13. Green Criminology

13.8 Linking Ecophilosophies, Justice Perspectives, and Indigenous Ways of Knowing

Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson

We can view a green victimology through the lens of each of the ecophilosophies discussed earlier in the chapter: anthropocentrism, biocentrism and ecocentrism. Recall that anthropocentrism is human-centered, focusing on humans exclusively as both perpetrators and victims. Naturally, then it sees environmental victimisation as restricted to human beings, either in terms of direct harm or of harm flowing from the degradation of nature (the loss of economic goods provided by the natural world, of shared cultural experience, or of opportunities for individual enjoyment or aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic, for example). Biocentrism operates under an expansive view in which there is no inherent distinction between life in all its forms all are equally victims in the face of environmental harm.

Lastly, victimhood under ecocentrism, with its relational understanding of social and environmental issues as intimately connected, takes on a more nuanced character than under either of the previous two perspectives. Here investigation is required into the specifics of damage, disruption and benefit in light of the needs of human beings, societies, other life-forms and the processes that connect each to each other (Beirne, 2007; Brisman & South, 2019; Chunn et al., 2002; Halsey & White, 1998; White, 2003; White & Heckenberg, 2014). Moreover, the particular capacity of humans to “develop and deploy means of production that have global consequences means that humans have a unique responsibility to ensure that such production methods do not exceed the ecospheric limits of the planet” (Halsey & White, 1998, p. 355). Hence, achieving justice means engaging in an on-going evaluation and re-evaluation of our relations to the natural environment and broader world, one in which the environmental victim is not a fixed entity but subject to ongoing determination and redetermination. Similarly, White (2013, 2018) and others contend that a truly ecocentric approach to environmental harm should develop from the iterative interaction of environmental justice, species justice and ecological justice perspectives – through which their differences, inconsistencies and antagonisms are resolved. This parallels with and connects to Indigenous worldviews that sees humans and the natural world as imbricated in a reciprocal set of obligations and responsibilities, such that, when honoured, a healthy balance between all is maintained (Borrows et al., 2019).

Case Study: Tar sands, Indigenous justice and the criminalization of protest

In this case study, we focus on the development of the tar sands in northern Alberta and associated pipelines as an example of how the Canadian criminal justice system continues to perpetuate historical injustices against Indigenous peoples. The tar sands – which are often referred to as oil sands by those who are in favour of their development (Gunster et al., 2018) – are found on Treaty 8 land and contain massive deposits of the fossil fuel. The presence of large quantities of fossil fuels was known to the Government of Canada in the decades leading up to the 1899 signing of Treaty 8, which covers more than 840,000 square kilometers and includes 39 First Nations in what is now known as British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories (Huseman & Short, 2012; Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, n.d.). The Canadian government wanted the fossil fuels to be rendered available for extraction. The Beaver, Chipewyan, Dogrib, Slavey, and Yellowknife Nations from the Anthapaskan (or Dene) language group, and some members of the Cree Nation, with whom the treaty was first signed in 1899, wanted to continue their traditional lifestyles (Huseman & Short, 2012). At that time, they travelled freely across their lands, hunting, fishing, and trapping. The government treaty negotiators promised that, if they signed the treaty, they would not be confined to reserves. But the government negotiators withheld key truths, and the signatories of Treaty 8 were prevented from being able to continue living in the way they had before European settlement. Because they were not informed of the true purpose or intent of Treaty 8, it is an example of how the Canadian government would “take without grabbing” (Fumoleau, as cited in Huseman & Short, 2012, p. 220).

Extracting value from the tar sands continues the colonial appropriation and destruction of Indigenous traditional lands and territories (Comack, 2018; Preston, 2013, 2017). The bitumen is found mixed with clay, sand and water. This heavy and sticky substance is strip-mined and processed using energy-intensive methods that deposit contaminated water and tailings over vast areas, and while there is a problematic absence of rigorous scientific monitoring of the ecological impacts of tar sands development, there is good reason to think that it greatly damages the health of ecosystems and the people who rely upon them (Kelly et al., 2009; Hodson, 2013; Smol, 2019; Westman & Joly, 2019). Furthermore, the pipelines intended to transport the bitumen to the coast of British Columbia cross the traditional and unceded territories of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, an unwanted intrusion into the land that sustains life (Spice, 2018). Once it reaches the coast, corporations want to transport the bitumen to overseas markets via approximately 220 oil tanker trips per year, greatly increasing the chances for catastrophic oil spills to damage the coast of British Columbia (Swift et al., 2011, p. 18). As if this threat of environmental destruction was not bad enough, the tar sands contain enough fossil fuels to lead to significant climate change, which is yet another way that Indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their lands and heritage (Mantyka-Pringle et al., 2015; Whyte, 2017).

The official avenues through which both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can participate in decision-making about the tar sands is curtailed by political and legal frameworks that favor industrialized development (Bowness & Hudson, 2014; Heydon, 2018). Frustrated by this lack of meaningful engagement, the Wet’suwet’en Nation established camps on their land through which pipelines are being built (Spice, 2018). The camps are frequently subjected to military-style police raids (e.g., Hosgood, 2022; see also Nations Divided: Mapping Canada’s Pipeline Battle [Kestler-D’Amours & O’Toole, 2019] for the online story and visualisation). The courts occasionally remind governments that they have a duty to consult First Nations about tar sands development (e.g., Kurjata, 2021). However, the courts also issue and uphold injunctions that fossil fuel corporations use to have the police remove and arrest pipeline protestors (Spiegel, 2021). Furthermore, despite the protection offered by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to voice opposition to tar sands development, Indigenous and environmental groups who did so were put under surveillance (Crosby, 2021). As criminologists have demonstrated through extensive research, the RCMP, the National Energy Board, Enbridge, and private security firms regularly shared information, tactics, and data with each other, including the names of individual citizens who had not been convicted of any wrongdoing and who were exercising their right to protest. In doing so, public agencies aligned themselves with the private interest of corporations who sought to gain profit by developing the tar sands, while criminalizing ordinary people (Crosby & Monaghan, 2018; Monaghan & Walby, 2017).


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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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