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  • Trans Mountain: when the bitumen hits the fan

    Briony Penn

    British Columbians gear up with court challenges, protest plans, and voting campaigns to prevent the pipeline.


    WITH PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU'S DECISION to allow Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project to go ahead, the consensus expressed by a wide swath of British Columbians amounted to: Over our dead bodies. Citizens across Canada, including Victoria, immediately took to the streets in protest. Green Party leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May promised to go to jail before allowing the pipeline, which would nearly triple the capacity of the existing line, to reach BC’s coast. “This is not an issue where you compromise,” May said, echoing what many citizens are feeling. The pipeline is becoming the proverbial line in the sand, one that even Conservative Party Interim Leader Rona Ambrose recognizes. She has predicted that it will never be built due to protests in BC.

    Those in opposition, however, who see themselves as protectors more than protesters, are not going to make any such assumptions.

    The growing chorus of opposition from mayors, First Nations and ordinary citizens publicly stating a willingness to lay down in front of bulldozers has given rise to concern from Alberta business leaders. Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr tried to reassure them recently by saying: “If people choose for their own reasons not to be peaceful, then the government of Canada, through its defence forces, through its police forces, will ensure that people will be kept safe.”

    Trans Mountain decision protest on Douglas Street.jpg

    In response to Carr’s remark, Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, told CTV’s Evan Soloman: “I think it was an incredibly stupid and clumsy statement to make in an already volatile situation, [on] a deeply emotional issue here in British Columbia. And it’s just absolutely senseless, counter-productive and unhelpful.” 

    Chief Phillip is also a spokesperson for the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion. At time of press, 112 First Nations from across Canada and the US had signed onto the declaration. Phillip told Focus that the declaration “is evidence that this is a global movement and not just a fight against another dirty pipeline by Enbridge. This is not simply an indigenous issue; climate change and the catastrophic impacts that we have witnessed to date and the potential impacts that will manifest in the future, are a matter of grave concern of all people around the world.” 

    First Nations have clearly provided guidance over the last seven years building the treaty alliance from Burnaby to Quebec and Standing Rock to Lelu Island, tackling the transcontintental downstream climate change issues at their upstream tar sand source.

    First Nations—Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Cheam, Chawathil and Kwantlen—have filed no less than seven Judicial Reviews of the National Energy Board decision on Trans Mountain.

    RAVEN (www.raventrust.com), with partners like Sierra Club, are supporting these indigenous legal challenges with a campaign patterned after the highly successful Pull Together which helped seven nations kill the Northern Gateway in court.

    But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip warns that people “shouldn’t become too focused on the indigenous dimension of the issue and the court battles. It creates a false sense of security amongst the general population that  ‘we don’t have to be overly concerned because the indigenous people will take the lead and save the day.’” To this end, the UBCIC have set up the “Coast Protectors Pledge” (coastprotectors.ca) to provide a means that “friends and allies can support indigenous efforts” with their presence in direct actions.

    I think the Chief will be pleasantly surprised by the vast and determined resistance to this pipeline. In my 25 years of reporting, I don’t recall such a concerted and increasingly coordinated effort from such a range of groups—local to international, and social to ecological justice—opposing what so many regard as the great line in the sand.

    Last March, an EKOS poll showed 57 percent of British Columbians opposed to Kinder Morgan’s plans. By November, an Insights West poll commissioned by Dogwood Initiative found British Columbians were opposed to oil tanker expansion two-to-one. Trudeau may say his decision is based in science, but British Columbians are not convinced. They know the challenges of cleaning up any oil spill in coastal waters, let alone one of sinking bitumen.

    It’s crystal clear to any seasoned campaigner—and increasingly embraced by British Columbians—that now is the time to transition off fossil fuels, not expand its infrastructure.


    IF YOU FALL INTO the “opposed” or “want to find out more” category on the Trans Mountain pipeline, you will no doubt have received a deluge of requests to sign petitions or support varying activities against Kinder Morgan. These aren’t just coming from more established organizations like Sierra Club of BC, Greenpeace, STAND (previously ForestEthics), Dogwood Initiative, Georgia Strait Alliance, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Living Oceans Society, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Council of Canadians. There is a proliferation of small grassroots groups with catchy acronyms like SOS (Save our Shores) on Galiano to BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder-Morgan Expansion) and my all-time favourite, NOPE (North and West Vancouverites Opposed to Pipeline Expansion). My own island of Salt Spring has the Save the Salish Sea, (with a southern chapter that creates quite an alliterative mouthful). Even Sooke, slower historically to embrace environmental issues, was the first municipality to bring forward the resolution to oppose tanker expansion at the Union of BC Municipalities through its own Transition Sooke.

    Petitions are also coming thick and fast from online organizations including leadnow.ca, AVAAZ, the youth-led Climate101, and 350.org. The latter is leading the charge on divestment from tar sands by our nation’s institutions and shifting investment to renewables. The divestment movement has doubled since 2015. According to 350.org, “worldwide 688 institutions in 76 countries, representing more than $5 trillion dollars worth of assets, have committed to divest.”

    First Nations aren’t the only ones turning to the courts, either. Ecojustice lawyers, representing Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, filed for Judicial Reviews this summer to challenge the National Energy Board’s narrow interpretation of the law protecting Southern Resident orcas and their critical habitat. That legal action is still before the courts and they are filing a second legal challenge. West Coast Environment Law is continuing its critical analysis of the Trudeau handling—some would call mishandling—of the Trans Mountain environmental impact assessment review.

    With a provincial election in May, the Dogwood Initiative is creating BC’s largest network of organized voters with canvassers getting the word and vote out. The Dogwood’s Charles Campbell notes that “if we end up with a government that supports tankers, we are actively preparing a Citizens’ Initiative to block bitumen transport to the West Coast.”

    Faith groups are also getting involved,  including the United Church of Canada’s national campaign against Kinder Morgan, Christians for Climate Justice, and smaller faith groups like the Vancouver Quakers Standing Against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline.

    Unions, arts groups, universities and their faculty associations have all stepped forward to support resistance to the project. A short investigation into what to expect revealed more oil-oriented theatrical performances, poetry slam readings, art exhibits, and even country songwriters.

    The range of involvement is amazing when you start probing. These are the “blessed unrest,” as Paul Hawken first described the largest unnamed social movement in the world in his 2007 bestseller of that name. Naomi Klein termed the growing resistance of ordinary folks to high-risk fossil fuel extraction “Blockadia.” 

    People can participate in a wide variety of ways, from donating funds, to volunteering, to risking arrest at a blockade. Chief Phillip says, “The point here is that this is a campaign with lots of activities. People have to be ready to drop what they are doing, get on a ferry and go to rallies or hold rallies in solidarity in their own home areas.” The UBCIC will be conducting training sessions where people can come together and then take what they learn back home to share with others.

    Opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the seven-fold increase of oil-carrying Aframax tankers it will result in, Chief Phillip says, must emphasize action: “We don’t have the luxury of time to be sitting around for the next three months.”

    Briony Penn doesn’t live at “tidewater.” She lives in a real place called the Salish Sea. Her most recent book “The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan,” won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.

    Edited by admin

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