After three days of uneventful bureaucratic protocol, the National Energy Board hearings for Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline reversal erupted into a noisy but non-violent demonstration, as protesters in solidarity with Idle No More, and the now infamous Elsipogtog anti-fracking blockade that ended with Molotov cocktails and RCMP snipers, packed into the hearings and burst into chants, song, and dance.
Once the chanting overpowered the National Energy Board’s microphones, members of the NEB fled the hearings and Enbridge’s final arguments for the project, originally planned for Saturday October 19th, were postponed indefinitely as the remainder of the hearings were cancelled.
Prior to this interruption, the hearings had proceeded like a farcical trial. Line 9 is the first major project to be assessed under the Harper government’s controversial Bill C-38. If you’re not familiar, Bill C-38 is really a cluster of 70 federal laws that has, among other powers, given the Conservatives the ability to restructure the environmental review process. As a direct result of this ostensibly shitty legislation, most potential speakers who would have had something to say about Line 9 were kept out of the hearings by an exclusionary ten-page application process. There were sixty speakers, labeled as interveners, who had completed the forms and were allowed to speak—but this is down from over a thousand interveners who spoke out against the last application the NEB looked at.
These so-called interveners were limited in what they could talk about, as they were only allowed to discuss the pipeline in particular, but not its broader role in climate change and enabling the oil sands to expand. This greatly hampered the scope and impact that speakers could write into their speeches. To make matters worse, most of these speeches appeared to fall on sleepy ears, as the NEB responded to almost every presentation by remarking: “Thank you for your participation. We have no questions."
The audience also seemed bored. In the half empty boardroom where the hearings took place, many audience members were glued to their smart phones and newspapers—I even caught some people sleeping in their chairs.
While members of industry, like Suncor and the Ontario Petroleum Producers, spoke about the economic benefits of the project, the vast majority of speakers opposed the proposal altogether or offered a long list of conditions that the NEB should consider if they wish to approve it. Representatives of the Ontario Ministry of Energy, the City of Toronto and other Great Lakes cities, student groups, and landowners along the pipeline route, said that the public was not made aware of the risks associated with this project and that Enbridge’s proposed emergency response plan is wholly inadequate.
One speaker, representing York University students, told the board that fire fighters at a station Line 9 passes directly beneath didn’t even know the pipeline existed. Environmental groups, like Équiterre and Rising Tide Toronto, used Enbridge’s own data to show that Line 9 would burst after a short time in operation. And lawyers representing various First Nations on the pipeline route, including the Aamjiwnaang reserve that sits directly beside 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry in the Chemical Valley, told the NEB that no consultation with these communities had ever occurred.
There were inklings of resistance throughout the hearings. On the first day, a small group of activists wearing gas masks held up signs indicating what was forbidden from being discussed at the hearings—some read “Climate Crisis,” “Downstream Impacts,” and “Slow Industrial Genocide.” Early Friday, a woman interrupted the hearings and condemned the NEB’s new application process as undemocratic. “Three days of hearings and how much of the public is here?” she asked the half-empty room.
But the process wasn’t disrupted until Amanda Lickers of Rising Tide spoke, for two and a half hours, as an audience of protesters packed into the sterile space of the hearings one-by-one. “I request that you decommission this pipeline,” she said. After three days of near silence, the room erupted in applause.
She continued: “Indigenous peoples have come here to clearly tell you that they have not been consulted. Citizens have said that this is not democratic. The data shows that this project is not safe. There are very important subjects that I can’t even talk about in this process, that have severe implications—that are a genocide that is taking place right now in Chipewyan and Cree territories. And it’s called the Tar Sands.” The audience applauded once more. The board responded by asking Lickers not to go off topic by talking about the Tar Sands. People in the audience screamed “it’s all related!” and “where do you think they’re piping it from?”
At one point during Lickers’s speech, police formed a barricade outside to prevent protesters and the public from accessing the hearings—they told the crowd there weren’t any empty seats inside. Members of the National Energy Board echoed this sentiment inside the hearings, explaining to the frustrated audience that, “for safety and for fire code reasons, there is limited capacity.” In reality, there was lots of space. My photos, taken at this moment, show at least 15 empty seats in the front rows, including a group of seats abandoned by Enbridge representatives who ducked out early.
“Everyone who has participated in this process, everyone who has witnessed this process, will only be resolved in our commitment to stop Line 9,” Lickers warned the NEB. “Yesterday we saw the RCMP enforce environmental racism against the Mi’kmaq people and Elsipogtog who refuse to have their sovereignty violated by corporations looking to poison their water. And this application is an invitation to social conflict. It is an invitation to self-defence and a beckoning to land defence,” she concluded to a standing ovation.
At that point, the audience began chanting “No Line 9, No Line 9,” drums sounded, and the NEB struggled to be heard over the dissent of the crowd. The board was quickly escorted away by security while a woman named Crystal Sinclair followed them, shouting: “Line 9 is a death sentence, please listen to us. You’re poisoning our water, we don’t want to die because of you!” The protesters lingered, singing and drumming—thrilled to have at least been heard by the board.
The next day, with the hearings indeterminately postponed, a crowd of nearly a thousand people came together in the rain, outside of the Metro Convention centre, to protest the hearing process and to speak out against the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal.
Hopefully their voices will have some impact on the future of the reversal project.
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