“It was late in the afternoon when Will joined a small group of tourists on a trip to the great generating facility, to view, in the inviting words of Hydro-Quebec commerical, “the splendid nothern vistas and colossal hydro-electric structures” that, together with the mechanics of the generating system, are the heart of the La Grande hydro project which supplies more than half of all the electricity generated in Quebec, and as such is a crucial component of a vast network of interconnected power grids serving eastern North America.”
[OMFG, the whole first paragraph’s just one big run on sentence about dams and power grids!]
Having put his helpful and loyal subordinate in his place, Will Boucanier spends the rest of his day scouting out one of his targets, the Robert Bourassa Hydro-Electric Dam at James’ Bay. Having already been spotted by the local cop, he’s now walking into a secure facility under the eye of dozens of security cameras to get eyes on his planned target. This may sound like a bad idea. OPSEC (operational security) usually calls for not telegraphing your moves far in advance.
Little do we mere mortals realize, bad OPSEC is all part of the plan!
In the next chapter, it will be revealed that part of Will Boucanier’s purpose up in Chisasibi is to draw attention to the region. They want to pull a substantial part of the CF far away from the cities and the ‘real targets’ in the west, trapping them in the wilderness of Northern Quebec. Thus, his getting noticed by the authorities is actually all part of the plan. The more they see this mighty warrior – this man’s most manly idea of man – striding around Quebec’s great Hydro-Electric Dam, the more freaked out they will be and the more they will overreact once he puts his plan into effect!
He definitely won’t be arrested and taken in for questioning or anything. Nor will anyone try to reinforce the security at the Dam or in the region itself.
Later he will drive the countryside, inspecting the highway and noting possible ambush locations. Because telegraphing his chosen battle ground is perfectly safe as well.
It’s good that he isn’t at any risk right now, and that he can wander around studying his intended targets with impunity. Because he hasn’t had the chance to brief any of his subordinates. In fact, he’s gone out of his way to stomp on any display of enthusiasm that’s been shown so far! If he is arrested tomorrow morning then the plan collapses and hundreds of other NPA warriors are going to be left blowing in the wind. Hell, even if he is detained for questioning there’s a risk that his brand new colleagues in the local cells might forget they know him and go into hiding, especially the really supportive one who just got his head bit off.1
Keep in mind that this is taking place the day after the Petawawa raid, at a point in time where the authorities can be expected to start paying much closer attention to the activities of suspected Native radicals. Bob Ignace may only be a local band police officer (or RCMP?) but his report on Boucanier’s activities could start to gain some real traction.
Oh well, ours is not to reason why. I suppose I should take comfort that anyone takes this book as an instruction manual is probably doomed to failure.
I want to focus on here is the contrast Bland insists on drawing between Boucanier and the civilians around him that are joining him on the tour.
“Will marvelled at the awe on the faces of the visitors as his small group wandered, whispering, through the “true cathedral-like structure cared into the bedrock at a depth of 140 metres.” They walked reverently amid the roaring generators and complex machines, staring at the high granite ceiling and point to the wonders not of nature but of man’s invention.
But Will Boucanier was no idle visitor and he wasn’t there to see the wonders of nature, the docility of tourists, or the marvels of technology. He was there to recce the complex and get a first-hand look at the control room, generating units, and the other underground works that produced the energy without which southern cities would die.”
Okay first of all, take a look at this shot of the Robert Bourassa Hydro-Electric Dam’s spillway and tell me this doesn’t blow your mind at least a little bit:
Yes, while the tour group is foolish enough to be awed by a marvel of human engineering like a fifty three story hydro electric dam, Will Boucanier is not fooled. He moves amongst them undetected, a wolf among the sheep.
I should be grateful that the novel Uprising was written before the popularization of the term ‘Sheeple’ since it’s a term I despise and it’s pretty clear that Bland embraces the reasoning behind it.
For those not familiar with the concept, it essentially is a pejorative term popular amongst heavy-handed law and order types, gun enthusiasts and preppers, aimed at modern public. It implies that we are all little better than sheep, wandering foolishly and idly through life, vaguely accepting the things we see without question or protest while threats lurk all around us. When finally threatened by the wolves in our midst, our only response will be to bleat pathetically and look to our protectors (the ‘sheep dog’) although many of us will no doubt die some well-deserved deaths.
I say ‘us’ and ‘ours’ because by definition, rejecting these concepts only serves to demonstrate how deeply in denial we are about the wolves, thus placing us firmly in the ‘Sheeple’ category. Obviously, by splitting all of western civilization into three categories and implying heavily that, if you accept this categorization that you are by definition a ‘sheep dog’ is going to be flattering to authoritarian personalities. Not the least of which is the assumption that, as a sheep dog you are superior to the sheep, and in some way could even claim ownership over them.
Strangely enough, no one ever considers the implication that, with this level of possessive dominance, that they may in fact be wolves, deserving to be put down themselves. For some reason the position of sheep dog only ever carries privilege, never responsibility.
This is a drum which Bland will sound throughout Uprising: As the attacks increase, as the violence grows worse, the Canadian Public becomes increasingly panicky and fractured. Instead of rallying around their (admittedly weak) Prime Minister, or at the very least defending their own communities, Canadian society will fall apart at the approach of the mighty manliness of the rebellion, with her remaining sheep dog defenders too few in number (actually too arrogant & contemptuous to care).
Don’t ever forget that the arrogance is always there. It’s inevitable.
The tour proved to Will that the facility and its security arrangements were almost exactly what the NPA had believed, and that it was safe to proceed with the plan. Later that day, he walked around town to place in his mind the vital points that in the coming days would be the lead subject of every news broadcast across Canada.
Throughout the next few chapters, Bland will insist that this telegraphing of Will Boucanier’s plans is essential in order to draw enough of a panicked response into the region that the rest of the uprising will be left unopposed. But he seems to be ignoring the implications of this section’s first, horrible run on sentence: ‘[H]alf of all the electricity generated in Quebec…a crucial component of…power grids serving North America.’
If that dam is captured or disabled for anything more than a couple of days, people will die.
Probably only a couple at first, but as time goes on and the lights stay out, things will get progressively worse. While obvious vital services like hospitals, fire and police can be supported for a while, a whole myriad of services not immediately deemed essential will quickly collapse, leading to a cascade that will rapidly overwhelm the vital services as well. Something as simple as a lack of air conditioning killed over seven hundred people during the 1995 Chicago heatwave. Hell, even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s infamously petty George Washington Bridge traffic jam killed Florence Genova when the ambulance responding to her heart attack was delayed twenty minutes by traffic.
Modern society is a complex and delicate balance kept from collapse through the actions of millions of individual people, and kept in motion through the input of literally tons of material every minute. Electricity, fuel, food, water. Modern civilization takes it all in to create the environment that allows us to thrive in our millions in a space that should otherwise never be able to sustain us.
By taking over the Robert Bourassa Dam, Will Boucanier will be threatening one of the key pillars holding up Quebec (and by extension, most of Eastern Canada and parts of the Eastern Seaboard in America). It doesn’t matter if the attack is telegraphed or not, the moment the dam is seized, any government of any political alignment will have to move heaven and earth to rescue it.2
I’m wondering if this might be indicative of something deeper in Bland’s worldview. Although a threat to James Bay would be something that no Canadian government could ignore, Bland will portray his fictional limp-wristed government as making a critical mistake by sending troops north. I can’t help but wonder if this is a kind of general resentment of Quebec and French Canada in general. Later in the novel, the Premier of Quebec will be portrayed as a deliberately belligerent character who makes openly racist comments which the liberals of the story fail to call out. The effect is almost as though Bland wants to portray Quebec as an impediment that’s holding Canada back…
So Will’s plan to draw the Canadian government’s attention north by revealing his plan in advance seems largely unnecessary. Has it occurred to Bland that it might also doom this plan to failure before it even starts? What happens if some intelligence analyst in Ottawa puts two and two together, then picks up a phone and calls the dam’s security office?
So the guards are unarmed. Okay fine, they have no way of putting up a fight. But if they can get enough advance warning to start locking doors? To start barricading them with furniture and heavy equipment? Keep in mind, a huge part of the hydro-electric project is a vast industrial site with heavy steel doors, but even your regular metal fire door can be a pretty formidable obstacle if you have enough time to lock it and push the break room fridge up against it.
Ultimately determined invaders will force their way in, but how much time will be lost, and how many kilos of explosives wasted (spoiler: Will’s going to need a bunch of this C-4 to construct IEDs on the highway into Chisasibi)? Compounding this is the risk that might arise if the local police are on alert for the coming attack as well. What’s Will Boucanier’s (and Bland’s) plan for when they’re stuck at door number six, prepping yet another C-4 charge when word comes in that Bob Ignace and his (Band Police? Mountie?) buddies have arrived and are advancing with weapons drawn?3
Some images of the Dam’s generating facilities.
Now as it happens none of this is going to be a concern. For all of Will Boucanier’s telegraphing of his attack, liberal Canada will simply sit back and let things happen, before strolling calmly into Boucanier’s traps like the plot devices they are.
And no, I’m not trying to draw out a road map for a better terrorist attack either. The fact is that Bland is justifying this racist attack by claiming these events are all possible. ‘Uprising’ is essentially being billed as a ‘near-future history’ based on a realistic analysis on Indigenous issues and the tactical realities of Canada’s security situation. The fact that he hasn’t contemplated the possibility that an alert Commissionaire might lock a door says a great deal about the veracity of his analysis.
This whole situation, along with Boucanier’s inexplicable refusal to give any word to his subordinates about their upcoming tasks) leaves me wondering just what kind of military training Bland received back when he was commanding troops (before he settled into his comfortable desk job).
Speaking of problems most likely to plague the office bound Canadian serviceman, I’m not sure whether to be gratified or dismayed by the mention of Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC.
The…incident involved a group of CBC journalists who simply strolled into the Radisson installation without being stopped by guards, and then highlighted the problem for several nights on TV news. [Quebec Provincial] Premier Commeau asked both Hydro-Quebec and the provincial police to investigate the matter only after the CBC’s French language network aired its investigative report. That prime-time news event showed journalists entering several power installations-including walking right up to the command centre at the site that provides power to millions of people in Quebec and the United States.
Fortunately for the Movement, the federal and Quebec governments continued to squabble over responsibilities and money, and did nothing after this intrusion. Hydro Quebec closed all tours of its facilities across the province for two weeks while it “reviewed” its security arrangements at James Bay. The review resulted only in an insignificant increase in unarmed guards near the control room and the installation of a few security cameras and alarms to provide a better view, but no better way to respond to a more serious incident.
On one hand, since they are exposing a serious vulnerability in a major piece of Canadian infrastructure, this passage would seem to cast the CBC in a positive light. On the other, given that their principal aim seemed to be to cause embarrassment, the portrayal seems to be more of left-wing dillitents than serious journalists. Given the way in which they are eventually portrayed later in the novel, I suspect they’re meant to be the former rather than the latter.
However, given the fact that they exposed a serious problem and almost single-handed foiled the NPA’s plan, I am curious to know why Bland portrays them as having an unambiguously positive role here. Is he projecting too much into Will Boucanier and merging some of his own contempt for the media with his character’s frustration at having almost been foiled?
I’m not 100% sure, but pouring his ideology and its resulting biases into his characters is something Bland is going to be doing a lot of in this novel. Later on, characters that have been established as decidedly left-wing will suddenly start speaking with a far more right wing racist bent than their (stereotypical) left wing personalities should allow.
Bland doesn’t like the media, so Will Boucanier won’t like the media either. Even if that makes the media momentarily look good.
Just some speculation here, but I wonder if this anti-media bias is a holdover from Bland’s days in the service, and the fact that much of his career took place in an office rather than in the field. There’s a certain mindset, not by any means universal but pretty widespread, held in the 1980s & 90s when his career would have been maturing. The mindset is that, if the media successfully identifies a failure on your part, your natural response should be anger, not for your own failures but at the media that brought your failures to light. Thus this ‘shoot the messenger’ approach would see more anger directed at the CBC. As if the organization that had been so complacent would have gladly changed their ways had only the CBC shown them the professional courtesy of approaching them in private instead of reporting publicly.
I suppose this means I can’t expect any thanks for writing this. Somehow my heart will go on.
***Pictures from hydroquebec.com, found via wikipedia. ‘Double or Mutton‘ by Warner Bros animation, found via dailymotion.com***
1 There’s a Hollywood stereotype of the 17th & 18th century aristocratic officer. A poncy, lace-wearing fop in a powdered wig who will whine at length about the proper way things are done while worrying about getting dirty. One of my favourite examples would be the 1970 movie ‘Cromwell’ where the titular Roundhead fumes at his aristocratic superiors meeting with the Royalist counterparts to negotiate a start time for a battle. While Bland seems to apply this girly-man template upon liberal Canada, the fact is that it’s Will Boucanier who seems to be confident that his weakling government will be so kind as to hold off until he makes the first move.
2 And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that, in the words of a certain popular TV show, ‘Winter is coming.’ A Canadian city without electricity in the winter is in serious trouble. More than ten million Canadians without power is a disaster of epic proportion.
3 During the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, one of the main targets of the Saigon offensive was the American Embassy. Despite having complete strategic surprise, the handpicked team of Viet Cong commandos were stopped cold in their tracks when an alert Marine guard shut the gate in their faces. In the time it took for the attackers to blast a hole in the compound wall, the rest of the embassy security detail had been alerted and while the fire fight would rage for several hours, ultimately it was a failure. But there’s no lesson to be learned here.