Correction appended June 30, 2013
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, around 7 a.m., 18 protesters were arrested at Enbridge’s North Westover pump station in Hamilton, Ontario. Just over four hours later, and almost 600 kilometres away, 17 protesters marched through the busy streets of Montreal, singing and handing pamphlets out to bemused onlookers.
Across Canada, groups of protesters demonstrated in solidarity with those in Hamilton, who began their occupation of the Enbridge-owned station on June 20 to protest Line 9. The action across the country is nicknamed “Swamp Line 9” since the North Westover pump station sits in the middle of Beverly Swamp, one of the largest remaining forested wetlands in Southern Ontario.
Line 9 is a pipeline that extends from Sarnia, Ontario, to the oil refineries in Montreal-Est. Currently, the pipeline carries offshore crude oil west. Enbridge – an Alberta-based pipeline transport company – wants to reverse the pipeline to send crude oil through an eastern line to the Atlantic. Enbridge also wants to increase the flow of oil from 240,000 to 300,000 barrels of oil per day, reducing the friction by injecting a chemical into the crude, according to the Toronto Star.
Although Enbridge claims it only wants to send crude oil – and not diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands – through the reversed pipeline, environmental groups insist that this is its ultimate plan. Diluted bitumen is heavier than other crude oils and puts pipelines at a greater risk of rupture.
The pipeline is divided into two sections; Line 9A, which runs across Southern Ontario from Sarnia to Westover, has already been approved for flow reversal by the National Energy Board. The Board will hold public hearings on Line 9B, which runs from Westover to Montreal, in the fall.
However, on their site, the occupiers in Hamilton wrote, “The Line 9 reversal is, from the perspective of the powerful, a foregone conclusion.”
Coalition vigilance oléoduc (CoVO) member Luc Falardeau agreed with the concept of a rigged political game. “They’re buying the local [representatives]” in the Greater Montreal region, he alleged. “They’re buying the collaboration and their silence by giving [relatively] little gifts.”
Falardeau also pointed out that Enbridge’s name appears in partnership with many charitable organizations, including the annual Cyclo-défi Enbridge contre le cancer in Montreal. He alleged that companies want to greenwash and whitewash “by associating with the organizations that are helpful. That means that in some of these organizations, there are people with close ties to Enbridge, and they’re not willing to refuse some amount of money.”
Falardeau added in an email to The Daily that these people were also not willing “to establish a code of conduct to limit funding only from responsible companies that have good social and environmental records”.
Ashley Zarbatany, one of the organizers of the solidarity rally in Montreal, and a member of the Anishinaabe nation, stated that the drinking water of over 10 million people – 4 million from the greater Montreal area – will be put at risk by the pipeline.
Line 9 crosses several major rivers – a few of which run into the St. Lawrence River – and runs through the Great Lakes region.
“If they reverse the pipeline flow, it’s going to be at a greater risk of rupturing. We need to talk about stopping this pipeline, not expanding it,” Zarbatany told The Daily.
The Polaris Institute published a report in 2010, using Enbridge’s own data on spills, calculating that between 1999 and 2010, 804 spills occurred on Enbridge pipelines. Most recently, with the heavy flooding in Alberta, an Enbridge pipeline spilled an estimated 750 barrels of oil.
Activists at the solidarity protest in Montreal on Wednesday were incredibly concerned with the potential damage to the surrounding land and water.
Concern for the land and the water was a common message. One sign, held by a protester, read, “The death of our land is the death of our people.”
“Water is sacred,” said Zarbatany. “Without a strong connection with water, as a human being, we are missing something essential. We can’t destroy our life source.”
Environmental concern was not the only motivation for the occupation of the North Westover pump station. In the press conference statement of June 20, the occupiers wrote, “safeguarding our land and water is an anti-colonial struggle, not simply an environmental one”.
According to the occupiers’ site, the land is “the traditional territory of the Chonnonton people as well as of the Mississagi Anishinabec and the Onondaga Haudenosaunee.” The action is also a part of the Idle No More and Defenders of the Land campaign “Sovereignty Summer,” a series of protest actions promoting Indigenous rights and environmental protection.
In Montreal, the protesters started off handing out pamphlets to passersby in front of Roddick Gates. After approximately half an hour, they marched up to the James Administration building to send a message to Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, who sits on the board of the Royal Bank of Canada – a financial institution that, according to a protester, supports colonization and genocide.
Afterwards, the protesters continued on with flags, pamphlets, and chants, walking down the middle of University as far south as Réné-Levesque, where they stopped in front of the RBC building.
At the occupation in Hamilton, Enbridge ordered an injunction on June 25, forcing many of the initial occupiers to leave. However, four activists remained, hidden inside a makeshift structure chained to the facility fence.
One of the activists who remained inside this makeshift encampment decried Enbridge’s injunction. “This isn’t Enbridge’s land to order us off of. It’s stolen [from First Nations people]. Even if it wasn’t, this company and this industry exploit and destroy land. It is our responsibility to stop this exploitation,” said Trish Mills, according to a press conference statement released on June 20. “[With spills], they look at it only as a monetary figure; I look at it as the irreversible massacre of an ecosystem.”