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Defend Our Coast rally in Victoria: Are you listening, Harper and Clark?

— photos by Heather Conn

Beyond the crowd’s cries of “No pipelines, No tankers,” one woman’s tears and anguished tale exemplified the heart and spirit of yesterday’s Defend Our Coast rally in Victoria, BC.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo (with paper); Clayton Thomas-Muller (r) 

“Our way of life is being replaced by industrialized landscapes,” Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta, told a crowd of about 3,500 in front of the Parliament buildings. “We are surrounded by mines the size of cities.”

Laboucan-Massimo, a Greenpeace campaigner, cried as she described the impact of a May 2011 oil spill, which leaked five million litres into her traditional territory in Alberta’s tar sands region. (The territory, which comprises 10,000 square kilometres in northern Alberta east of the Peace River, contains more than 2,600 oil and gas wells.)

People in her community, of all ages, were suffering burning eyes, nausea, and headaches but didn’t know why, because the federal government did not notify them of the spill until five days after it occurred, which just happened to be the day after the federal election. “They [the federal government] tried so hard to deny that there was a problem. They put my community at risk.”

At this demonstration led by Coastal First Nations, Laboucan-Massimo described how members of her extended family are now afraid to fish or hunt in their territory because they think that eating what they catch, if contaminated as a result of oil extraction, could make them sick. Moose, their traditional food staple, is disappearing due to tar sands’ activity.

Almost 70 percent of Lubicon territory has been leased for future oil development without consent by the Lubicon people and in direct violation of their treaty. “The land and people will never be the same. I continue to carry that grief,” Laboucan-Massimo said, through tears, to extended applause. “We need to stop the tar sands at the source.”

But First Nations groups are fighting back. Laboucan-Massimo said that today, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation will present a constitutional challenge, which they filed earlier this month, in the joint review process against Shell Oil Canada’s application for the expansion of their Jackpine Mine tar sands project.

And a variety of First Nations chiefs and hereditary chiefs from western Canada, clad in ceremonial attire, all declared at yesterday’s rally that they oppose the Enbridge pipeline and will not allow its construction in their territory. Aboriginal singers and drummers repeated this message through their rousing musical beat as the sweet aroma of burning sage wafted into the front of the crowd.

Dave Cole, national president of Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union, challenged the standard rhetoric that pipelines build jobs and the economy. “These pipelines are job killers,” he said to cheers. “These pipelines are bad for the environment. They destroy the economy of Canada.” He added: “First Nations and labour . . . we’re all united in ‘No’ to this pipeline. If they come after one of us, they come after all of us.”

Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, urged attendees to view Canada’s pipelines as part of a broader “carbon corridor,” which includes liquid national gas, fracking, and TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, currently under construction in Texas. She asked the crowd to join in solidarity with the individuals and organizations opposing such mega energy projects. “This [opposition to oil and gas extraction and expansion] is the most important fight that we could have right now,” she said. “Pipelines are the artery, the blood lines of the tar sands. Harper is selling out our environment and heritage for money.” Barlow was heading up to Fort McMurray last night to provide added vocal support to the constitutional challenge by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, meanwhile, warned that the people of B.C. have to send a message to premier Christy Clark to stop FIPA, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement, before it is slated to come into effect on Nov. 1. This treaty gives Chinese-state-owned businesses considerable rights in Canada without any reciprocity for Canadian companies in China. It sets out obligations for Canada which will become binding for a minimum of 15 years (!). What’s worse, it’s slated to be passed without even a parliamentary vote. (For more info on the treaty, read the post on May’s website.)

May offered this challenge: “Christy Clark, get yourself a lawyer.”

The demonstrators, who included children, Raging Grannies, and concerned B.C. residents of all ages with satirical and strident placards, braved the day’s damp cold and mid-afternoon rain. One young woman standing near me asked if I wanted a muffin and handed me a delicious mini one that she had baked herself.

What a delightful offer from a stranger, an act that typified the day’s atmosphere of camaraderie in unity. Some of the First Nations leaders even thanked Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper for bringing unity to their ranks across the west and nation; many tribes and bands are presenting a solid force against his stance of promoting pipelines and the tar sands.

Nicholas Simons

More than 30 people from the Sunshine Coast attended the rally, joining a host of environmental groups, non-profits, unions, and people from many communities across the province, including Tofino, Kamloops, and Prince George. Nicholas Simons, MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, appeared in the crowd to give his support.

Suzanne Senger (left)

Judith Hammill

Sunshine Coast residents Suzanne Senger and Judith Hammill were among those who participated in the group action of stretching a 235-metre-long black banner around the legislative lawn, then staking it into the ground. The cloth banner symbolized the length of an oil supertanker.

Protesters briefly blocked Belleville Street, but there were no arrests or violent acts associated with the demonstration. Co-emcee Clayton Thomas-Muller, of the Indigenous Environmental Network, gave us a reminder from Gilbert Soloman: “We need to fight this fight with love in our hearts.”

The rally was held to give a broad public message that British Columbians overwhelmingly oppose the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, the planned twinning of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, and oil supertankers on Canada’s west coast. The Enbridge pipeline would transport  Alberta oil sands bitumen to Kitimat for export to Asia.



For more info, see Defend Our Coast.

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October 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm Comment (1)