British Columbia Opinion

My business will be negatively affected by the railway blockades. I still support them.

I’m angry — but at politicians and lobbyists who think they speak for my interests

Posted: February 21, 2020

Fatso Peanut Butter is shipped by rail from Eastern Canada to its base in Victoria, B.C. CEO Jill Van Gyn estimates that if the rail blockades continue, she will incur an additional $6,000 to $8,000 in expenses to transport her shipment by road. (Fatso)

This column is an opinion piece by Jill Van Gyn, the CEO of Victoria-based company Fatso Peanut Butter. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

I am the owner of a growing business that depends on rail freight to move my product across Canada. Fatso Peanut Butter is based in Victoria, B.C., but all of the production happens on the East Coast and we stock our products in stores across the country.

If the rail blockades continue through March — when my next consignment will be ready to ship — I'll have to make alternative arrangements to transport our product by highway, which will add an additional $6,000 to $8,000 in expenses. And if blockades escalate and further restrict cross-country and cross-border transport, my business and our plans to expand into the U.S. this spring are all but dead in the water. 

ADVERTISEMENT

My livelihood is under threat and yet I support the rail blockades in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a pipeline slated to pass through their traditional lands.

The shutdown of our railways might cause some economic inconvenience; and yes, you have a right to be angry. I'm angry.

But my anger is directed toward the government that refuses to back down, and the opposition, lobbyists, and armchair activists who think they speak for my interests. 

Recently, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded that activists "check their privilege and let people whose job depends on the railway system — small business, farmers — do their job."

ADVERTISEMENT

Show more
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should call on the RCMP to clear protests that are crippling Canada's rail network.  0:45

"These protesters, these activists," as Mr. Scheer disdainfully, called them … these are my people. 

You rabble-rousers give them hell. The business community is not a monolith. We do not all vote with our dollars and we are not all personally motivated by revenue alone. I stand with the Indigenous nations and their right to sovereignty, self-governance, and the right to protest. It is not until our economy is at stake that the average Canadian and our government will finally listen. 

If this is what it takes, so be it.

So, why is a peanut butter company CEO sticking her nose into politics? Shouldn't I just stick to what I'm good at — making peanut butter? Does my corporate voice even belong in the political arena? If you are going to use the economy and "small business" as a justification for your anger, then you have just invited me into the conversation. I may lose some customers and I may draw public ire, but it is in these times — when the decision to not be complicit will hurt my business the most — that action and being vocal matters most. 

A protester stands between Mohawk Warrior Society flags at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont. on Sunday. The protest is in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern British Columbia. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Our government has continually chosen to put profit before Indigenous rights. The economy will survive without a pipeline running through Indigenous lands, but the cultural sovereignty of Indigenous communities is at stake and their rights and freedoms are not just being infringed upon, but outright violated. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Scheer is right about one thing. I don't "have the luxury of spending days at a blockade." I still have a business to run and a young family to care for and I have made the choice to not sit in and publicly disrupt. I have opted to use my "privilege" in other ways: I have personally donated to RAVEN, a Victoria-based Wet'suwet'en legal defence fund, I will continue to send my peanut butter to the protest front lines to help the resistance stay fuelled and resilient, and I will use my platform to speak out.

Supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs perform a round dance at a blockade at a CN Rail line just west of Edmonton. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Indigenous people are using what agency they have to fight back and take a stand. They have drawn a line in the sand, and we are being asked to stand behind the line with them. You, me, the business community, government workers, the media, and police and RCMP, we have a choice. 

As I see it, part of my "job" as a successful business owner who has both the power and the privilege of a strong social presence, is to call out systemic abuse and to support basic and fundamental human rights.