The Green Gap

In the Cold War, we feared a Missile Gap was a strategic weakness. Nowadays, we must awaken to the fact that the Green Gap is true strategic weakness: the nations whose economies will thrive in the coming years will not be those with the biggest factories, but those with the most sustainable, efficient, and ecological markets. What we require is a Strategic "Green Reserve" of ecological design to weather the coming changes that both climate and resource scarcity will force on the international economy.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

It Wasn't Me

In Halifax, November 1998, one Mr. Richard Marriott and Ms. Gail Stone were shot in an as-yet-unsolved double homicide. They were common-law partners, and owned substantial real estate investments. As you may know, both marriage and common-law unions give spouses extremely powerful property rights: as soon as I die, my spouse automatically inherits everything I own. When there is a double homicide of this nature, to put it morbidly, who dies last, wins. Ms. Stone died four days after Mr. Marriott, and therefore her estate inherited everything. Now, if you're in a loving and equitable relationship, and you've done your wills together, and you make certain both sides of the family are taken care of in either will, then you hope that there will be no fighting over the spoils... but quite frankly, every single will in existence has probably been perceived as unfair by most beneficiaries of the estate. In this case, there was a fight over the properties, and during said fight, some interesting facts popped up.

You see, Mr. Marriott was a drug dealer, and his cars and bling and houses were proceeds of crime. Proceeds of Crime statutes exist in pretty much every jurisdiction around the world (possession is 9/10ths of the law, after all!) and they all say more or less the same thing. If a gain is ill-gotten, it don't belong to you. If you get an ill-gotten gain from someone else, it's still ill-gotten. Just because you didn't cap someone's ass and steal their prize-winning pet Japanese Carp to sell on the black carp market, doesn't mean it's not a hot carp any more. The carp's still stolen - it's just now in possession of someone who didn't otherwise commit a crime. As a matter of fact, a person who purchases (for example) a hot carp - even if they had no knowledge of the fact it was stolen - may still be charged for being in possession of proceeds of crime. One key mitigating factor in sentencing is typically the amount of "due diligence" a buyer does before purchase. If a judge asks the question "ok, you had no knowledge that the carp was hot, but how hard did you try to find out whether it was hot or not?" then you'd better have done some searching and legitimately come up with nothing. It's like the typical "but she told me she was 18" defence: if you didn't try to verify the facts, you're still guilty. And a dipshit.

What happened to the properties? Well, they were subject to some pretty serious court wrangling. For those of you whose eyes glaze over at the very sight of legalese, I'll save you the pain and duress. This case was an appeal of an earlier decision that awarded - in the eyes of the Crown - too much to the estate of Ms. Stone. Specifically, the estate had somehow managed to claim one of the houses in its entirety when all money used to purchase the house, except the down payment, was a proceed of crime. The court eventually sided with the Crown, indicating that the house would be forfeited and the deceased's estate would receive the amount of the legitimate down payment. Justice was done, and Her Majesty the Queen of Canada slept well that night, after tucking in all her corgis.

The nice thing about this case is that we can all understand the essential issues of justice surrounding it. If you do something bad, you should not gain because of it, nor should anyone else gain from anything ill-gotten. It's not about the person who possesses the ill-gotten gain, it's about the ill-gotten gain itself. If I come to your house, surrounded in police, and wave a forged title deed in front of your face and have you forcibly evicted, I have uttered a forged document (Criminal Code s. 368) and gained by it. If I die and pass that property on to my squeaky-clean volunteers-in-an-old-folks-home patriotic-to-a-fault rescues-animals-from-shelters always-buys-a-crate-of-girl-guide-cookies-and-gives-them-to-the-homeless son, the property is still ill-gotten. No matter how good a person my son is, he's now in possession of the proceeds of crime: YOUR rightful house! I doubt you'd consider him a particularly good person unless he gave it back to you. His claims of "but *I* didn't steal the house!" would likely (and rightly) fall on deaf ears. We all understand the basic justice in this. It's simple. In the terms of our tradition of English law, it's "Natural Justice": fair and unbiased application of law in the spirit of procedural fairness. Property rights have been an essential part of our laws for centuries.

It's for this reason that we can now, potentially, look at this news story, regarding the use of Beaver Lake Cree land by oil companies, through the lenses of the same justice. When corporations are able to use properties that impinge on the rights of anyone to the rightful use of their own property, they cannot make the "but *I* didn't confiscate the land" defence. When the judiciary of Canada makes a decision that the rights of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation under Treaty 6 could be violated by current oil extraction, we can understand through the lens of Natural Justice that the claim (and the finding) is sensible and right. Whether a corporation says "she told me she was 18" or "we didn't knowingly violate Treaty rights", the result should be the same: under our system of law, in the eyes of our own idea of justice, and in the spirit of Natural Justice, the Beaver Lake Cree have a claim that must be heard. Whatever the final decision, they certainly deserve a hearing.

I didn't come here to talk about some random drug dealers, obviously. When I speak to my (non-First Nations) friends about First Nations issues, many routinely counter the arguments by saying "why are they blaming me for something I didn't do?" Well, it's correct that none of us took First Nations' lands, none of us violated the Treaties directly, we are not in any way directly responsible for the situation almost all First Nations find themselves in... but some among us are benefiting from the proceeds of crime. While that does not mean we are bad - it cannot change our ethical essence - it means we may be in possession of something that isn't rightfully ours. We need to understand that no matter how good we are (and most of us are good), no matter how generationally removed we are from the Treaties, the First Nations are not telling us "you did something wrong", they are saying "some among you are benefiting from the wrong done by others".

I'm a product of British Isles stock and a third generation Canadian. There isn't a drop of First Nations blood in my body (any First Nations peoples reading this will likely add the ellipsis "...that you know about"). I look at things through a distinctively European lens, and my capacity to comprehend the First Nations' worldview is particularly weak - but I do understand the philosophical concept of Justice, as do you. Next time you hear about a First Nations issue, please - PLEASE - use your empathy. I'm not asking for you to give up everything you own, put on a hairshirt, and self-flagellate for the rest of your life. I just ask you, I beg you: please have empathy. Please listen. Please understand that the First Nations are simply trying to claim what is their right under the Treaties the government signed with them. If I took your house by the use of a forged deed and passed that house on to my son, you would still try to get your rights back. Your quarrel is not with my son, but with the rights I passed to him.

I would fight for your rights to your property under law, firstly because it's the right thing to do, but also because protecting your right to your property strengthens my rights to my property. Our approach to our First Nations brothers and sisters should be no different. Protecting their rights to their lands under the Treaties strengthens our own legal claims to our legitimate property. We should seek justice for all. For Canadians like us, it's only natural.

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