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Late this morning a group of protesters halted traffic on Highway Six to call attention to the pending reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline. Choosing the spot where Line 9 passes under the road (around 7th Concession), they unfurled a fake oil, spill and backed up traffic “for miles”. At least six OPP cruisers were reported at the scene, though so far no arrests/tickets have been reported.
The brief blockade, intended to last 90 minutes for the 90+ “significant” spills Enbridge averages each year, came out of a collaborative effort of Hamilton, Guelph, K-W and Six Nations activists. Hwy 6 was chosen as one of the region’s busiest roads as well as for its proximity to the pipeline’s Westover terminal. Along with signs, a fake pipeline and mock oil spill, they brought muffins to pass out to drivers as an apology for the inconvenience. All reports (so far) suggest high spirits, great weather and no real trouble.
Line 9, a 38-year-old oil pipeline runs from Montreal to Windsor, following roughly parallel to highway 401. Envridge is currently seeking permission to reverse the flows as a part of wider plans to find new export routes for Tar Sands oil. In Hamilton it runs through the Beverly Swamp – the region’s largest watershed – before entering the densely populated Greater Toronto Area. Thanks to Harper’s campaign of environmental deregulation it’s overseen only by the National Energy Board. The NEB has now come under fire due to the new, long and convoluted application process for citizens participation, which few managed to finish by the deadline. Even Hamilton’s City Council voiced concerns, though their request for a full environmental assessment has since been rejected by Minister Kent (ironic, eh?).
Today’s action represents the beginning of a third front of direct actions against the Tar Sands and associated pipelines, joining the Unis’tot’en in British Columbia (Gateway) and Tar Sands Blockaders across multiple states (Keystone XL). Unlike those proposals, though, the “eastern route” re-purposes existing pipes, meaning there’s few if any construction sites to block. With only months left before hearings and “integrity digs” finish, time to prevent the pumping of bitumen through our region is rapidly running out, prompting opponents to ‘step up their game’ and start looking for other options. Line 9 crosses hundreds of other major roads along its route, all offering their own opportunities to draw attention and cause disruption. What’s so brilliant about this tactic, of course, isn’t that it creates chaos but that it doesn’t need to create much – every time any one of these crossings sees a blockade, it calls attention to every other one and the risk that soon enough people in real HAZMAT suits might be blocking traffic to clean up a real spill.
Postscript: Since Posting this, I’ve done a lot of driving, including going to Guelph and back along this very stretch of Highway 6. Heading out, I spent forty minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to find a detour after a garbage truck ended up on its side on the 401. Heading back much later I saw nary a car until running into a full-blown roadblock, this time for another truck crash (involving several cars and a fertilizer truck), prompting another adventure down sideroads. For all those angry about blocked roads, I hope this gives a little context regarding how often major traffic disruptions take place.
Within the past week, Canada witnessed an explosion of activism. While things have hardly been quiet for the past year or so, they’re now starting to snowball. Protests are now almost a daily occurrence in many parts of the country, and momentum on many issues is only continuing to grow.
Idle No More
Wednesday, indigenous protesters once again got the country’s attention with a national Day of Action held by Idle No More and others. Numerous roads and rail lines were shut down as a part of the growing protest movement. Actions took place at the Ambassador Bridge (Windsor-Detroit), Sault St. Marie border crossing, Westmoreland Bridge (Fredricton) Trans-Canada highway (Banff), Queen Elizabeth II highway (Calgary), Highway 400 (Barrie), Highway 117 (Quebec), rail blockades by Kingston, Portage la Prarie (by AIM!) and Gitwangak (BC), and rallies downtown in Toronto, Ottawa, Iqaluit and many others.
These actions mark a shift away from less disruptive spectacles like flash mobs and round dances which have characterized most of the Idle No More actions over the past month. They’ve evoked controversy both within and outside the movement. Finance Minister Flahrety, echoed by many editorials, has expressed concerns about possible threats to Canada’s economy. Meanwhile, Sylvia McAdam, one of the founding members of Idle No More, questions the use blockades for portraying “a message of aggressiveness”, which contradicts the movement’s peaceful character. Others, have responded that these actions have been, in fact, completely peaceful and that militancy has often played an incredibly important role in such social movements.
A busy week of demonstrations took place in Vancouver against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. The largest event was a night march with thousands, which even featured a small (~20 people) black bloc, which got a lot of attention despite not smashing or disrupting anything. In contrast, six young demonstrators, clad in colourful tee-shirts from a moderate environmental group, were arrested yesterday after briefly managing to sneak inside and disrupt meetings, yet received surprisingly little criticism for “militance”.
Closer to Home
Locally, around 70 people gathered Wednesday morning in Cayuga to support Theresa Toad Jaimeson, facing a court date relating to one of Gary McHale’s last forays onto the Reclamation Site in Caledonia, where a former development has been occupied since 2006.
In Hamilton itself the same morning, a crowd of around 30 community members held a picket outside Sir John A MacDonald Secondary in support of teachers in their labour dispute with the province. Briefly delaying traffic outside the parking lot, they handed out fliers explaining that “we’re here because teachers can’t be”.
Last night a large crowd descended on City Hall to voice their opposition to a Casino downtown (also, a small handfull of “yes” demonstrators). After rallying in the snow (complete with racehorces!) and hearing speeches, the crowd headed inside for the meeting, where a number of representatives spoke to council. This latest hair-brained “revitalization” scheme has drawn an incredible amount of fire from the downtown community, particularly James North, fearing the social effects of gambling addictions, because of the dismissive attitude toward downtown from proponents and out of fear for the fate of Flamborough Downs and it’s horses (currently OLG’s only permitted slots in the area).
The New Canada
Our country, it seems, has lost some of our innocence. After the G20, after Occupy, and especially after the Quebec Student Strike, we’re no longer quite as shocked by protests. As turnouts grow and issues multiply, so does the number of people involved. Protesting becomes less alien, and more accessible to a wider number of people, who now have a lot less trouble imagine themselves marching with a sign. Protest is once again becoming part of our culture and political process, and it’s about damn time.
In recent years, the decisions made by the Canadian government have become increasingly distant and disturbing. Harper alone has targeted First Peoples, workers, the environment, refugees, prisoners, pilots, railroaders, postal workers, the internet, NGOs, scientists and most recently, Mali. Our international reputation is in shambles. He may even have stolen the election, but nobody seems to want to talk about that. Just like there’s very little mention that Ontario has now been operating without a parliament for three months. Quebec’s government, it now turns out, was corrupt to its core, and even here, Mayors just keep coming up on “conflict of interest” charges. Then there’s the austerity schemes, the development plans and the total disregard for treaty commitments and democracy.
If these problems – the colonialism, the corruption, the grandiose but toxic boondoggle projects – show one thing, it’s that we’ve all been idle for far too long. Without the watchful (and occasionally wrathful) eye of the public, power will inevitably corrupt, and it has. This system cannot function, though, without the daily cooperation of tens of millions of people, something which is no longer guaranteed. The legendary patience and politeness of this land’s inhabitants have worn thin, but not our determination.
This is what democracy looks like.
After a long wait and multiple cancellations, an Enbridge representative finally appeared before city council at the General Issues Committee Wednesday. Speaking on their proposed reversal of the Line 9 pipeline along with opponents, the company attempted to defend and clarify their plans amidst further questions and criticism from councillors and area residents.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of councillors, the committee was unable to meet quorum. This prevented a motion from Councillor McHattie from being introduced which would ask staff to look into emergency plans, NEB hearings and request a full environmental assessment. Presentations were still made, though, from Scott Ironside of Enbridge and opponents such as Matt Nash, Richard Reble, Don McLean and representatives of the traditional Six Nations Confederacy.
Livestream recordings of the GIC meeting – Joey Coleman
Ironside stated that there would be no change in operating pressures (usually required for diluted bitumen) and that emergency procedures had come a long way since the 2010 spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
Of the opponents, the speech by Wes Elliot and Ruby Montour of the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy was particularly stunning. They voiced a very solid opposition to Enbridge’s plans and condemned the company for their lack of consultation. In response, they threatened protests but also voiced a strong desire for peace. Discussing the effects of this pipeline on other reserves, such as those near Sarnia’s refineries, they pledged to act with other indigenous nations to opposed it, and offered to work with Hamilton’s council on this issue and others, such as toxic cleanup around the airport. There is some precedent for this, after agreements made over the Red Hill Expressway, and Councillor Collins made some promising statements supporting a meeting between both councils, which would certainly be a historic occasion.
The Confederacy, for those unfamiliar, represents the traditional governance of the Six Nations, which was (officially) deposed in 1924 after embarrassing Canada at the League of Nations, through an RCMP siege of the Council House in Ohsweken (which still stands and is again used). Like other reserves, they had an “elected” Band Council imposed through the Indian Act, though only about 5% vote. In recent years the Confederacy has been taking an increasingly active role in affairs, particularly in regards to treaty rights and regional development through the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI) and other initiatives.
Since the last time this issue came up at council, a number of questions have been answered, though they don’t exactly inspire confidence. Councillor Ferguson had claimed he had been assured by Enbridge that the pipeline would be used only for “light oil”, and not diluted bitumen from the Tar Sands. The previous week, however, Enbridge had already stated otherwise in a submission to the National Energy Board (NEB). Also, Councillor Pasuta had stated that no residents had contacted him with any complaints about Enbridge. Two residents have since come forward to the Flamborough Review stating that they’d repeatedly tried with no response.
In national news, The Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, British Columbia evicted survey crews discovered on their lands. The Unis’tot’en have been opposing all pipeline development on the land since earlier this year by establishing a blockade camp in the proposed pathway and obstructing work in their territory.
Last weekend activists met in Toronto to discuss province-wide plans to oppose Line 9, with activists from Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto and elsewhere now joining Hamilton and Six Nations in actively resisting these plans. Though the issue still hasn’t reached the profile of the Northern Gateway or Keystone XL pipelines, the Line 9 reversal no longer has any hopes of passing quietly or unopposed.
And don’t forget next Wednesday’s Spirit of Red Hill Lecture with author Andrew Nikiforuk on the subject of Bitumen and Pipelines – November 28th, 7:30 at the First Unitarian Church (170 Dundurn St. S.).
Wednesday morning council received the staff report on Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline reversal, as well as hearing from citizens on the issue. A few dozen protesters rallied first along Main St in front of City Hall, then filed inside the gallery. No conclusions were reached, but a very interesting discussion ensued, with staff sent to research further about the pipeline and possibilities for opposing it.
Though Enbridge decided to cancel at the last minute, eight citizens stepped up to address council, all opposed to the project. John McGreal spoke about the legacy of Binbrook’s oil spill a decade ago, which burst from Line 10. Ken Stone floated legal ideas, such as banning pipelines over 30 years old, the transmission of tar sands oil or requring it to be upgraded and refined in Canada. Janet Chase floated the possibility of requiring a bond from Enbridge, an idea which seemed to gain a lot of traction with councillors. Maggie Hughes (The Other Side on CFMU) showed footage and talked about the legacy of the Kalamazoo dilbit spill. Elysia Petrone (Hamilton 350) spoke about Harper’s budget omnibus bill exempting this project from environmental assessments. Don McLean (CATCH, Hamilton 350) and Lynda Lukasik (Environment Hamilton) spoke about the connections to the Tar Sands and climate change, especially given the enormous cost we’re now suffering from the recent wave of severe storms and flooding. Wes Elliot, Ruby Montour (Six Nations) and Danielle Boisseau were unable to attend.
Reaction from councillors was mixed, but honestly better than I’d expected. Brenda Johnson asked if there were options to challenge the reversal at the Ontario Municipal Board or Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as asking about permits for current digs to check pipeline integrity. Maria Pearson suggested making a statement for the record, even if council’s hands were “tied”. Judi Partridge raised questions about the Emergency Plan and Brian McHattie raised again the issue of environmental assessments. Lloyd Ferguson suggested getting a professional engineer’s opinion, and stated that Enbridge had told him the pipeline’s oil wouldn’t be coming from Alberta. Mayor Bratina’s comments were perhaps most poignant, pointed a finger at Harper then brought the issue back to our own practices and suggesting that if we really wished to stop this kind of oil flow, we should look into an urban boundary freeze and end Aerotropolis plans (both good suggestions, even if they avoid the issue). Staff responded that so far, proposals haven’t mentioned “dilbit” or pressures capable of transporting it, and that there’s few options on the table to obstruct Enbridge, even if council should decide to. At the end, discussions broke for lunch, unresolved, with staff sent to research further.
Given the current climate in Federal politics, it isn’t surprising that municipalities are shut almost entirely out of these matters. Despite all the public and private lands this pipeline crosses in our city, there’s no meaningful consultation council or residents. In these matters, the National Energy Board seemingly holds all the power. This is the legacy of the “streamlined” approval processes Harper is implementing, and we’re now getting to see first-hand what that means for public input in the communities involved. Whoever makes these decisions, we’ll still be the ones to suffer if anything goes wrong.
While I still hold out a little hope for a sympathetic motion from council, it’s fairly clear at this point that municipal politicians are just as out-of-the-loop as the rest of us. Addressing council, though, was still was an important step. Not only did it bring some much-needed attention, but also showed that opponents are willing to engage with “the system” where possile. Most of all, it was an important demonstration of how much authority has been given to Enbridge and the NEB, effectively cutting entire municipalities out of the process. If opposition is going to continue (and it will), it must now look toward the grassroots. Ordinary people are not limited by the rules of intergovernmental hierarchies, and a motion from Council would mean little, anyway, without a much broader show of community support. This pipeline has seen very little public discussion so far, and most people still aren’t aware it cuts through our backyard. The tasks ahead are education, investigation, networking and ever-more demonstrations (like this Sunday’s protest ride) to raise the issue’s profile, both within Hamilton and beyond. Like the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, this route can be stopped, and it will be, if cities like Hamilton decide to stand against it.
For more info, visit Hamiltonline9.wordpress.com
This Wednesday at the General Issues Committee, Councillors will be hearing a staff report about the proposed reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline, which cuts through Flamborough on its path from Montreal to Sarnia. Though publicly confirmed details are hazy and somewhat contradictory at this point, it looks very likely that this is part of plans to connect Alberta’s Tar Sands with the Atlantic, now that eastern and southern pipeline routes are proving too controversial. Enbridge had requested to address council about the matter, but has now cancelled, after twice rescheduling already. Nevertheless, discussions are planned to go ahead, with a number of groups planning to speak to the issue, from environmentalists to a representative from Six Nations, very likely the reason Enbridge now seems so hesitant to appear.
Over the past year or so, the “Keystone XL” pipeline, which had planned to connect Alberta to America’s South has become one of the most difficult issues of Obama’s term. Thousands, many famous, lined up outside the White House (and our Parliament) to be arrested in protest. Then the “Northern Gateway” pipeline became an issue in British Columbia, threatening to cut through the northern part of the province to connect with oil tankers in the coastal islands, banished since the infamous Exxon Valdez spill devestated the region. Given this legacy, there was a furious reaction causing even the Liberal provincial government to (eventually) oppose it, as well as the NDP who seem poised to take power in next spring’s elections. Undeterred, the petrochemical industry is now planning an even longer route toward Eastern Canada and it seems to have considerable political support. Beyond the now obvious support from Harper, even the NDP’s Mulcair has voiced supports this route, a notable change from his opinion regarding the Northern Gateway or “Dutch Disease” (so far David Christopherson doesn’t seem to be returning calls on the matter…)
What will be pumped through this pipeline? That’s not exactly clear. When discussing Mulcair, the press made specific mention of Albertan oil flowing through Line 9. In other discussions, Enbrige has made vague mentions of a “light oil” pipeline from Bakken, ND, which also mentioned Line 9. As much of an issue as the source is, though, there’s also the question of where it’s refined – before or after it reaches us. The Tar Sands are exactly what they sound like, a mixture of “heavy” petrochemicals (“bitumen”/tar) and sand. In order to pump bitumen through a pipeline, it must be mixed with other petrochemicals to dilute it such as naphtha (“zippo fuel”). This produces diluted bitumen, or “dilbit”. When dilbit spills, it produces a nasty mix of air and waterborne toxins making an ordinary (crude) oil spill seem tame in comparison. Residents of Marshall, Michigan learned this when, in 2010, Line 6B burst, dumping around 20 000 barrels of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River, creating an ecological nightmare which may never be completely cleaned up. Effects here depend largely on how much (highly toxic) refining and upgrading take place in Sarnia’s “Chemical Alley”, and how much the pipeline will be used for exports of raw dilbit to be refined elsewhere (like Northern Gateway plans). Regardless, with a capacity of 225 000 barrels/day, chances of a very serious spill exist for thousands of kilometres along the route.
What should Hamiltonians know about this Line 9? It’s now 37 years old and has already been reversed once. Both reversals and (corrosive) dilbit significantly increase chances of a leak or spill. The pipeline passes through the Beverly Swamp, which alone holds three important area watersheds in an area where most depend on wells for drinking water. Line 9 is a part of the same route as Enbridge’s ill-fated Line 6B which spilled in Michigan. And of course, so far most of this has been planned behind closed doors and like thousands of other projects, has been exempted from legally required environmental assessments by Harper’s budget omnibus bill.
Since last spring, this proposal has faced increasing public scrutiny. Last May, protesters burst in on National Energy Board hearings in London, shutting them down for the day. More recently in Hamilton, a packed public forum was held last month at the First Unitarian church. Many plan on heading to demonstrate inside and outside City Hall Wednesday morning to support those speaking against the reversal. Following that, Hamilton 350 is planning a protest ride to the pipeline’s Westover Terminal (6th Concession and Westover Rd.), where they’ll be demonstration on Sunday Oct. 21st. Others, in Toronto and elsewhere are planning their own forums and demonstrations, in what it sure to become a much larger controversy.
It’s still not clear how City Council will react, or what a motion from them could do either way. This pipeline poses a very clear risk of a significant environmental disaster throughout a long corridor of our rural lands. Hamilton is in no position financially to afford such a disaster, nor does our battered environmental image need further tarnishing. We already have one nationally-famous (coal) tar spill at Randle Reef which now seems poised to cost $140 million (public) dollars to clean up (and rising). Though Council cannot directly stop a federal project, they can stand symbolically against it, and with others who do the same. There’s also the taxation option, as pipelines are a specific section in our code. Elsehwhere, cities like Victoria have seen sucessful with a public divestment campaigns, seeing many institutions withdraw their pension and financing holdings of Enbridge stock. Ultimately, though, our fair city can’t do it alone. Pipelines have been halted elsewhere only through vast and often unlikely alliances which span their routes. Line 9 follows a path much like the 401, cutting across the Haldimand Tract before us and GTA afterward. With or without Council, many Hamiltonians will be opposing this pipeline, joined by countless others from cities and towns nearby.
For more information, visit hamiltonline9.wordpress.com
Originally posted earlier tonight on Raise The Hammer