Arson, Pipelines, and Protest
David Suzuki was quoted in the National Post today with a warning that “pipelines will be blown up” if political leaders don’t do something about climate change.
This follows an article in the Guardian on Nov. 18, in which Andreas Malm set the “moral case for destroying fossil fuel infrastructure”.
Public Debate and Calls for Violence
I am all for public debate and the exchange of ideas. I don’t think that Mr. Suzuki committed a criminal offence here. However, at what point does a “warning” turn into a threat, veiled or not? This is the sort of thing mobsters did for protection money—“Nice little store you’ve got here… It be would a shame if someone would come burn it down. I can offer you protection from such things.”
Mr. Malm may have actually counselled the commission of the offence of arson. He writes:
So what do we do?
We could destroy the machines that destroy this planet. If someone has planted a time bomb in your home, you are entitled to dismantle it. More to the point, if someone has placed an incendiary device inside the high-rise building where you live, and if the foundations are already on fire and people are dying in the cellars, then many would believe that you have an obligation to put the device out of action.
This is the moral case which, I would argue, justifies destroying fossil fuel property. That is completely separate from harming human bodies, for which there is no moral case.The Guardian, Nov. 18, 2021
Both of these articles are close to being criminal offences in Canada, with Mr. Malm likely having crossed the line. Section 22 of the Criminal Code states:
Person counselling offence
22 (1) Where a person counsels another person to be a party to an offence and that other person is afterwards a party to that offence, the person who counselled is a party to that offence, notwithstanding that the offence was committed in a way different from that which was counselled.
(2) Every one who counsels another person to be a party to an offence is a party to every offence that the other commits in consequence of the counselling that the person who counselled knew or ought to have known was likely to be committed in consequence of the counselling.
Definition of “counsel”
(3) For the purposes of this Act, “counsel” includes procure, solicit or incite.R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 22; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 7.
The Supreme Court of Canada considered counselling the commit an offence in R. v. Hamilton, 2005 SCC 47 (https://canlii.ca/t/1l86s) and spelled out the mental element and the actions required to commit the offence.
Simply put, if a writer or public figure, or anyone really, counsels or persuades or induces the commission of a criminal offence, then that person is a party to the offence and also guilty of that offence. So, for example, if you counsel the “blowing up of a pipeline” and then someone goes and blows up a pipeline as a result of you counselling blowing up a pipeline, and you were trying to get a pipeline blown up or were reckless about the risk that it would happen, then you are also guilty of blowing up a pipeline.
Blowing up a pipeline is arson, in s.434 of the Criminal Code, and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. If someone dies in the arson, then it’s murder, notwithstanding you didn’t intend to kill anybody, and then it is life imprisonment.
Oil wells, refineries, pipelines, and most hydrocarbon installations are full of explosive and flammable liquids and gases under high temperatures and pressures. “Blowing up a pipeline” is not some trivial exercise in protest. This sort of thing can cause millions or billions of dollars of damage, immense human suffering, deaths, and large hydrocarbon spills. I thought those were supposed to be bad. By Mr. Malm’s logic, the 800 oil wells dynamited in Kuwait by the retreating Iraqi army in 1991 were an incredibly wonderful blow struck for the climate, rather than an environmental catastrophe that looked like this:
Reckless and loose talk of violence is always dangerous—you never know who it might “inspire”. The 21st and 20th centuries have been distressingly full of violent nut jobs who thought they were not subject to the law or to basic decency. Violence should never be encouraged.