Week of Enbridge Tar Sands Actions Launch Idle No More’s Sovereignty Summer
Protesters across Canada engaged in civil disobedience in solidarity with Swamp Line 9 activists in Hamilton, Ontario; Toronto activists target Ontario courthouse
SHAGHAYEGH TAJVIDI, TRNN PRODUCER: Last week, 13 cities across Canada participated in a day of solidarity with the tar sands blockade in Hamilton, Ontario. Their activists had taken over North Westover Pump Station, a construction site belonging to oil and gas pipeline conglomerate Enbridge. They named the blockade Action Swamp Line 9 after Beverly Swamp, a 2,400 hectare wetland that spans three watersheds and is home to rare species of wildlife. Directly through the swamp runs Enbridge’s controversial Line 9, a nearly 40-year-old pipeline currently in use for the transport of light crude from Montreal, Quebec, westward to Sarnia and southwest Ontario. It has the capacity to transport 240,000 barrels of oil per day.
Enbridge wants to reverse the direction of the oil so that it would travel West-East and carry tar sands-diluted bitumen. It also wants to expand the capacity of the line to 300,000 barrels per day.
Line 9 passes through 18 indigenous communities, who, despite being directly on the tar sands path, argue they have not been properly consulted regarding the project and they have not given their consent.
CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER, INDIGENOUS RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I significantly question and doubt the integrity of Enbridge, you know, and their PR machinery moving forward in terms of having some kind of valid consultation or any respect for the free prior and informed consent, in other words, the right to say no of First Nations that are concerned about the impacts of Enbridge, particularly on their salmon-based economy.
TAJVIDI: The possibility of a tar sands spill in places like Beverly Swamp in Hamilton raises alarm for the protesters, who at the blockade took to chaining themselves to the fence leading to the pump station. On June 25, Enbridge obtained an injunction against the protesters to leave after five days of the site’s occupation, during which time construction had stopped.
GRAHAM WHITE, BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, ENBRIDGE INC.: Well, this morning at about 8:15, we served our injunction order for them to vacate our property. And they’ve been very cooperative. The police have been on site, and they’ve been speaking with us, and they said everyone is being very cooperative in vacating the site. And they’re just packing up now to go.
INTERVIEWER: What consequences did this have on your operations?
WHITE: Well, it prevented us from continuing construction on a legally approved, NEB-approved project for the reversal of 9A, which would supply crude oil to the Nanticoke refinery in Ontario and also the operation of Line 9.
TAJVIDI: Despite the injunction, protesters stayed, and communities in Six Nations, Aamjiwnaang First Nations, Peterborough, Edmonton, Toronto, and many others rallied in support.
CROWD: Pipelines spill! Tar sands kill!
TAJVIDI: In Toronto, activists brought traffic to a halt when they undertook a direct action in the downtown core. In response to the legal move by Enbridge, they chose the Ontario courthouse as the location to protest the injunction. They caused congestion on University Avenue by enacting a symbolic oil spill in the middle of the street and used the opportunity to speak with drivers about Enbridge’s project.
SYED HUSSAN, MIGRANT AND INDIGENOUS RIGHTS ACTIVIST: –story keeps changing, but the facts remains that this project has not gotten permission from the indigenous communities of the whole [[email protected]] Confederacy. It has not gotten permission from the communities that are at direct risk of the spill. And yet the construction was taking place. And what–. Exactly. Shame. And what the government has done this morning at 8 a.m.: these very courts have decided to go out and give an injunction to stop the blockaders. And yet again the courts have chosen to identify, connect, and support with corporations for profit rather than people struggling to assert their basic dignity.
LANA GOLDBERG, ORGANIZER, RISING TIDE TORONTO: We did a symbolic action, putting our bodies on the line, to say that we are going to stop this project, Line 9, which is intended to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta across Ontario and to the east and to disseminate information about the project, because Enbridge is being very hush-hush about it and there’s not a lot of information about it. But we know that if people did find out that there is a pipeline coming through carrying tar sands, which is a much heavier substance than regular crude, that it’s more likely to spill, ’cause it has to be transported at a higher temperature and a higher pressure, then people will be against it.
TAJVIDI: Enbridge’s history of oil spills, one that happened as recently as the weekend of June 22 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, is a key concern for activists. In a report published by Polaris Institute using Enbridge’s own data, they stated that more than 800 spills occurred between 1999 and 2010, which is equivalent to approximately 161,475 barrels of crude oil released into the environment. The year 2010 saw one of the largest land oil spills in U.S. history when an Enbridge pipeline carrying heavy crude from Canada’s oil sands ruptured in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Responding to the question of pipeline safety, Enbridge consistently maintains:
MICHELLE WASYLSHEN, GOVERNMENT RELATIONS MANAGER, ENBRIDGE, INC.: Safety is the top priority of the company, so we wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. I do hear some questions as well about emergency first response, so should there ever be an incident, how will you, Enbridge, respond. And to that I often say that we have regular and ongoing relationships with emergency first responders along the pipeline right away. We provide training and whatnot. So certainly we have had good relationships and we are ready to respond in the unlikely event that something could occur.
SAKURA SAUNDERS, ORGANIZER, RISING TIDE TORONTO: Line 9 runs through northern Toronto. And a pipeline like that that’s carrying such a toxic substance–when Kalamazoo spilled, within 50 kilometers people reported smelling the gases that were emitted. That’s specific to the transport of this dilbit product. Within two miles of the spill zone, people were reporting vomiting and burning of the eyes and throat. And months afterwards, people continued to be sick. And within two years, many had died. We cannot let this happen in northern Toronto. It’s too densely populated an area to transport such a toxic substance.
TAJVIDI: Following the day of solidarity actions across Canada, people raided the occupied Hamilton site on June 26 and mass arrested the protesters. The blockade ended with 18 arrests and many charges of trespassing, though the detained have since been released.
The week’s developments around the Swamp Line 9 occupation and its corresponding solidarity actions have launched Idle No More Sovereignty Summer. Idle No More is a grassroots movement in Canada that began in November 2012 and brought a national spotlight to what activists termed Canada’s legislative attack on First Nations people and the lands and waters across the country. The movement’s new website, meant to inspire the next wave of indigenous resistance, was launched a couple of days prior to Canada Day. The Toronto action in support of Swamp Line 9 was a one-day event. But the questions it raises about pipeline insecurity and the people and indigenous communities directly affected by it are questions that Toronto and cities from coast to coast are awakening to.
HUSSAN: I think things have come to a head over and over. Canada is moving, and not necessarily moving, but actually, like, reasserting itself as a resource development country, you know, just as it’s gone after logging and extraction, and in that same way that project is also about oil and gas, because we see anti-fracking protests taking place. And all of these are about taking away the rights of indigenous people to live in dignified ways on their own territory. It’s about racialized communities that are often either working at low-end jobs within them or are going to be dramatically affected by the spills and the disaster that follows.
And because of that, people are resisting. I mean, indigenous land defenders from coast to coast, right from [coUseIlIS] territories to New Brunswick to Six Nations have all taken a stand against resource extraction, against logging, against the destruction of their water. And our job has been about support. In the specific context of Line 9 in Ontario, there has been a year of resistance that has been building. There have been community meetings, organizations that are developing across the line. And it will only grow.
TAJVIDI: Though Enbridge has already begun construction on its Line 9 project, the final decision as to whether tar sands will flow through the city of Toronto is expected towards the end of this year.
Reporting for The Real News, Shaghayegh Tajvidi in Toronto.
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