November 25, 2014 | by Renee Lewis
A proposed pipeline expansion that would transport tar sands oil through a park in British Columbia has unified Canadians from all walks of life in their opposition to the project which they said does not respect public opinion and could endanger both land and sea.
“I’ve never seen in my 30 years of being environmentally active an issue that so galvanizes so many people,” said John Bennet, executive director of Sierra Club Canada. “It’s absolutely clear that the public, not just a handful of crazies willing to get arrested, don’t want it.”
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposed by Houston-based oil giant Kinder Morgan would see the line’s capacity nearly tripled to 890,000 barrels per day, bringing tar sands oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. It would also increase tanker traffic carrying the oil through the pristine waters local residents and First Nations groups depend on for their way of life.
According to a local poll, 70 percent of residents oppose the expansion. And hundreds of protesters have flocked to Burnaby Mountain — located about 10 miles east of Vancouver — where test drilling has already begun to determine whether the planned route through the mountain and over a conservation site and popular park would be feasible, locals said.
Kinder Morgan says it is committed to minimizing any impact the pipeline might have and that the conduit would be out of sight in the conservation area.
“Ultimately, if the project is approved, there will be no surface disturbance on Burnaby Mountain because the tunnel, at its deepest point, will be approximately 160 meters [525 feet] below surface,” the company said in a statement.
Nonetheless, the expansion has drawn diverse protesters from across the region who are fighting the project for various reasons.
On Sunday, police detained two 11-year-old girls and their mothers after they crossed the police line at the project site. Since police moved in to enforce last Thursday’s injunction by the B.C. Supreme Court that compelled protesters to leave the area, at least 50 people have been arrested for ignoring the order, protesters said. Those included local residents, First Nation members, university professors and environmental activists — including the grandson of renowned environmentalist David Suzuki, protesters said.
“No one is organizing these protests. It’s just individuals who decided they want to have a say and just going up and crossing that line the [police] drew in the sand and saying, ‘arrest me, I’m willing to stand up for my democracy,’” said Art Sterrit, executive director of Coastal First Nations — an alliance of First Nations bands.
Sterrit said while the main issue bringing locals out to protest is the expansion of the pipeline in their neighborhood, the whittling down of citizen’s rights in voicing opposition to such projects has also angered many.
In 2012, the federal government rewrote Canada’s environmental assessment laws, according to Bennet of the Sierra Club.
“In the old version, the proponent had to show need and alternatives to show the proposal is the best solution,” said Bennet. “Socioeconomic factors were an important part of the decision-making process, and everyone had the right to participate in the assessment.”
The new rules also enforced a two-year time line on the assessment process, he added, and restricted the number of people who could express their opinion about the project to a limited number who were approved by the National Energy Board (NEB) — the panel responsible for conducting environmental assessments in such projects.
“That’s why you see regular people who might have had interest and spent time developing a presentation for the National Energy Board … realizing their only avenue of expression is to go out and stand there,” Sterrit said. “This really is an attack on democracy in Canada.”