It was only last summer that I found myself sitting in a room with 18 other University of British Columbia students and two Canadian Embassy officials in Guatemala City. We were studying in Guatemala as part of a group study program that focused on philosophical issues of power and oppression, and the sociological topics of global citizenship and civil society. We sat in a U-shaped formation, looking towards the officials who cheerily told us about the Canadian government’s policies here in Guatemala. A word that kept getting tossed around was Canada’s mandate on having a “modest presence” in Guatemala. Perhaps the Canadian government has a “modest presence”, but one of the largest players in Guatemala’s mining industry is Goldcorp, the Vancouver-based mining company that has committed international human rights violations throughout their operations by destroying Indigenous communities. When Goldcorp was finally brought up by a student, a third official had to be called in from another room to tackle the question, and the discussion quickly turned into an accusatory lecture on the “reliability” of the research we were reading. Essentially, the discussion was shut down. Such is Canada’s policy on Goldcorp: you do not really know what you are talking about, and we will not talk about it further.
However, it should have come as no surprise to me that one of the first stories our panelist Brigette DePape shared with us was that of Goldcorp and an Indigenous community in Guatemala, drawing attention to the fact that her panel discussion was being held in Studio D of the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Brigette DePape is most famously known for her stand against Prime Minister Stephen Harper in June 2011, and once again, she did not shy away from criticizing an organization that she, and most other Canadians, view as grossly problematic. DePape faced the audience and told us that, “Rules are created by those with power”, and when there is an imbalance in equality between those who are controlling the rules, and those who unjustly suffer by them, there lays the unique opportunity for civil disobedience to effect change.
In the very next breath, DePape informed the audience that RBC, one of Spur Festival’s large sponsors, also finances the Tar Sands.
The discussion, which included panelists Alan Broadbent, C.M, Vanessa Timmer, Ginger Gosnell Myers and Brigette DePape, touched on the Idle No More and environmental movements, as well as the urgent need for both political and environmental change to happen in Canadian society. Vanessa Timmer poetically named the discussion, “The Geography of Change”, and each panelist weighed in on the Vancouver’s potential to be a change agent, as well as the non-territorially based powerhouse of change: the internet. DePape; however, grounded her argument in stories that emphasized the power of the individual. She seemed to be telling us, through one story or another, that through direct action, (and even some forms of civil disobedience), anyone can effect change.