October 22, 2013

"Line 9! Shut it down!"

P. Millionaire,
Rebel Youth Magazine

The movement against tar sands pipelines has been growing over the last year. Indigenous communities and activists in British Colombia have so far successfully blocked the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that proposed to run from the Alberta tar sands to the BC coast.

Indigenous people, workers, and community members in Ontario and Québec are also concerned with Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the flow of line 9 and send tar sands bitumen from Sarnia all the way to Montréal.

On Saturday October 20, activists against the reversal of line 9 protested in Toronto at 12 pm outside the metro Toronto Convention Center. The protest was set to occur during Enbridge’s hearing about line 9 with the National Energy Board (NEB), but the meeting was postponed.

The day before, on October 19, activists at the hearing burst into song, chants, and played drums in order to disrupt the meeting. The noisy protest was so powerful that members of the NEB fled the hearings. Activists at the protest against line 9 expressed their belief that the hearings had been postponed because of the work of the movement against the reversal of Line 9.

“Enbridge is afraid of us,” said Vanessa Gray, one of the first speakers at the rally.

The 38 year-old pipeline runs through 99 towns and cities in Ontario, and many lakes, streams, and rivers.  It also goes through 18 First Nations territories. Speakers at the rally expressed the need for the Canadian government to respect First Nation’s sovereignty in Canada.

“We have the right to pre and informed consent. We will exercise our sovereignty,” said Crystal Sinclair, from Idle No More Toronto.

“The NEB is afraid of people coming together and affirming the truth, and affirming their right to their land,” said another speaker.

First Nations communities that will be affected if Line 9 is reversed say they have not been consulted.

Activists are concerned that the pipeline is too old to carry corrosive bitumen, and say the pipeline will be at a high risk of leaking. Spills would harm the environment and drinking water for many people and wildlife in Ontario.

Chemicals specific to the transport of bitumen poison the air, while the heavier bitumen sinks in waterways, making it nearly impossible to clean-up,” stated the facebook page promoting the rally.

Activists against pipelines are also against the Alberta tar sands, and see actions against tar sands pipelines as a way to help reverse Canada’s role as a major producer of dirty oil. The tar sands is Canada’s largest producer of green house gases, and pollutes the water, and air for many people living near by. Indigenous communities that live near the tar sands have also reported higher rates of cancer since the tar sands mega-project has started.

The protest of about 1,000 people was lively, with chants including, “Line 9! Shut it down!” Rhythms of Resistance, a drumming group that shows up at different social and environmental justice rallies made sure passers by in the street heard the protest.

Speakers also spoke out against increasing corporate control in Canada. For Vanessa Gray, from Aamjinwang and Sarnia against pipelines, “we are facing reckless companies that are only thinking about their profits.”

Nigel Barriffe, a Teacher and community organizer in Rexdale (Toronto) stated, “we have to say no to oil and gas tax subsidies and invest in a green, just society.”

Line 9 runs through the Rexdale community in Toronto, and community members are speaking up against its reversal. Federal and provincial subsidies to the fossil fuel industry amount to 2.84 billion dollars a year, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Carolyn Egan, President of Toronto United Steel Workers combated the myth that line 9 and the tar sands are needed to create jobs. She emphasized the need for Canadians to demand well paying, unionized jobs.

“We want decent jobs. We want jobs that do not harm our environment,” Egan said.

Environmental activists and indigenous people at the protest did not only connect the movement against line 9 to the anti-tar sands movement, but they also connected  their movement to the anti-fracking protests that are happening currently in New Brunswick.

Fracking is a controversial method of extracting shale gas.  The method uses massive amounts of water, and disposes of toxic wastewater; increases risks of earthquakes from sending water, sand, and chemicals with high pressure into the earth in order to release shale gas; has the potential to make our drinking water unsafe if gas leaks; and also risks the leaking of natural gas and methane gas that causes global warming.

The biggest issue is that it's just one more way to continue our destructive addiction to fossil fuels,” wrote David Suzuki in an article last year on Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking.

The Elsipogtog First Nation is on the front line of the anti-fracking movement. Mi'kmaw indigenous people in New Brunswick including Elsipogtog have demanded consultation with the government about the extraction of natural gas from their land without any result.

An encampment including led by activists from the Mi'kmaw community in but also including Anglo and Acadian community members, had been blocking trucks from the fracking company, SWN Resources Canada.

Las Thursday, at least two hundred heavily armed RCMP violently attacked about 80 peaceful protesters near Elsipogtog, on the last day of the injunction on the encampment. Reports, pictures, and video show that the RCMP had police dogs and pointed rifles at the protesters. They also beat people with truncheons, used pepper spray and "non-lethal" bullets against children, women and Elders.

Speakers against line 9 connected the Mi’kmaw communities struggle against fracking, and First Nation communities in Ontario that are fighting against the reversal of line 9, with the struggle for the right to sovereignty for indigenous peoples.

There is no doubt that the campaign against Line 9 in Canada has made impressive strides, and has the potential to become an even larger, mass movement. The movement has the potential to connect First Nation communities with environmentalists, and labour activists in Ontario and Quebec. There is a lot of work to do by community organizations in the upcoming months to educate, agitate, and mobilize community members against tar sands pipelines. 

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