"You have been locked out," read notices posted on targeted establishments' doors across southern Ontario Monday morning. The notices signaled a coordinated direct action against Enbridge Inc. and its affiliates. "This workplace has been closed because it supports and serves Enbridge Pipelines, aiding in the expansion of the Tar Sands."
A press release put out through the Toronto Media Co-op Monday claimed that "more than a dozen affiliates of Enbridge and the Tar Sands have been locked out of their workplaces throughout Ontario. Individuals in 9 cities have participated." The release notes that "banks, political offices, and other institutions associated with Enbridge" were locked shut with chains, bike locks, and other unspecified means.
"We all have a role to play in safeguarding our water and air, and the living things which depend upon it," the activists' notice said. "Good people cannot simply watch as the government and big business dismantle protections and poison our communities for profit, so today we call attention to businesses like yours."
The group did not name each of its targets, but included photos of actions in Hamilton, Guelph, London, and Toronto. These cities are connected by Enbridge's Line 9, a nearly four-decade-old pipeline with a risk of rupture higher than 90 percent. Despite this risk, Line 9 has been approved to transport 47.7 million litres of both diluted bitumen and Alberta crude, which is "more volatile and flammable" than crude from other areas, each day through the most populous region of Canada.
"Enbridge is the largest pipeline company in Canada, averaging more than 80 major oil spills every year," the activists' notice said. This is true between 2009 and 2013, when Enbridge reported an average of 83 incidents and 1.88 million litres of spilled hydrocarbons annually. Over the last 15 years, according to Corporate Social Responsibility reports, Enbridge averaged 65.4 incidents per year and spilled a total of 28.14 million litres of hydrocarbons.
While the press release said "more than a dozen affiliates of Enbridge and the Tar Sands" were targeted, it only named two: the Royal Bank of Canada and Ron Lee Construction. RBC is Enbridge's principal shareholder. Ron Lee does pipeline maintenance, though it would neither confirm nor deny working with Enbridge.
Ron Lee Construction declined to make a specific statement on the incident, noting that the activists' actions "are subject to an ongoing police investigation." RBC confirmed that "three of our branches did incur minor damage to the exterior as the result of vandalism," but did not respond to other questions about its investment policy and previous activist campaigns that targeted the bank.
RBC is the single largest financier of tar sands operations, as well as the largest shareholder of Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, TransCanada, and Enbridge. In 2010, the bank responded to widespread protests with a statement that it would adopt new investment criteria related to environmental responsibility and respect for aboriginal rights. While the statement was heralded as a victory by some environmentalists, the bank did not actually alter its investment portfolio.
As tar sands researcher McDonald Stainsby writes, RBC also acquired the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago in 2008, ostensibly to spread tar sands extraction throughout the world and develop new mines in Trinidad and Tobago.
Other Canadian banks—TD, BMO, CIBC, and Scotiabank—have major investments in Alberta's industry as well, and match them with corresponding "green" campaigns. TD bank—the fourth-largest financier of Alberta's tar sands—aspires to be "as green as our logo" by reducing internal energy and paper usage and planting trees in urban settings. RBC has devoted $50 million to a water-stewardship program "to help provide access to drinkable, swimmable, fishable water, now and for future generations." However, it has spent that money while simultaneously investing far more in an industry that polluted, according to the industry itself (via lobby group Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers), more than half a billion litres of fresh water every day of 2012.
"Today we call attention to businesses like yours," the activists' bulletin read. "Companies that enable Enbridge to continue destroying for profit: their financiers and contractors; their facilitators and publicists. Those who manage security and their planning, approve their permits and projects—and other players who passively take part in ecocide while operating business as usual.
"Eventually you will get through this door. But if you continue, so will we.
"We fight for the natural land and clean water. We fight for community and culture. We are fighting for our lives and for all lives. Will you?"
Environmentalists point out that Enbridge's Line 9 crosses every tributary of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in the 830 km between Sarnia and Montreal, where a spill would contaminate the drinking water of millions of people. According to Enbridge's own engineering assessment, the line contains thousands of known defects, and CTV's W5 determined it has already leaked at least 35 times and spilled more than 3 million litres of crude.
The line has also been compared in age, capacity, and condition to the corroded Enbridge Line 6B pipeline that ruptured in 2010, spilling more than 3 million litres of diluted bitumen into Kalamazoo River and exposing residents to carcinogenic benzene gas. The Kalamazoo River spill, which is still not fully cleaned up, occurred because Enbridge ignored a known defect in the line. As the activists' notice recalls, "Enbridge was found to be negligently responsible for the largest on-land oil spill in North America's history."
The activists' news release also takes aim at Canada's federal regulator—the National Energy Board—for approving the Line 9 expansion in March. The NEB recently gained praise from some mainstream media when they condemned Enbridge for failing to install 98 of 104 required emergency shut-off valves at major water crossings along Line 9. However, the release cautions that "anti-Line 9 activists are adamant that the public cannot rely on the NEB to be an effective watchdog since environmental protection is not in their mandate."
The release notes that the NEB permitted Enbridge to cancel 162 planned inspections and repairs on Line 9 with limited scrutiny, and that the board is facing a lawsuit from the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation—among others—for failing to consult with indigenous stakeholders as is required by Canadian and international law. The regulator was also condemned for "celebrating the public's inability to ask questions as a success" in recently exposed internal emails.
These criticisms mirror recent statements by Marc Eliesen, a former Suncor board member with four decades of energy sector experience. Eliesen condemned the NEB as an "industry captured regulator" and called the board's hearings on another tar sands pipeline "a farce."
In a letter published by the Vancouver Observer, Elieson argued that the NEB "is engaged in a public deception," has a strong "bias" towards approving projects, and determined that "continued involvement with this process is a waste of time and effort, and represents a disservice to the public interest because it endorses a fraudulent process."
Elieson noted that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion hearings were plagued by "an undemocratic restriction of participation by citizens, communities, professionals, and First Nations," and a lack of accountability regarding information provided by companies. He wrote that of the 2,000 questions asked by participants in the hearings "only 5 percent were allowed by the Board and 95 percent were rejected."
Even before Monday's actions, Line 9 had been repeatedly targeted by activists in Ontario and Quebec.
The NEB's regulatory hearings over Line 9 erupted in protest, and thousands have attended rallies in opposition to the project. In 2013, activists locked themselves to equipment at Enbridge worksites in Hamilton and Toronto, and in the summer of 2014 six separate occupations took place. Cumulatively, these occupations stopped work for nineteen days. Most recently, a small group of Montreal activists locked themselves to the Suncor refinery in Montreal-Est, the end destination of the Enbridge line.
In addition to causing delays, action of this type has been effective in reducing the economic viability of certain projects. A recent report found that direct action and activism against the Keystone XL pipeline contributed to the cancellation of three tar sands mines and upgraders in Alberta and more than $17 billion in lost revenues between 2010 and 2013.
Accordingly, as the anti-pipeline movement gains momentum—flaring up, for instance, in Burnaby, BC where more than 100 citizens were arrested stalling Kinder Morgan work crews—the Canadian government is considering sweeping new powers to impede these tactics. Introduced by a Vancouver MP, Bill C-639 seeks to impose mandatory minimum sentences of two or ten years in prison for anyone who "obstructs, interrupts or interferes" with "critical infrastructure"—roads, pipelines, rail lines, and etc.
Similarly, the RCMP began preparing in 2011 for a spike in direct action and the possibility that environmentalists might use blockades, occupations, and strategic acts of sabotage—called "monkey wrenching"—to impede the expansion of Alberta's tar sands.
A report obtained through access to information by Carlton University professor Jeff Monaghan and authored by the RCMP's Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team notes that "environmental ideologically motivated individuals, including some who are aligned with a radical, criminal, extremist ideology, pose a clear and present criminal threat to Canada's energy sector." The report advised corporations to work with authorities to conduct threat assessments of their operations.
Follow-up has entailed increased spying on environmental and indigenous activists and groups, holding regular meetings with industry, and granting security clearance to select energy sector corporations.
Ironically, the RCMP report also notes that "monkey wrenching has proven to be an effective means of protest and activism, not only shedding light on various political issues, but also providing a very active means of resistance through a list of tactics," and suggests that industrial sabotage in the 1970s "may have assisted [in] moving environmentalism from irrelevant to the stature it commands today."
Monday's coordinated action signals an escalation of tactics deployed against Enbridge's Line 9 project, mirroring recent escalations elsewhere in Canada. In August, an anonymous group using the hashtag #evictchevron used bicycle locks to disable 80 pumps at Chevron gas stations in Vancouver, warning the company to abandon their stake in the "doomed" Pacific Trail Pipeline project through Unist'ot'en territories.
"This is just a start," #evictchevron warns in a YouTube communiqué. "Any attempts to force this project through without consent will be met with the force of our collective courage… if a few small groups of friends can lock down this many gas stations imagine what hundreds or even thousands of us could do?"
Thus far, Enbridge has not released a statement about this wave of direct actions. VICE has reached out for comment to see if they will be addressing the issue. In addition, the Conservative Party of Canada did not respond to questions from VICE about whether their offices were included in this action before press time.
Follow Michael on Twitter.