On Saturday May 10, several thousand protesters gathered at the No Enbridge Rally at Sunset Beach in Vancouver. They were protesting the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal to transport bitumen (heavy crude oil) from the Alberta tar sands in northeastern Alberta through sensitive ecological areas to Kitimat, BC. where it will be shipped by oil tankers to Asia. The federal Government is moving forward to approval next month in June 2014. Protesters were also outspoken about the planned expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline which would almost triple capacity from the tar sands to Port Metro Vancouver. From there oil tankers move along the West Coast mainly to US destinations. There is great concern about oil leaks from pipes and tankers with both projects.
The speakers were all eloquent and did not mince their words. At the forefront were many First Nations leaders. Among them was Amy George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation (North Vancouver). She spoke of the role of her people as changing from stewards of the environment to protectors. She spoke of the cancers spreading among the fish and wildlife First Nations people depend on, threatening their traditional way of life. This is happening especially in the region of the Athabasca River near the Alberta tar sands where leaks from tailing ponds are contaminating the river with arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel. People living in contaminated areas are being affected by rare forms of cancer and respiratory ailments. She has also pledged to protect the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound) from potential oil spills. She stated that what‘s at risk is the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat, not just for us but for our children, grand children and all future generations. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation has launched a legal challenge of what they consider the National Energy Board’s (unfair) review of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project.
Lynne Quarmby, microbiologist and concerned scientist is part of a group of eight scientists, civil liberty advocates and environmentalists who have also launched a constitutional challenge of Canada’s National Energy Board’s rules on public participation in oil and gas hearings, especially concerning the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. The group feels the rules suppress public debate, infringing freedom of speech. At the rally, she vehemently spoke of the Harper led Conservative government’s muzzling of government scientists speaking out against the environmental damage caused by the tar sands and also the government’s discouragement of any scientific research on the issue.
There were many other passionate speakers including Kate Hodgson, representing Kids for Climate Action. Politicians were represented by BC MLA Spencer Herbert, Members of Parliament Libby Davies and Joyce Murray, Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer. The protest was organized by ForestEthics, leadnow and Wilderness Committee. It was hosted by Ben West of ForestEthics and Nimmi Takkar from Vancouver Community College, former BC chairperson of Canadian Federation of Students.
It’s well known that the tar sands not only contribute significantly to greenhouse gases and climate change but use incredible amounts of water and natural gas to extract the bitumen. Vast areas of Canada’s boreal forest, considered to be the largest intact forest on earth, a source of clean water for millions of Canadians, habitat for wolverine, caribou and over a billion birds that sustain First Nations communities, are being clear cut to develop the tar sands.
Supporters downplay environmental effects and highlight the economic benefits. There are certainly economic benefits for Alberta and for the many foreign companies who own large tracts of the tar sands: the United States, Abu Dabai, South Korea, Norway, France, Germany, the UK and China. And some tar sands workers are making high wages, but they are also subject to the health hazards mentioned earlier, and there are an abundance of social issues like alcoholism and drug use. According to Greenpeace, in towns near the tar sands, like Fort McMurray, suicide rates for men between the ages of 18-24 are the highest in the country. More than 58,000 temporary foreign workers have poured into Alberta to work the sands and many have been negatively exploited. 56% of Albertans do not feel they are receiving a fair share of the wealth. Because of burgeoning rents and home prices, homelessness has greatly increased in Alberta.
The issues revolve around profits versus the environment, physical and social. Clearly, this is not a new issue. It’s just that many people like our First Nation protectors feel this time it’s the end game and our very existence is at issue. So many unmuzzled scientists have warned we have to switch to sustainable energy resources now. Is anyone listening? Behind the people in the photo we can see an abundance of bikes as many protestors declined to use cars. According to Ben West of ForestEthics Advocacy, 20,000 people have pledged to non-violent direct action. And many First Nations leaders have flatly stated the pipelines will not pass through their territories.
If you wish to join in the pledge, visit www.holdthewall.ca