of environmentalism does not seep into public opinion. Democracy permits the public right to oppose government views without being squeezed by government policy and motives. We may be environmentalists, but we’re definitely not terrorists.

Steve Watts