"Pipelines, no! Salmon, yes!"
Last week, hundreds of B.C. residents gathered under the hot sun to say no to Enbridge's proposed pipeline and tankers. On a day better fit for cold drinks and swimming in lakes, people came from across northern B.C. to Terrace on the banks of the Skeena River to deliver a strong message to the energy giant: the answer is still no.
"Enbridge cannot stop the oil from leaking and cannot clean it up once it spills," Art Sterritt from Coastal First Nations told the crowd. "Destroying the ocean we all depend on is not in the national interest. We will lay down our lives to stop this project."
From when it started in January 2010 until end this week in Terrace, the Enbridge Joint Review Panel (JRP)has heard a consistent anti-pipeline message from all over the province.
Concerned citizens, including fishermen and engineers, professors and students, economists and business owners and many others who have never spoke up publicly about something like this before, have said "no" to the Enbridge tar sands pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest. Whether it was elders speaking from experience or youth looking ahead to their future, the reasons have been varied but the message remains the same.
British Columbians have made their voices heard both inside and outside the formal review panel process. Over 95 per cent of the written comments submitted to the JRP oppose the project (9,150 of 9,567 letters submitted). Of the 1,161 people who spoke to the panel in community hearings, 1,159 oppose the pipeline and tankers.
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Along with many First Nations, individuals and community organizations such as Douglas Channel Watch from northern B.C. stepped up to engage in the JRP process as intervenors, a more formalized role that required years of dedicated effort. Much respect and gratitude to all these volunteers who brought so much heart to the review process and put a face to all those who stand to be most impacted.
Over the past week in Terrace, the federally-appointed panel heard from these community groups, along with First Nations, unions, environmental organizations, governments, and industry. Inside a windowless, nondescript hotel room, with no view of the natural beauty surroundign Terrace or the Skeena River nearby, speaker after speaker passionately picked apart Enbridge's arguments, line by line.
The message was still "no."
The passion was mixed with legal jargon, engineering mathematics, and some straight talk. The lawyer representing the Council of Haida Nations did not mince words when she called the Northern Gateway final argument ludicrous, unbelievable, and objectionable.
One of the northerners who has volunteered her time and energy to participate in the review process, Dr. Josette Wier of Smithers, called out Enbridge for saying that the company "suffered" the terrible spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, when in fact they caused it. Take some responsibility, she encouraged them.
In a slick presentation the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers attempted to make the case that what's good for the oil industry is good for Canada. "As if," retorted Dr. Wier later on that day, "as if that's all we have in Canada, the big hole of the tar sands?!"
Outside of the JRP process, First Nations and concerned citizens have also been making their voices heard. Since 2010, 31 municipal governments, two regional districts, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, 160 First Nations, and six unions have openly expressed opposition to Northern Gateway.
Over 210,000 petitions have been signed.
Thousands of people have attended rallies and community events, everywhere from Haida Gwaii to Toronto. Books have been written, films made, expeditions mounted, art created, and photos taken, all in the name of stopping Enbridge and protecting the Great Bear Rainforest from oil tankers.
Speakers at the rally in Terrace last week included First Nations from across northern B.C., as well as provincial and federal politicians from ridings along the proposed pipeline and tanker route. Robin Austin, the MLA for Skeena, ground zero for the pipeline, said: "We do not want diluted bitumen crossing northern B.C., not to ship it on tankers and not to any refinery."
The message was still "no."
Geraldine Thomas-Flurer from the Yinka Dene Alliance reminded the crowd that 160 First Nations have signed Save the Fraser Declaration, banning tar sands crude from their lands and waters. "We are the wall that is going to stop Enbridge," she said.
Skeena-Bulkley MP Nathan Cullen also spoke to the crowd. "Raising our voice in a free and fair democracy does not make us radical," Cullen said. "We say no, we will continue to say no, until we are listened to and respected."
Perhaps the police didn't get the memo about how speaking up for salmon and coastal jobs and a livable climate does not make one a radical, because the next day a heavy police presence showed up both inside the JRP hearings and at the rally outside.
The message was still "no."
Being in Terrace last week was to witness strength in solidarity, both inside and outside the hearings. First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities standing united to oppose Enbridge Northern Gateway - together on the streets, in song, and in the formal JRP proceedings.
By saying "no" to tar sands pipelines and tankers we can say "yes" to a future with salmon, clean rivers, and jobs that don't damage the ecosystems we all depend on.