We visited the protesters behind a six-day blockade of an Enbridge construction that ended with heavy machinery and six arrests.
Standing atop of the massive hill of dirt, looking at what is suspected to be a chickpea field. All images via the author.
The six-day blockade of an Enbridge construction site ended yesterday with heavy machinery and six arrests in total. Though what was intended to be an indefinite action ended early due to police intervention, Ontario activists organizing against Line 9 are not deterred—in fact, there’s already a new action happening now in North York.
The blockade, known as Dam Line 9, began last Tuesday when activists walked into the site and set up a camp to indefinitely block work that was supposed to occur on part of Line 9, Enbridge’s pipeline project that will see the direction of the line’s flow reversed so it can transport diluted bitumen from the tar sands east. The action cost Enbridge four days of work.
Enbridge ignored a request from VICE to comment on this story.
The blockade was ended by force Sunday when police began to enforce an injunction Enbridge obtained Friday afternoon. When police moved in, Dam Line 9 negotiated time to move their supplies off site and for most people to leave without arrest.
Two activists locked themselves to metal barrels filled with concrete, refusing to leave the site and three others stayed on-site to provide support. All five were arrested. The two locked to barrels were held with access only to water for more than four hours until an intervention team and EMS team arrived to extract them using hammer drills late Sunday night.
Before police broke the blockade, the site, located almost two hours southwest of Toronto, was home to about 30 activists, three chickens, and several dogs. When I was there over the weekend, it boasted a garden, a zine library, and an impressive makeshift outhouse.
It was being watched by two Enbridge security guards posted at the site around the clock and plainclothes officers from the Provincial Liaison Team, a branch designated to deal with protesters in a politically charged situation. (PLT officers, who the county police told me are on site 24/7, were nowhere to be seen for the 24 hours I was there.)
Lana G was one of the first people I met. She gave me a tour.
A game of volleyball while waiting for dinner on a Friday night.
The entrance was a circle of camp chairs and board games. There was a volleyball court made of two metal rods and construction fencing. A kitchen with two propane stoves and piles of donated food. Lumber was stacked to make the dinner table. A portable, which the group had chosen not to use, propped up the media tent. The site had a secure internet connection thanks to a solar powered battery and a WiFi hotspot router.
A massive hill of dirt provided a scenic lookout to the active farmland that surrounds the site—and provided a secluded area where a makeshift outhouse has been set up. (There’s a porta potty on site but the group didn’t want to overwhelm it.) Welcome to Dam Line 9’s home for the last six days.
Activists chilling out on the sandbag couch debating how to stage a Euchre tournament.
Lana and I took a seat on “the couch” to talk. She was the designated media spokesperson for the day.
“This was a coalition endeavour so there are groups from Toronto, from Guelph, from Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton—it was a joint effort between groups and individuals. Rising Tide Toronto was one of the groups that was involved,” she explained.
One Rising Tide member who refused to be identified explained how the Toronto local interacts with other locals in the international network of Rising Tide, which connects individuals and organizations who are taking part in local direct action against climate change.
“Each group is very autonomous so we operate autonomously and we've been very active around Line 9, including a lockdown at a site in Toronto last [winter] and we did another action just recently in Etobicoke—a one-day blockade, a work-stoppage at an integrity dig.”
According to the member, Rising Tide Toronto frequently supports other groups by holding solidarity actions or taking part in coalition actions, such as the Dam Line 9 action.
“There's no formal lines of communication but there's informal communication with members. Some members of our groups, and some members of other groups… often Rising Tide North America will pick up actions that we're doing.“
People I met at Dam Line 9 came from various southern Ontario communities as far as Toronto and London, to close by from Six Nations, and minutes away in Innerkip. Some stay for a couple hours, a night, or several days.
The Dam Line 9 action was formulated to block construction on Line 9 and to raise awareness in the process about the Line 9 project and its relation to the tar sands.
Mark the Cook, disposing of rank coffee.
Line 9 is a 38-year-old pipeline that runs between Sarnia and Montreal. Since 1988, it’s been carrying foreign crude oil from Montreal westward. Line 9 travels within close range of millions of people over the course of its 639-kilometre route. Enbridge has an operating record of 73 spills per year and a pipeline expert has assessed the rupture rate of Line 9 to be 90 percent.
In March 2014 Enbridge obtained approval from the National Energy Board to reverse the flow so the pipeline can carry diluted bitumen—dilbit—jfrom Alberta’s tar sands eastbound to Montreal for refining starting early 2015. (Though the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation are appealing the NEB’s approval.)
Currently Enbridge is doing a series of “integrity digs” to ensure the safety of the pipeline. As VICE has previously reported, the digs will only be done in sections where cracks measure at least 50 percent of the pipe, standards set by Enbridge’s engineering assessment.
“There has been a lot of resistance to pipelines in different regions; people are resisting Northern Gateway which would transport tar sands west, people in the US are resisting the Keystone XL project which would transport tar sands south and here we are trying to do our part to resist Line 9 which would transport tar sands east,” said Lana.
Speaking to me on Friday afternoon, just days before the raid, Lana explained how committed some were to maintaining Dam Line 9: “One person quit their job to be here and be able to be here full-time… There has been a steady stream of people coming in so I think we're confident that we can maintain that.”
Despite the action’s end, Dam Line 9 is calling for supporters to continue resisting the Line 9 project, albeit on different work sites. Enbridge’s injunction lasts until this Friday at which time activists could argue in front of a judge to have the injunction lifted.
Media spokesperson Dan Kellar said that Dam Line 9 would be looking into it but it’s unlikely the group will have the funds to see the case through, unless a larger organization comes on board. Dam Line 9 started a crowdfunding campaign on Saturday, but most of the funds will go towards legal support for the six people arrested during the Dam Line 9 action.
“While we may have lost the ability to take action on this particular site right now there are many other work sites, especially considering the line is in such bad condition,” he said. “Today in Toronto another work site was blockaded and that’s ongoing right now.”
Early Monday morning a group of activists identifying themselves to NOW Magazine as the Citizens' Response Unit for Decontaminating our Environment started a blockade of an Enbridge work site in North York.
When asked whether CRUDE is affiliated with Dam Line 9 and Riding Tide Toronto, Kellar said no. “These are just groups of people getting together under no other group affiliation other than the feeling of environmental responsibility to protect the land and water.”
“We call out for solidarity actions and blockades pop up at different sites so I would hope that this is only going to continue.”
Dam Line 9 was the fourth action this summer on an Enbridge work site. CRUDE’s protest today marks the fifth.
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