By Andy Crosby

Anti-pipeline activists in Ontario and Québec manually shut down Enbridge pipeline valves three times in December and January.

Indigenous land defenders and environmentalists targeted Line 9 in Sainte-Justine-de-Newton on Dec. 7 and near Sarnia on Dec. 21 by accessing and locking down fenced-in valve sites. Enbridge’s Line 7 near Cambridge was also targeted on Jan. 4.

The Line 9 reversal and capacity increase received a green light from the controversy-ridden National Energy Board (NEB) in November and recently began pumping Alberta Tar Sands’ diluted bitumen (dilbit) from Sarnia to Montréal.

“It’s clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide,” said Vanessa Gray from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in a media release. “I defend the land and water because it is sacred. I have the right to defend anything that threatens my traditions and culture.”

Gray, along with Sarah Scanlon and Stone Stewart, were arrested on Dec. 21 and face various charges including resisting arrest, mischief over $5,000 and mischief endangering life, according to Sarnia police.

A meme from the Facebook page of The People versus Enbridge line 9 quotes Gray as saying, “We didn’t cross the pipeline. The pipeline crossed us.”

The subsequent action on Jan. 4 was in part a response to these charges, according to a communiqué released through Anarchist News on reddit.com.

“We take action to…swing back at the grossly inflated charges those in Sarnia received and show that we will not be cowed,” it read.

The communiqué further referenced “tar sands crude” piped through both Lines 7 and 9 and explains the action was to show “support to the brave folks who’ve taken similar actions in the traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, Mohawk and Anishinaabek people.”

Enbridge Map SnipLine 9 passes through densely populated areas, including dozens of towns, cities and Indigenous communities in Ontario and Québec and has been met with coordinated resistance since the planned reversal was first announced. Pipeline opponents are concerned about Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights, expansion of the pollution-intensive tar sands, as well as potential environmental impacts due to ruptures and spills.

Line 9 opponents often cite the July 2010 pipeline rupture that devastated the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured and spilled an estimated 20,000 barrels of dilbit,  destroying 55 kilometres of the river and costing taxpayers over $1 billion to date in cleanup efforts. Line 6B is similar to Line 9 in terms of age and scope.

According to pipeline safety expert Richard Kuprewicz, Line 9 has a 90 per cent chance of rupturing in the first five years of operation, due to its age and the various crude products that it carries, including diluted bitumen.

Duty to Consult

Various First Nations along the pipeline route oppose the NEB’s approval of Line 9 due to the lack of free, prior and informed consent. The Chippewas of the Thames have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on the basis of non-consultation, according to the Dec. 21 media release. Their initial appeal of the NEB’s decision to the Federal Court of Appeal was dismissed in October.

“The case has huge implications for First Nations across the country,” Chief Leslee White-Eye told the Canadian Press. “The corporations running the pipeline shouldn’t be the ones fulfilling the constitutional obligations.”

Enbridge, however, maintains that it is has met or exceeded all regulatory requirements for engagement.

“Enbridge is committed to engaging with Aboriginal communities and building and maintaining long-term relationships,” Graham White, Enbridge Business Communications Manager, told the Leveller. “Historically in eastern Canada, we have been engaged with 22 First Nations on Line 9B since May 2012 and are committed to continuing those relationships into the operational phase of the line and beyond.”

“This ruling that we anticipate through the Supreme Court of Canada, we think will verify that Canada has neglected to consult with First Nations in the first place and that can’t lead to a third party making decisions such as the National Energy Board,” said Chippewa of the Thames band councillor Myeengun Henry in an interview with vice.com. “So it has a huge impact on pipelines across the nation everywhere.”

Targeting “Critical Infrastructure”

The serious charges including “mischief endangering life” stemming from the Sarnia arrests raise further questions over the blurring of political dissent and Indigenous land defense with terrorism.

Indigenous and environmental activists sounded the alarm over the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51), which extends to those interfering with the “economic and financial stability of Canada” as well as “critical infrastructure,” including pipelines.

So-called “violent extremists” linked to the “anti-petroleum movement” are also on the radar of Canada’s security establishment, according to a 2014 RCMP report obtained by Greenpeace and reported in pressprogress.ca.

“There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canadian petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,” it says. “If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment.”

Heightened state surveillance and attempts at criminalizing activists has not deterred pipeline opponents. According to Will, who was involved in the Dec. 7 lockdown, the action was in part meant to test Bill C-51.

“It wouldn’t be in Canada’s best interest to charge us under anti-terrorism legislation because it would be saying that a large segment of the population supports terrorism, thus rendering the terrorism label useless,” Will told the Leveller. “If C-51 does get tested in court it will eventually get thrown out as unconstitutional.”

Following the recent pipeline shutdowns, Enbridge told the Leveller that it has “taken additional, permanent measures to protect valve sites.”

“All pipelines are continuously monitored, 24/7 from our state of the art control and operations centre in Edmonton, Alberta,” said White in an email. “They are also monitored from regional facilities and pumping stations and regularly visually checked by employees by driving, flying or walking the rights of way.”

Video footage shot by submedia.tv from the Dec. 7 lockdown at Sainte-Justine-de-Newton, however, raised further questions concerning the company’s response time should an actual environmental emergency transpire. After the site was locked down, Patricia Domingos, spokesperson and ex-mayor of Sainte-Justine-de-Newton, called Enbridge’s emergency line and an English-speaking employee was unable to process the French-language call. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) eventually arrived on the scene but in response to a call concerning an illegally parked car at a local church. When the OPP were told that Line 9 was locked down, they expressed relief that it wasn’t on their side of the border and promptly left, according to Mikael, an activist on-site.

After halting Line 9’s flow for 10 hours, the three activists locked down at the site were arrested and charged with mischief, trespassing and obstruction.

Setbacks for Oil and Gas

Pipeline proponents have experienced a number of setbacks in recent weeks. The Obama Administration recently quashed aspirations to build the coveted Keystone XL from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

The B.C. government announced on Jan. 11 that it could not support Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion from Alberta to Burnaby due to inadequate information provided by the company around spill prevention and response time, although NEB hearings are ongoing. On Jan. 18, seven people were arrested after boarding a Kinder Morgan barge conducting test drilling in Burnaby, while two others simultaneously locked themselves to the doors of the NEB office in Vancouver.

Furthermore, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 13 that the NEB single environmental assessment scheme adopted jointly by the provincial and federal governments “breached the honour of the Crown by failing to consult” with First Nations regarding Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

This series of setbacks prompted some commentators to speculate that extra pressure will be applied to green-light TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline proposed to run from Alberta to New Brunswick.

If the Liberal government were to approve Energy East, it would render meaningless recent commitments made at the UN Climate Change Conference to “pursue efforts to limit the increase [of the global average temperature] to 1.5 degrees…by tackling climate change and transitioning to a low carbon economy.”

Regardless, a Jan. 21 announcement that Greater Montréal mayors, representing roughly 4 million people in 82 cities, rejected Energy East appears to have rendered tar sands’ expansionist ambitions into a mere pipe dream.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol.8 No. 4 (Jan/Feb 2016).