Protesters at Enbridge's North Westover pump station in rural Hamilton are planning to stay “as long as they can” to protest a controversial flow reversal of a pipeline running through southwestern Ontario.
Four protesters have formed a blockade at the entry gate to the station. Enbridge obtained a court injunction around 8:15 a.m. for the protesters to leave. But four have remained and formed a blockade, said David Prychitka of Hamilton, a spokesperson for the protesters.
“Three of them have encased themselves in a makeshift structure that is heavily chained to the facility fence,” Prychitka said during a noon hour press conference at the site. “These individuals will stay in place as long as they can with the intention of stopping further construction on the Line 9 pipeline.”
Prychitka read a statement from Trish Mills, one of the protesters in the barricade.
“This is not Enbridge's land to order us off of. It is stolen,” said Mills's statement, referencing the camp's First Nations partners. “Even if it wasn't, this company and this industry exploit and destroy land. It is our responsibility to stop this exploitation.”
Link to the oil sands
The pipeline from Sarnia to Montreal is divided into two sections — Line 9A and Line 9B. The National Energy Board has already approved the flow reversal of Line 9A, which runs from Montreal to Westover. It will hold public hearings on the second leg of the project this fall.
Line 9 crosses several major rivers that drain into Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as well as Spencer Creek, Hamilton's largest watershed. Opponents say the pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands, which is heavier and puts the line at greater risk of a rupture.
Tuesday was the fifth day of the occupation. Enbridge respects their right to peacefully protest, said Graham White, a spokesperson for the company.
“We know we're targets,” White said at the Westover station across the street. “We're identified strategic targets for the energy industry in general. We certainly recognize the right of groups to express their views in a legal peaceful manner.”
But occupying the station, he said, is not legal.
With the pipeline, Enbridge provides "an essential service that people rely on every day for the most basic needs of their lives," he said.
Protesters 'very co-operative'
After the injunction was issued, the protesters were “very co-operative,” White said. As of around 11 a.m. Tuesday, White said, they were “just packing up the site.”
But Prychitka and Elysia Petrone of Hamilton say that's not the case. The protesters, who use the name Swamp Line 9, aim to stop any more work on the line, he said.
“This Line 9 expansion will not happen,” Prychitka said. “No matter what transpires here over the next hours, this fight will continue. You are going to be swamped with resistance every step of the way. This fight is just beginning.”
Hamilton Police Service were on site Tuesday. From what they understand, protesters are complying with the injunction, said Const. Debbie McGreal. She knew of no plans for police to crack down on the protest.
“We'll monitor the situation,” she said. “Obviously we respect the right for a peaceful protest, which has been going on. Our job is to protect the public, including those participating in the process.”
Protest 'upset our peaceful neighbourhood'
Donna Vanderhout, a 25-year resident of the hamlet of Westover, wasn't happy about the protest. Her daughter Courtney made a sign on the front lawn reading “Westover supports Enbridge,” and neighbours have asked her for two more.
Enbridge has been a good neighbour, said Vanderhout, whose daughter lives next to the North Westover station. She trusts their safety precautions.
She fears the protest will blow up similar to the Caledonia land claim protest of 2006.
“We feel that they've kind of upset our peaceful neighbourhood, which we're not liking,” Vanderhout said. “They've intruded on us, really.”
The protest is part of “Sovereignty Summer,” a series of protest actions promoting Indigenous rights and environmental protection led by Idle No More and Defenders of the Land.