Okay let’s get this deconstruction moving forward again!
The ITAC is a professional body of experts from across the Canadian security and intelligence field. They have been convened to analyze the threat posed by the NPA, and what they come up with will help to establish policy for the government response. Now Douglas Bland spent a huge part of his career as a staff officer. So it’s more than a bit dismaying to read how he imagines the ITAC would go about it: It’s time to wallow in vulnerability!
Elliot Quatra yields the floor to a man named Hugh Jones-Windsor, who spends the next several pages rattling off statistics about oil pipelines and the tremendous vulnerabilities Canada faces in defending them. He doesn’t actually have any notion of the actual threat facing them, nor is he going to offer a suggestion as to how they may respond. He just wants to let everyone know that they’re fucked. The assembled officers will act appropriately shocked at the sheer scale of their own weakness:
“So what have they got, or what do they think they’ve got, to make us give in?” Eliot turned to Hugh Jones-Windsor. “That’s your cue, Hugh. Everyone, Hugh and I discussed the vulnerability factor earlier today with the defence minister after the CDS and Ed Conway softened him up with an outline version. I’d like Hugh to run through the assessment his section has developed from that meeting.”
Never mind the fact that two members of this ITAC committee had a meeting with the Minister of National Defence and they’re only mentioning it now, what’s this about ‘softening him up?’ That’s the kind of language you use when you’re trying to bring someone around to your point of view. Specifically, a point of view they themselves might not otherwise embrace. That wouldn’t be such a big deal except that Eliot Quatra, Hugh Jones-Windsor as well as Gen Bishop and his brats are all supposed to be serving the Minister.
Jim Riley is the elected head of their department. He’ll be making the final call on a lot of what’s about to happen and anything he’s not authorized to decide will actually be directed upwards, to the Prime Minister, not downwards to a bunch of security experts in a boardroom somewhere.
Then there’s the fact that Eliot and Hugh don’t actually seem to have an assessment of what they’re up against. Or what actions they should be taking. Take a look at how Hugh Jones-Windsor launches into his presentation and tell me if you can see a plan here:
“Thanks, Eliot. Just for background, I explained to the minister that the threat isn’t where we should be concentrating our attention. Rather we need to look to our vulnerabilities; you all know the argument. I’m assuming the native leaders understand our weaknesses and that they’ll be going for them right away. Remember that Manitoba chief who said in 2007, ‘The white man only worries about two things-his possessions and his money. Well, we’re going to take both if that’s what it takes to get his attention. If we have to use guns, well that’s the way it’s going to be.’ He was immediately shut up by the Movement’s strong-arm guys, but I assume that’s because he reflected their thinking, not because he didn’t.
“So, let me put our vulnerabilities on the table and then we can link it to Walter’s bold-move option. I brought some copies of the charts we used to brief the minister. Would you pass them around please?
So the argument is that it is safe to ignore the threat that you can see, because you feel vulnerable somewhere else. And as justification Hugh offers a single quote by an un-named Manitoba Chief from two(?) years prior. This is important. He’s not actually offering any hard evidence for an NPA attack in the west, and he’s suggesting that the evidence they do have pointing to norther Quebec isn’t relevant to his theory. This idea that the enemy will always attack where you’re weakest is certainly worth considering, but so is the idea that the enemy might be searching for your weaknesses in places where they already have corresponding strength.
The evidence they have suggests that the NPA is a predominantly Mohawk and Quebec Northern Cree organization. It isn’t, but ITAC doesn’t know that yet. What’s a good, lightly defended target within that sphere of influence? Well, there’s the Robert Bourassa Hydro Electric Dam that Will Boucanier’s been scouting out. Capture that and you’re holding the electricity grid for more than a third of Canada’s population.
Yes, Bland’s already made it clear that this is a diversion. He doesn’t seem to realize that if the main effort fails and the diversion succeeds, the NPA could still win.
What’s more, Hugh’s plan for dealing with all this evidence pointing to the east (or his theory of a real threat in the west) essentially boils down to throwing up his hands and saying “We’re fucked.”
Don’t believe me? Well, Hugh goes on for two pages, re-hashing the same stuff we’ve already heard about the vulnerabilities of Canada’s oil sector. He is eventually interrupted by Maggie the Intense Blonde who, like the shill on an infomercial, asks the perfect leading question:
“Surely we’ve done something to protect the system, especially after 9/11.” Said Maggie. She point to Hugh’s maps and charts. “I can’t believe that we’ve just sat on our collective asses and hoped for the best.”
“Well, Maggie, the government did move quietly after 9/11 to enhance security at vital points across the country, but serious measure were taken on on military bases and at particularly vital points in Ottawa and major financial computing centres in Montreal and Toronto. Elsewhere, only ‘get ready’ warning order have been passed to police detachments and to the Canadian Forces Reserve units. Even then, the prime minister in 2004 ordered that no overt actions be taken anywhere for fear of worrying citizens and disrupting investments.”
Eliot rejoined the discussion. “Nothing of consequence had been done to protect the energy transportation system. Not that anything really can be done to make the system perfectly secure.
“Sorry folks, but this situation is really bad and we have to assume the Movement knows it. I think the politicians are the only ones who don’t, or won’t accept it. If we can’t protect our vulnerabilities, we have to reconsider countering the threats to them instead. That’s why we’re here.
Sorry Maggie, we still aren’t giving you a last name. We’re not even going to try to come up with a plan or even evidence that our nightmare scenario is real. We’re too busy just wringing our hands instead.
So now might be a good time to discuss the Oil Patch War.
Now in the grand scheme of wars in the resource sector, the Alberta Oil Patch War wasn’t especially dramatic or deadly. Particularly not when compared to some of the violence in Nigeria, or the burning of the Kuwaiti Oil Fields. But as far as recent examples go, it was an unsettling series of events that culminated in two deaths and millions of dollars worth of property damage. Perhaps more importantly, it was a uniquely Canadian conflict that exposed some very unsettling undercurrents in rural Albertan.
The man with the white beard is the Reverend Wiebo Ludwig, a radically conservative Protestant Christian who abandoned the mainstream church to found an isolated community where he and a handful of like-minded families could raise their children separate from the corrupting influences of the modern world. He practiced what today is more popularly known as ‘complimentarianism,’ a kind of Old Testament form of patriarchy in which the man was the unquestioned head of the household and responsible for leading his wife and children in their walk with God.
He was also Canada’s most infamous eco-terrorist.
This is one of the reasons I think it’s dangerous to make assumptions about people and their motivations. When I say ‘eco-terrorist,’ it conjures up images of some clueless long-haired hippy with principles as intangible as the smoke from his bong. Not a mono-maniacal religious fundamentalist who was known to have punished his daughters (and even his wife) by shaving their heads as penance.
But for several years in the late 1990s Wiebo Ludwig and his tiny community of Trickle Creek waged a war of sabotage against encroaching natural gas industry, which they blamed for illnesses amongst their members and several miscarriages. What began as small scale sabotage and media stunts escalated to large scale destruction of property, to the bombing of gas wells, death threats (both made and received by the Ludwigs) and finally a shooting that left a 16 year old girl dead. Along the way Wiebo Ludwig became the (often reviled) face of rural opposition to big oil in a larger conflict that included the murder of an oil executive, and the bombing of the Ludwig family van.
One of the particularly frustrating aspects of the conflict was that the natural gas industry was behaving recklessly during the rush to exploit the region’s natural gas reserves. A major oil and natural gas boom was on which meant speed was of the essence and corners were being cut all across the province. What’s more, provincial laws regarding land use and mineral rights meant that gas wells could be (and regularly were) built on or near private property.
This behaviour was directly threatening the health and safety of the local farmers, eventually setting many of them at odds with the province and the oil industry. Practices such as the ‘flaring’ of so-called ‘sour-gas’ wells (see Featured Image) has been connected with illnesses in both livestock and humans, and had Ludwig been less rigid and intransigent, he might have assembled a broad coalition of parties to oppose these actions. As it was, the same rigid stubbornness that made him so formidable eventually served to drive away many potential allies.
While the final toll of the Oil Patch War may have been comparatively light, the ugliness it exposed was very real. While motivated by understandable grief over the loss of several unborn several grandchildren, Wiebo Ludwig’s actions included dynamiting natural gas wells that could have released deadly concentrations of these same chemicals upon his neighbours. By way of response, the oil companies hired private security companies and conspired with the RCMP to actually bomb one of their own wells so that an informer could earn Ludwig’s trust.
And as for the local population? Well, the bombing of Wiebo’s van was never solved. The proficiency with which the bomb was constructed suggested someone with experience handling dynamite, narrowing the field of suspects down to pretty much every oil worker and homesteader in the region.
In this scene from Uprising, Hugh and Eliot seem convinced that the thousands of kilometres of pipeline are indefensible, and there is some truth to that. Over the decades monkey-wrenchers and saboteurs have been able to get away with their activities largely because of the tremendous distances and vast territories involved. But those territories aren’t empty.
There’s people out there. If threatened, those people will get violent. They have in the past.
The professionals of ITAC are in a panic because they have no way of protecting Canada’s oil industry. What they should be panicking over is the fact that, in the absence of government forces, someone else is likely to step into that vacuum. They should be panicking over the spectre of a brush war between ‘whites’ and natives in which there will be no easy way to stop the violence once it starts.
I don’t know what the solution to a situation like this would be. The fact that Bland isn’t providing details (and his cast of ITAC experts don’t seem to be interested in finding out) makes planning all but impossible. Luckily for the ITAC, they don’t need to!
[Eliot still speaking] “So, these are the answers to our initial assessment questions. Where will they strike? In the West and in a big way. How? With large, dispersed amateur force moving rapidly out of the north. At what targets? The cities, to distract us, and the energy network, to bring us to the table on our knees. Where are we most vulnerable? The oil and gas pipelines, and, I might add, the railway and highway infrastructures.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, that’s the hypothesis. Now get to work and disprove it. If we can’t disprove it in five days, we take it to the government as the gold-embossed assessment. I only hope we have five days. In the meantime, I want a warning sent to the RCMP operations centre here in town, and to NDHQ, stating that we believe small groups of aboriginal radicals may be concentrating in Winnipeg and surrounding areas and that they might be planning some kind of demonstrations in the city or elsewhere in the province. But make it clear that there is no evidence of any immediate threat to national security. Thank you all.”
Okay I can go with trying to disprove your own best guess, that’s just good scientific method (fun fact! In the world of statistics, you’re technically trying to prove yourself wrong every time!). But in the meantime, three days have elapsed since the raids. They have a man dead, one known traitor sighted in Winnipeg and suspected sympathizers in Akwesasne and Radisson. Surely this calls for some action? After all, those weapons that were stolen aren’t going to be easy to hide for long. Whatever purpose they were stolen for is bound to come up sooner rather than later.
Just remember, these are supposed to be Real Soldiers® not mincing liberal surrender monkeys. Bland portrayed his fictional Prime Minister as sending biased and interfering messages to ITAC, as a way of showing he was a villain. But these security experts seem just as paralyzed and hopeless. Keep in mind, Bland has improbably permitted his ITAC spooks to put together a fairly clear picture of what they may be facing…and yet they fail to warn any of the local authorities.
They don’t pass word off to Bob Ignace, they neglect whatever nameless police officer it was that spotted Gabriel in Winnipeg. They don’t give the Winnipeg Police Service a heads up that there might be an intifada happening in their streets within the next few days. They decide to spend the next five days turning their theory over in their hands and pondering its exactitude, while in the meantime some poor security guard in the Manitoba Legislature has no idea that he looked his own killer in the eyes last night.
Everyone figures they’re the heroes of the story. That’s the common conceit of fanfic and Mary Sue surrogates in online fiction. But the fact is, in the real world we’re all pretty much extras in the grand scheme of things. We ‘strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are heard no more…’ And Bland doesn’t think we’re worthy of receiving a warning. Yeah, maybe it won’t help. Maybe the NPA would roll right over us despite our best efforts and all our good works are doomed to the fire. But it’d be nice to have a warning. It would be nice to have a chance. While the hero holds centre stage, it would be nice if spear carrier number three gets at least a basic acknowledgement of their existence.
 That’ll be Jim Riley, whom we met a few chapters back. Not only they neglect to mention his name, but they also de-capitalize his title (unlike the CDS and Ed Conway).
 Or not. It’s never made clear who ITAC is reporting to in this instance, although I’m fairly sure they generally fall under Ministry of Public Security. Since the PM still hasn’t taken charge and established a chain of command for this crisis, they should still be reporting to a whole other Minister.
 The shooting was especially tragic since it was largely unrelated to any of the oil patch sabotage. A group of teenagers out for a drunken joyride drove onto the Trickle Creek property on a dare. Fearing they were under attack, an alarmed family member (never identified) shot at the car, killing 16 year old Karman Willis.
 No seriously. The Mounties and the oil companies bombed a natural gas well so they could get an informant on the inside at Trickle Creek. This scandal didn’t come out until Ludwig himself went on trial in 2000, but it’s indicative of just how frustrated the authorities were at that point.
 Fred McTavish. In memoria.