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Outrage as "Public" Locked Out of "Public Hearings" on Tar Sands Pipeline

Environmentalist and indigenous groups rally against Northern Gateway and unfair proceedings in British Columbia

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Protesters braved a rare, wet snow as they demonstrated against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in Vancouver on Monday Jan. 14. (Photo:Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)Thousands of activists marched on downtown Vancouver Monday to protest the nature of public hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, claiming that "the public" opponents of the pipeline are being locked out while industry backers are given special access.

Buoyed by the recent vigor of the Idle No More campaign, environmental activists, indigenous groups and other opponents of the proposed tar sands pipeline condemned the public portion of the National Energy Board (NEB) panel hearings on the basis that they limit public comment.

“They’re constraining the dialogue,” said protest organizer Suresh Fernando, explaining that the presenters are being restrained in what they can say. For example, they “can’t make reference ...to the oilsands and the bigger picture.”

Despite being heralded as "public", the hearings are restricted to presenters, members of the NEB panel, industry backers including Enbridge representatives; members of the community are secluded to a seperate venue where they watch the proceedings via live stream.

According to a blog post on the Pipe Up Against Enbridge site, "the process set up to review the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project, is keeping the public out of the public process."

They continue:

Anyone who wishes to witness the proceedings can only do so at a separate hotel, three kilometres away, via a video feed.

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.

In an address to the crowd outside, Eddie Gardner of the Stó:lo Nation blasted Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, and other conservatives for recent changes made to environental laws declaring, "the Harper government has one of the most aggressive, high-carbon strategies in the world."

He continued:

[Harper] implemented that legislation, it has become law, and he did it with crass and ruthless disregard for the environment.

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.

The Canadian Press reports that the protests were "bolstered" 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."

The joint review panel is canvassing communities throughout B.C. and Alberta for comment on the proposed pipeline and has scheduled eight days of community hearings in Vancouver in the coming weeks. According to NEB spokeswoman Kristen Higgins, “(Whatever) information is on the public record is the information the panel can use to write their reports and make their recommendations.”

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Those who did make it in to the hearings did so with great effort. According to Pipe Up Against Enbridge, presenters had to register 18 months ago and schedule a presentation six months ago, "all without knowing when or where you would be speaking." Reporting on some of the pipeline opponents testimonies, they wrote:

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.”

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Outside of the hotel where the panel is taking place, a group of local multi-media artists erected a 25-foot-long installation called Hope the Whale. Twitter posts (#hopethewhale), videos and photos are projected onto the white whale's skin, "to symbolize the expansive and growing community of people with a vision of an oil-free coast in BC," wrote the group Pipe Up Against Enbridge.

Hope the Whale from Zack Embree on Vimeo.