Activists Shut Down a Line 9 Construction Site in Toronto
Tensions are running high around Enbridge's Line 9 reversal plan, and it appears as if they've started construction before government approval has been issued.
At about 5 AM yesterday, a group of activists associated with Rising Tide along with Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines snuck onto a construction site near Toronto’s picturesque Don River, where a section of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline is being replaced. Erecting a blockade of barrels and wooden skids, with some activists locking their bodies to Enbridge’s equipment, the group succeeded in shutting down construction for the day. While Enbridge sent its forty workers home early, activists remained on the site for twelve hours, in some cases locked to barrels, bulldozers and trucks. Those risking arrest represented an eclectic mixture of people: a seasoned activist, a student, a young mother, and two Anglican priests.
The activists argued that the pipeline is altogether illegal because First Nations along its route have not been meaningfully consulted by either Enbridge or the Canadian government, meaning that the pipeline is in violation of section 35 of the Canadian constitution. Amanda Lickers, a Haudenosaunee woman who participated in the National Energy Board hearings for Line 9 and acted as spokesperson for the protesters, explained that “all of the band councils that intervened in the NEB process clearly stated that they have not been consulted. Enbridge is trying to say that by their standards, by making a couple of phone calls and having some info sessions, that they’re consulting with First Nations. This is not the reality. What is the reality is that of the seventeen First Nations communities across the line, most of them haven’t even heard about it. I personally did outreach to each one of those communities and contacted their band offices, and in some communities my phone call was the first time that they had even heard about the reversal project.” Lickers also added that, while modern band councils are a colonial invention, a product of the Indian Act, the traditional systems of governance for the Haudenosaunee communities along the line are actually still intact—but similarly, “they have not been consulted.”
The protesters accused Enbridge of beginning construction for the Line 9 reversal project before the project has even been approved by the National Energy Board. Meghan, a protester locked into a barrel at the entrance of the work site, said “I believe this is what it takes to stop these pipelines from happening. We went through the NEB process, Rising Tide did, and regardless of this process Enbridge has gone ahead and has started construction on the proposal which has not yet been approved.” Andrea Budgey, an Anglican priest who had her head secured to a bulldozer with a bicycle lock, similarly told me beginning construction was “a demonstration of bad faith, I think, on the company’s part.”
When an Enbridge spokesperson, Michelle Wasylyshen, arrived on the scene, she repeatedly denied that the ongoing construction has anything to do with Line 9 or the Line 9 reversal project. “The work that’s going now is separate from the Line 9 work. Its preventative maintenance work,” she said. So I asked what pipeline was being worked on and she openly contradicted herself: “This is our Line 9 pipeline.”
Wasylyshen said that the ongoing construction “is separate from the reversal, it doesn’t have anything to do with the reversal.” But when I asked her whether or not this maintenance work is necessary for the reversal to take place, she declined to comment. When I asked why Enbridge is repairing Line 9 before the reversal is approved, having said publicly that they will put the pipeline out of service if the NEB doesn’t allow the reversal, she declined once again to comment.
Throughout the day, as a number of residents stopped by to talk to the protesters about what they were doing, it became clear that many people living close to Line 9 were hearing about the pipeline for the first time. Pawel Thommee, whose house is “about five hundred metres” from the pipeline, told me that he thought the construction was for a water main until he encountered the barricade. “The community was not informed about any kind of danger, and I’ve just learned fifteen minutes ago about it… We didn’t get letters, we didn’t get leaflets, we didn’t get anything. What Enbridge does is they jump over the community,” he said. Another resident, whose home is directly next door to the pipeline, told me that Enbridge made no effort to inform him or his neighbours about what has been going on—he had only heard about the pipeline because he takes an active interest in reading the news.
When I asked Enbridge’s spokesperson about why the community wasn’t informed, she explained that Enbridge has held a number of open houses and has done “extensive outreach to the neighbours in the immediate vicinity.” When I told her that the outreach clearly didn’t work, as I kept meeting new people who had never heard about Line 9, she replied “if you have found somebody that we haven’t engaged with, perhaps they don’t recall the engagement, perhaps they weren’t home when we went to their home, perhaps they didn’t attend our community information session.” She then invited me, as if it was my own personal responsibility, to put these people in touch with Enbridge so that they could be told what Enbridge is doing. “If you have their name, number, or want to point them out with me, we are here to talk to anyone and everyone,” she said.
I asked if Enbridge had made any effort to inform everyone living throughout the Greater Toronto Area about the Line 9 pipeline reversal—after all, as Meghan, one of the women locked down at entrance to the work site said: “Line 9 runs along dozens of major tributaries that lead directly into Lake Ontario, right into the drinking supply of the entire GTA.” The spokesperson confirmed that “absolutely, we did that. In Toronto, specifically on June 6th, we had two open houses.” I asked how many people attended these events and she replied that “at one we had 50, and at the other we had I believe about 40 or 30” – a remarkable 0.0015% of the Greater Toronto Area’s population.
As the day went on, Twitter supporters ordered a pizza to the construction site, and some neighbours who were already aware of the line stopped by with warm drinks and snacks to support those who were locked down. Police and Enbridge took a light handed approach, negotiating with protesters to allow a single worker onto the site to make sure the equipment was undamaged. The protest concluded peacefully at the end of the work day. No arrests were made.
And while this action lasted only a day, protesters suggested that actions like these will become increasingly common among environmentalist groups across the country. “Line 9 is part of a larger struggle, the struggle to shut down the tar sands. It’s going to be the Energy East, it’s going to be all tar sands pipelines. It’s got to be rail, that entire paradigm. We need to start valuing human life instead of the dollar, or capital,” Amanda Lickers said.
With her arm in a barrel, weighed down with concrete, Meghan calmly explained that “this kind of action is going to need to take place more and more as we see processes like these, like the NEB’s, not always facilitating direct democracy.”