Last night, I watched Luna’s (http://www.lunawhistler.com/) screening of Weibo’s War, a provocative documentary directed and produced by David York (released Oct. 2011, http://www.nfb.ca/film/wiebos_war_trailer/).

The film features Weibo Ludwig and his small community’s battle against the oil and gas industry. Ludwig, his wife Mammie, 2 other couples and all their children form the community of Christian fundamentalists that settled in the Grande Prairie (northern Alberta) region about 3 decades ago in the hopes of getting away from a world that didn’t share their beliefs.  They had peace for about 5 years. Then they were informed that they only owned the top 6″ of their property and that the subsurface mineral rights belonged to oil and gas (Encana). A sour gas well was situated a stones throw from their farm and that’s when the trouble began. Their animals began to die and abort their young and so did the women on the farm. Mammie had a miscarriage and then a few years later gave birth to a still born baby (of which they show graphic images). They suffer inexplicable illnesses and violent skin reactions, oh and they can light the water coming out of their kitchen faucet on fire! Their attempts to write letters to decision makers and the media were futile and their protests at the well sites fell on deaf ears. Shortly after, the pipeline bombings and vandalism began. Ludwig and his cohort never admit to the acts, but the wry comments and direct support for them makes it pretty clear that they are involved if not wholly responsible. The bombings continue for many years, but the oil and gas industry continue to set up wells around the property. The community is observed and periodically searched by the police, but no direct evidence is ever discovered nor charges laid. Throw in the shooting death of a 16 year old girl that was trespassing on the property (again with no charges left) and you have a bizarre twist that further compounds the tragic nature of this story.

Ludwig was invited by Luna to attend the screening and lead a discussion. He wrote a letter declining on account of having developed cancer and not being able to travel. He said that hoped he  would live long enough to write a book, that he would nonetheless publish posthumously so that he wouldn’t be thrown in jail for its contents!

So I led the discussion instead. I asked the audience what their reactions were to the film and there were some really insightful comments offered. My favourite came from a women who said she sympathized with Weibo, but felt he didn’t do what was best for his family- she felt he should’ve moved them so that they wouldn’t have suffered as they did. She thought he was trying to be a martyr and wondered if martyrdom was an acceptable way of effecting change?

It begs the question, if citizens are being harmed by corporations supported by government what are acceptable courses of action? Are there sufficient mechanisms for having one’s voice be heard and for actually changing the system?  Was there a different approach Weibo could’ve taken to influence the powerful oil and gas industry that was harming human health and the environment with impunity? Was war his only recourse?

Is war ever justified? Pacifists aside, our society as a whole generally subscribes to the notion that is some cases war is justified.

St. Augustine said there were three just causes of war:

  • defending against attack
  • recapturing things taken
  • punishing people who have done wrong
So was Weibo’s war just? According to St.Augustine, yes it was. Weibo could invoke all three of these justifications for the pipeline bombing activities he perpetrated and /or supported: 1) the encroachment of sour gas on his property causing animal and human deaths certainly constitutes an attack; 2) acquiring property with a reasonable concept of ownership that turned out to be a sham seems like his property was taken from him (not to mention his right to clean water); 3) a government supporting the interests of corporations over the health and well being of citizens is tyranny and about as wrong as it gets.
Yet only countries can wage wars. Individuals that do so are called terrorists. Indeed, Weibo has been called an eco-terrorist by some, which is the same language invoked by the Harper government to describe Canadians that oppose the Enbridge pipeline and other tar sands projects.
On January 24, Andrew Frank, until recently the Communications Director of ForestEthics blew the whistle on threats made by the Harper government in an open letter he wrote. Here’s an excerpt:

As I have detailed in a sworn affidavit, no less than three senior managers with TidesCanada and ForestEthics (a charitable project of Tides Canada), have informed me, as the Senior Communications Manager for ForestEthics, that Tides Canada CEO, Ross McMillan,was informed by the Prime Minister’s Office, that ForestEthics is considered an “Enemy of the Government of Canada,” and an “Enemy of the people of Canada.”

This language was apparently part of a threat by the Prime Minister’s Office to challenge the charitable status of Tides Canada if it did not agree to stop funding ForestEthics, specifically its work opposing oilsands expansion and construction of oilsands tanker/pipeline routes in Canada.

I can’t help but think of the Universal Declaration of Human Right that states: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”
In denying the democratic right to freedom of speech, our government is significantly limiting legitimate courses of action and opening the door to so called acts of terror and, yes, martyrdom. Weibo’s Way is not the answer- the rule of law is.