Vancouver's anti-Enbridge protesters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. All photos via Tomas Borsa and JP Marquis.
This past Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of watching Ezra Levant being told to fuck off, oblige, and nervously waddle down Vancouver’s Sunset Beach—away from an increasingly agitated protest against the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Ezra decided to show up and stir the pot at the last big ‘No Enbridge’ rally to be held before the federal government makes its decision on the controversial pipeline sometime in mid-June. Everyone fully expects Harper’s decision to be “go for it,” and this protest—which had sister rallies across the country—was seen among many as the last legal show of force to be made, before shovels break ground, and Enbridge gets cracking on its $7 billion dollar west-coast bitumen funnel.
My friends Tomas Borsa and JP Marquis (who took these photos) are working on a documentary about the Northern Gateway pipeline, and have been coming to these rallies for a couple of years now. They say they've seen the tone of the rallies changing and an attitude shift among activists that the legal and peaceful protest route is running its course. Some believe there won’t be effect without real action.
Case in point: if the citizens of Kitimat, a community that stands to arguably benefit the most from Northern Gateway, can overwhelmingly vote in opposition to the pipeline—and yet it still gets built—there’s no clearer indication that Northern Gateway is skirting the democratic process. Some argue that the only options left for dissenters of the pipeline is a shift from prevention to pre-emption, and the possibility of civil disobedience and violence.
Although Saturday’s rally was peaceful and family friendly, Tomas had heard rumblings that black bloc tactics and anarchist groups might be mobilizing to contribute to the protests. Although we approached a couple dudes decked out fully in black, we couldn’t verify any black bloc types were in attendance and started catching weird looks for our anarchist profiling.
To get some perspective on the more militant angle, we figured the best people to talk to on that front would be people from the
Unist’ot’en encampment, “a resistance community whose purpose is to protect sovereign Wet'suwet'en territory from several proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and shale gas from Hydraulic Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region;” a community that Michael Toldedano has already expertly covered for VICE Canada here.
Ezra Levant, protest troll.
While Unist’ot’en supporters were in attendance, no one from the actual camp was there, or they at least weren’t letting their presence be known. Sources who we spoke with close to Unist’ote’n, however, informed us they’d been down just days before and had driven back up with new lumber and resources to what Unist’ot’en sees as the frontlines, and, as one person put it to me, is the “end game” of what all this protesting boils down to.
Rising Tide has been offering training workshops—like how to chain yourself to heavy machinery—to prepare people for a more disruptive protest. I had a conversation with ‘Matthew Gibbons,’ who was adamant that real organization and collaboration between First Nations, environmental groups, and everyday concerned citizens was essential to make something happen.
“I think it means having thousands of people who are prepared to be arrested by shutting down highways, bridges, infrastructures, where it’s built, locking onto machines, investigating these companies, figuring out all the different links to this chain and taking action against the companies is where we go.” When it came to how to coordinate all of this, his plan started to sound a bit more convoluted. But the spirit is there.
Thankfully, Saturday’s rally remained peaceful, and a few pro-oil dudes did a good job of keeping their cool by answering questions while being terribly berated. That said, however, tension rose steadily throughout the day as Mr. Levant made his rounds. By about 5PM, things were heated. The crowd grew larger, closer to Ezra, and more intense. Somewhere throughout the course of his final confrontational conversation, Ezra had to stand on a driftwood log to avoid backing into activists. When he was loudly challenged for being biased, and called out on his book Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands, he finally quit it and wrapped up his routine by blowing an instigative kiss to the crowd, pirouetted off of his log, and, as mentioned earlier, waddled away with his cameraman in tow. @ddner