Campaign Blog

Denied witness at the Enbridge pipeline hearings

Posted Jan 10

[The following opinion piece by Caitlyn Vernon was published on Straight.com on January 10]

The posting on Craigslist caught my eye. I don’t normally associate Craigslist with opposition to tankers and pipelines, but this wasn’t the first time. There was also that post in the fall after the Defend Our Coast rally.

You: red raincoat. Me: blue raincoat. We stood next to each other at the rally for hours in the rain, cheering the speakers. I turned to invite you for a coffee to warm up and you were gone. Meet me for coffee?

This time, the post was of a different sort. The federal government appointed Joint Review Panel (JRP), the process set up to review the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project, is keeping the public out of the public process. Anyone who wishes to witness the proceedings can only do so at a separate hotel, three kilometres away, via a video feed.

You were passionate, wise and generous in your presentation. You stood up to defend our coast, our environment and our future. Thank you. I wish I could have said this in person but the Joint Review Panel is keeping us apart. Love, me.

This separation of public from public process is happening only for the community hearings in Victoria and Vancouver. These hearings are the only substantive opportunity for concerned citizens to share their concerns with the panel. They should also be the opportunity for us to witness our friends, neighbours, and community members, to watch and listen to the diversity of voices, the diversity of reasons for opposing tankers and pipelines.

Because it is through bearing witness, through listening to each other, that we build community and can work together to take whatever steps are needed to protect our coast.

But we are being denied witness.

And the presenters are being denied acknowledgement. At the "public viewing site", far from the hearings, the small but attentive crowd cheers and claps after each presentation. But the speakers and the panel can’t hear them.

In the “waiting room” down the hall from the proceedings, where speakers wait with a police escort until their names are called and they are allowed to enter the hearing, there is clapping also. But the speakers and the panel can’t hear them; nor can the Enbridge officials listening and taking notes as people present.

“I object,” said someone in the waiting room, “to Enbridge being in the room and not the general public. We have more to lose than they have to gain.”

This process is “quite intimidating” said another speaker, especially for those who are uncomfortable with public speaking but who are finding the courage to have their citizen voices heard.

Some shed tears, some smoothly deliver compelling research.  All offer courage, passion, and conviction. And all, overwhelmingly and completely, oppose Enbridge. And despite the flaws in the JRP process—First Nations decision-making authority not recognized, climate change not considered, the panel stripped of its authority—taking the time to speak to the JRP implies trust in the democratic process.  That perhaps, against all odds, the panel is listening and it matters what the people of B.C. think.

It doesn’t hold promise for our future generations, it’s very short sighted.

As a Canadian, do I accept the risk of an oil spill in salmon rivers? The answer is no.

The history of shipwrecks along this coast speaks for itself.

I don’t want to have to explain to my grandkids that we traded resident killer whales for pipelines and profits.

The speakers do not, in words or appearance, fit any environmentalist caricature. Dr. Gerald Graham, trained in marine response by the Canadian Coast Guard, said “the consequences of a major spill could be catastrophic and irreversible.”  Reverend Ken Gray, an Anglican priest, reminded us to not treat others—including First Nations and all of creation—as we do not wish to be treated. This project, he said, “will injure us all and provide a shameful heritage for generations to come.”

A tar sands worker, Lliam Hildebrand, said that he would rather be using his trade to work in renewable energy. He shared with the panel a survey he conducted with his coworkers, “the hands and feet of our energy future.”  A strong majority of these workers support a moratorium on raw oil exports and the transition of oil and gas subsidies to the renewable energy sector.  “Workers in the oil sands understand that this project doesn’t make sense to Canada.”

Everyone who is speaking has had to make a serious effort, and long-term commitment, to be there. To speak you had to register before the deadline 18 months ago, and then schedule your presentation six months ago. All without knowing when or where you would be speaking.

We are dependent on the Earth for our survival. I ask that you make this the guiding principle.

For once I find myself on the same side of an argument with my conservative father, who also opposes this pipeline.

I do not believe you can make a meaningful recommendation unless you consider the end-use emissions, the greenhouse gases emitted by the combustion of the oil exported.

We are not willing to stand down.

Nowhere else has the JRP excluded the public.  Across northern B.C., anyone was allowed to attend the community hearings, and there were no disruptions.  The most unruly moment occurred when the panel told someone in Smithers she couldn’t sing O Canada as part of her presentation.  So she read it, instead, and when she finished the crowd stood up and sang O Canada.

And yet here, even our elected member of Parliament has been turned away at the door, denied the opportunity to witness what his constituents have to say.

It is a shameful farce of a public process. And, it is incredibly inspiring to hear the strong voices of those who have jumped through the hoops to register and put so much effort and thought into their presentations.  As one speaker said, I am “impressed and humbled” by everything I am hearing.  And I am given so much hope for the future.  I only wish that I and others could be there in person, as witness.

- Caitlyn Vernon is a Great Bear Rainforest campaigner with Sierra Club B.C.

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