Three people are facing charges after they locked themselves to a Canadian pipeline that's at the center of a court battle. It's the second time this month that protesters have shut down Enbridge's Line 9, and Aboriginal communities opposing the controversial pipeline are warning that more protests like this one are on the horizon.
As the day broke around 7:30 am Monday, a small group of protesters who oppose Line 9 broke into a fenced-off area near Sarnia, Ontario, and turned a wheel to shut down a section of the pipeline. Then, according to one of the demonstrators, they called Enbridge to report they had turned off the valve.
Just after 8 am police arrived on the scene and found that three women had locked themselves to the pipeline valve using bicycle U-locks.
The three demonstrators, aged 23 to 29, were arrested and now face charges of resisting arrest, mischief over $5,000, and mischief endangering life, according to Sarnia Police.
For 40 years, Line 9 carried crude oil from east to west, but this year the National Energy Board (NEB) gave Enbridge the green light to reverse the pipeline's flow. Enbridge can now pump Alberta oil sands petroleum products east, including bitumen, which is heavier than crude oil and harder to clean up when it spills.
Bitumen is one of the reasons a group of First Nations opposed the pipeline reversal project. In June, Chippewa of the Thames First Nation appealed the NEB decision, but their case failed.
About three weeks ago, Enbridge began pumping Alberta oil through the pipeline. Chippewa of the Thames are now seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to stop the flow.
But protesters aren't waiting for a court decision.
On Monday morning, Lindsay Gray was at the scene of the valve shut down supporting her sister, Vanessa, who was U-locked at her neck to the pipeline valve. The two sisters are members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, which opposed the Line 9 conversion project.
Gray told VICE News the protest was inspired by two videos recorded earlier this month that showed activist Jean Leger shutting down another section of the Line 9 pipeline.
"I'm at station 192 and I'm about to close this, shut down this valve," Leger says over the phone, apparently to Enbridge.
Leger told VICE News he was trying to stop the flow of oil from the Alberta tar sands, and making the point that Enbridge can't respond fast enough if someone tampers with the pipeline equipment. Leger said it took an hour and a half for Enbridge to respond after he called.
"That's a scary thought, that this pipeline already puts us at risk every second it's on, let alone that anyone can just go in and play with the valve," Gray said. "So by seeing that successfully done, we were able to know how to do that and go in and shut it off."
"It really was that easy," she added.
Enbridge notified the NEB of both the situation Monday and the previous valve shut down by Montreal activists earlier this month, NEB spokesperson Katherine Murphy said.
Murphy said there were no adverse effects to the public or the environment as a result of the protesters' actions, but that "the protesters' attempts to manually close a pipeline valve put their personal safety, the safety of company employees as well as the safety of the public and the environment at risk."
"This was always a risk to begin with, not because we all of a sudden jumped in there and turned it off that all of a sudden this pipeline is endangering us — it's endangering you right now," Gray said, responding to the safety concerns.
She pointed to another Enbridge pipeline, Line 6B, that burst in 2010 in Michigan, contaminating the Kalamazoo River and 60 kilometers of wetlands with three million liters of oil. It was one of the largest inland oil spills in American history.
"I don't get why people don't understand that," she continued. "It's been a risk to you ever since it started. The tar sands are a risk to you, the whole system of it being here is a risk to you, why doesn't that matter?"
Enbridge did not respond to a request for comment. In a September 30 news release, the company said, "We are please the National Energy Board confirmed that our three hydrostatic tests met their criteria and were successful. We are confident these tests have helped provide reassurance and technical evidence to the public on the safe operating condition of Line 9. The safe operation of the pipeline is our top priority. Once Line 9 is returned to service, our goal is to operate it safely like we have done for close to 40 years."
Following the two valve shutdowns on Line 9, and similar vows of direct action from protesters at the Paris climate talks earlier this month, a Chippewa of the Thames band councillor said we can expect to see more protests like this one in the future.
"More and more people are getting to know about what's happening," Myeengun Henry said. "We'll probably see more of these happening in the next little while. It's really come to that stage where Enbridge doesn't care that there's litigation going on. They seem to think they can do this without consent of First Nations, and I think this is the result of that."
Henry didn't advocate for protesters to shut down the pipeline, but said he could see where they're coming from.
His First Nation has sought leave to appeal to the country's highest court, arguing the Crown neglected to consult with them directly and instead allowed the NEB to approve Enbridge's Line 9 project.
"This ruling that we anticipate through the Supreme Court of Canada we think will verify that Canada has neglected to consult with First Nations in the first place, and that can't lead to a third party making decisions such as the National Energy Board. So it has a huge impact on pipelines across the nation everywhere."
Henry said he expects prime minister Justin Trudeau to follow Canada's constitutional mandate to consult directly with First Nations.
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont