For radicals, part of taking our struggle seriously is committing to understanding ourselves, the context we’re operating within, and the perspectives of our enemies. Time Bomb is a good example of an enemy text which can prove useful to us. The author, Douglas Bland, spent thirty years in threat assessment with the Canadian Armed Forces. Time Bomb is his second book, essentially a long essay that broadly discusses the Canada-First Nations relationship, examines the possibility of an indigenous insurgency, and proposes a counter-insurgency strategy to preventatively ‘disarm’ the time bomb.
The most interesting section of this book is Bland’s study of so-called feasibility theory that seeks to explain the origins of contemporary insurgencies. Proponents of feasibility theory are less interested in what motivates insurgents and instead how feasible an insurgency is in a given context. They argue that if conditions exist that make an insurgency feasible and they aren’t ‘corrected,’ an insurgency will inevitably occur. The prevention and/or suppression of insurgencies is achieved not by resolving grievances but by shifting the conditions that make insurgency feasible in the first place.
Feasibility theorists did a statistical analysis of civil conflicts and came up with five major determinants that significantly increase the risk of an insurgency:
1) A society divided by ethnic or religious cleavages;
2) A high proportion of men aged 15-29;
3) A more mountainous, and less flat, terrain;
4) A weak security apparatus; and
5) An economy heavily dependent on exporting natural resources.
Bland applies these determinants to the Canadian situation and finds that overall, Canada is at risk:
1) Indigenous people are sharply separated from Canadian society, especially on reserves.
2) There is a very high proportion of young men in the population.1
3) Canada has both mountainous and flat terrain, but is vulnerable because of its enormous territory.
4) While Canadian security forces are effective at containing ‘localized incidents’ they simply can’t defend hundreds of kilometres of transportation and energy infrastructure.
5) The Canadian economy is largely dependent on natural resource export, which relies on this same infrastructure to get to market.
Bland follows his feasibility study with a thought experiment: what would an indigenous rebellion that managed to successfully threaten Canada actually look like? Assuming that the overall strategic objective would be for First Nations to become recognized as fully sovereign entities within Canada, and noting the growing frustration activists are expressing at Idle No More’s inability to force the federal government to meaningfully change course, he argues that a strategic shift is already happening within grassroots indigenous movements away from convincing the Canadian public and towards threatening the economy. Bland fears that a strategy of gradually escalating disruptions to railway and highway bottlenecks across the country, if coordinated and prolonged, could directly threaten the economy:
Continual widespread and unpredictable minor disruptions … could be effective without the use of sophisticated skills and guns and explosives simply because the foundation of the economy is vulnerable to very simple techniques of interference – burning cars on railway tracks would suffice.
In the final chapters of Time Bomb, Bland proposes a sophisticated counter-insurgency strategy for the federal government that reads like a neocolonial playbook. First, he argues for a number of political solutions: building stronger alliances with moderate Native leaders, integrating Native communities into the resource economy through profit-sharing and preferential hiring programs, education and training programs targeted towards the 15-24 year old ‘warrior cohort’ on reserves, and increased funding for on-reserve police forces. This is coupled with a number of repressive tactics, including disrupting illegal indigenous organizations,2 encouraging migration from reserves into cities, withholding government funding for reserves that refuse to marginalize radical leaders, and quietly threatening potential insurgents.
For those of us who want to see Canada decolonized, what lessons can be drawn from Time Bomb? Obviously it would be a mistake to take all of Bland’s warnings at face value, as his career directly benefits from fear-mongering. I’m inclined to agree with his acknowledgment that presently, a level of coordination simply doesn’t exist across the country to actually threaten the economy. Most disruption until now has been relatively localized, and when it has spread it has been through more spontaneous expressions of solidarity, such as the #ShutDownCanada response to the police attack in Elsipogtog, or the Idle No More Days of Action.
Still, I find his assessment of Canada’s vulnerabilities compelling. His paranoid thought experiment does offer an interesting toolbox of tactics for economic disruption by relatively small groups of people. If we can identify economic bottlenecks close to where we live, build our capacity to target those bottlenecks, and prioritize well-timed actions when the calls for solidarity go out, we can affirm our power and put Canada’s vulnerability on display. If these acts are effective they would inspire others to join us or take action themselves; if that momentum continues to grow we really could find ourselves in a situation where we pose a threat equal to the fears of Douglas Bland. Of course, such a path would mean escalating repressive consequences, coupled with efforts to delegitimize and isolate our movements. We need to consider those consequences and be prepared to minimize, avoid or counter them. Those of us who desire a life free from Canadian control should develop visions of how that life might look in the areas we live now, and build the skills, relationships and autonomous communities today that could help shape a decolonized future tomorrow.