Over a hundred people congregated in the parking lot of Chahko Mika Mall on Wednesday for an impromptu pipeline protest.
“Yesterday the Stephen Harper government announced their approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline and a lot of people said we’ve gotta get together and send a resounding ‘no’ back,” said Keith Wiley, a volunteer with Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free BC.
Armed with a twenty-foot fake pipeline, placards and brochures that they handed out to passersby, the protestors were met with everything from bleating truck horns and enthusiastic support to upraised middle fingers and shouted taunts.
The local contingent joins groups province-wide who have pledged to oppose the pipeline and stall its progress. Last weekend the Nelson Critical Mass event saw over 70 participants bike down Baker and Vernon streets before holding a rally in Lakeside Park.
Wiley said Nelson residents have been coordinating with a variety of environmental groups across the country to come up with protest strategies going forward.
“We’re trying to spark a movement this summer of action all over Canada of clean energy and turning away from the tar sands,” said Wylie. “Everybody can play a part. You don’t have to go far away. Participate, rally, talk to your friends and neighbours.”
Meanwhile, B.C. aboriginal communities issued a statement on Tuesday vowing to take the Stephen Harper government to court to protect their aboriginal title and rights on the land affected by the pipeline and proposed tanker port for diluted bitumen on Douglas Channel.
Aboriginal opponents include the Haida, Gitgaat, Heiltsuk and Haisla First Nations, as well as communities in the B.C Interior.
“We will uphold our responsibilities and Haida laws to protect our territory,” said president of the Haida Nation Kil tlaats’gaa, Peter Landin. “We will not allow the Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project to proceed.”
According to the letter, dated June 17, the Haida nation has opposed the project since 2005. They have repeatedly expressed concerns about the potential risk of an oil spill, and feel their environment and economy are at risk.
“We will take our fight to the land, sea and courts to uphold and protect Haida territory, and to ensure clean water, clean air and a healthy way of life for future generations,” he said. “Harper’s decision is just plain wrong and not in the `National Interest’ as claimed.”
Harper’s approval of the pipeline was based on an 18-month Joint Review Panel process that many opponents saw as fundamentally flawed. And though there are 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board and further talks planned with aboriginal communities, the Nelson protestors were unimpressed.
“The one I like is they say they’ve got world-class systems to prevent leaks or for cleaning up leaks and tanker spills. That sounds good. They’ve got the best in the world. Well, the best in the world doesn’t do very well. This stuff doesn’t clean up. When they say world-class they mean recovering 10 percent of the spill, maybe 15. They’re pushing a myth that they’ll clean it up if it spills, and we’re not buying it,” said Wiley.
According to data compiled from Enbridge’s reports, the Polaris Institute has calculated that 804 spills occurred on Enbridge pipelines between 1999 and 2010.
Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross, whose community is at the end of the Douglas Channel, said it is too late for more consultations.
“Every mistake they’ve made we actually pointed out to them and said `this is not following our case law principles, you’re making a mistake,” Ross said on Tuesday. “But they went ahead and did it. It is going to court.”
Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said her council has made its opposition clear after an April vote that came down opposed to the project.
“I think most of the councillors are of the opinion that they don’t really want to see bitumen going down the channel,” said Monghan. “They would rather have it refined and have a product that’s refined going down the channel.”
BC NDP leader John Horgan said he wants resource development that creates jobs, particularly for aboriginal communities. He said the BC Liberals have lost their opportunity to oppose the pipeline.
At the federal level, both NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have vowed to reverse the decision, and have released statements condemning the project.
Recently Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge, told reporters that the economic benefits of the pipeline are demonstrable, but the company will have to do additional work to convince the public of the viability of the project.
“If we can’t prove our safety and environmental protection, the economic benefits won’t matter,” said Monaco. “In other words, the economic benefits alone are not enough to sustain public support.”
But Wiley said the economic benefits are negligible when compared to the potential havoc wreaked by an oil spill.
The brochures handed out on Wednesday encouraged people to “Occupy the Pipeline Everywhere!” The brochure lists some of their specific issues with the pipeline, including the fact that it will increase carbon dioxide emissions of tar sands extraction by as much as 33 per cent and that over 11,000 tanker trips are projected for the project.
According to the brochure, the tar sands carbon will precipitate climate change that will result in extreme weather events and will cause “disastrous” changes for the local ecosystem.
One of the protestors at Chahko Mika Mall, who chose to remain anonymous, said Enbridge should be held accountable for the environmental destruction the company has wrought.
“We have to ask the question: who’s the real eco-terrorist? I think the answer should be Enbridge.”
For more information, visit Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free BC on Facebook.
–With files from Tom Fletcher