VANCOUVER — Making as much noise as they could to protest a process they say is undemocratic, several hundred activists from a broad spectrum of movements rallied Monday night against the first of Vancouver’s public hearings into Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The protesters — from those concerned about the environment to aboriginal Idle No More activists — oppose the planned pipeline and say the hearings at the Sheraton Wall Centre hotel limit public comment.
“You can only speak to issues relating to Enbridge,” he said of the public portion of the National Energy Board (NEB) joint review panel hearings that are wrapping up in several weeks. “They’re constraining the dialogue.”
About 330 people registered to make oral statements in Vancouver to the review panel this week and for three days at the end of the month, according to NEB spokeswoman Kristen Higgins. (The break in hearings is because the panel works for two weeks on and one week off, she said.)
“They’ve got about 19 people that they will be hearing from tonight and they’re looking at making sure that they can hear from those people without disruption,” Higgins said Monday evening before the hearing. “(Whatever) information is on the public record is the information the panel can use to write their reports and make their recommendations.”
Higgins said the panel was prepared for the protest as “this isn’t the first time that there has been a protest around this project or these hearings.”
The panel cancelled a day and a half of hearings in northern B.C. last April when their plane was greeted by about 200 protesters at the Bella Bella airport.
A separate public viewing site — with a capacity of about 250 people — was set to live stream the hearings from the Westin Bayshore Hotel this week, Higgins said.
Earlier Monday, activist Zack Embree and a group of other artistic environmentalists built a pre-fabricated art installation called Hope the Whale. The nine-metre-long white whale was set up at the northwest corner of the Sheraton property and after dark started projecting Twitter posts, videos and photos onto its skin.
“I see Hope the Whale as a place for people to gather, make conversation, connections and consider the risk that pipeline and tanker expansion poses for our communities, our coast and future generations,” Embree told The Sun in a Facebook message.
The NEB panel is canvassing communities throughout B.C. and Alberta on the proposed 1,173-kilometre pipeline, which begins north of Edmonton and terminates at Kitimat on B.C.’s northwest coast. Bella Bella is about 175 kilometres south of Kitimat.
The pipeline is meant to open up new markets in Asia for crude from the Alberta oilsands. Virtually all of Canada’s oil exports are now shipped to the United States.
B.C. First Nations and some northern communities, as well as environmental groups, are opposed to the project because of the risk and effect of oil spills from the pipeline and tankers. Enbridge contends the pipeline can be built and operated safely, and will be an economic boon to Canada.
Thousands jeer Northern Gateway hearings in Vancouver
The Canadian Press/CBC News, Jan 14, 2013
Thousands of people gathered during a rare Vancouver snowfall to mark the start of community hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Opponents of the project were bolstered on Monday by the nationwide Idle No More campaign, which brought First Nations from as far as the Haisla Nation on the North Coast, near the would-be tanker port of Kitimat, B.C.
At Victory Square, protesters gathered before marching to the site of the hearings in the city’s downtown and sending a message to the panel now touring B.C.
The panel will hear public comments about the controversial plan to deliver oil from the Alberta oil sands to a tanker port on the North Coast of B.C.
“The Harper government has one of the most aggressive, high-carbon strategies in the world,” Eddie Gardner, of the Sto:lo Nation, told the crowd.
He blasted the federal Conservatives for changes they’ve made to environmental laws that will affect oversight of the Northern Gateway and other future projects.
“He implemented that legislation, it has become law, and he did it with crass and ruthless disregard for the environment,” Gardner told the protesters.
“Stephen Harper is hell bent to expand the tar sands.
“Canada is coming alive to Harper’s real agenda … He is one of the biggest enemies of the environment.”
Protesters also took aim at a proposed expansion of the existing TransMountain pipeline operated by Kinder Morgan.
The pipeline moves oil from the oil sands to port in Vancouver, and a proposed $4.3-billion expansion would more than double the capacity of the 1,100-kilometre line.
The joint review panel, which is weighing the Northern Gateway project, has scheduled eight days of community hearings in Vancouver in the coming weeks.
Community hearings were held previously in Victoria, and one day of statements is scheduled in Kelowna later this month.
The panel limited access to the hearings room so it could listen to statements without distractions, stated a directive posted on the panel website.
“Given the large urban nature of Victoria and Vancouver and previous protests held in both locations regarding the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the panel has decided that it will limit access to the hearing room,” stated the directive.
Presenters met in one venue, while members of the public listened to submissions in another.
The hearings are also being streamed live on the panel website.
The panel held final hearings earlier in Edmonton, Prince George and Prince Rupert, where company experts and interveners answered questions under oath.
Those hearings will resume in Prince Rupert next month.