An Open Letter on the Proposed Tar Sands Enbridge Pipeline

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An Open Letter on the Proposed Tar Sands Enbridge Pipeline

by
Caitlyn Vernon

An open letter to my fellow Canadians

Hello friends,

We are under attack. By our own government, flanked by the oil industry. I don't know how else to describe it.

The logic of the Harper government -- and the "ethical oil" lobbyists our prime minister himself is parroting -- is so twisted, their arguments so convoluted, it makes the head spin. I am a writer, and words are failing me.

Let me try to explain.

Like so many other Canadian families, my parents were born elsewhere and moved to Canada at a young age. I was born here on the West Coast, and grew up under the canopy of ancient cedar trees. As a child I explored tide pools, climbed trees and mountains. To know a place well you've got to get your hands dirty, get it under your nails. This coast is my home, I know it well.

I grew up watching forests on Vancouver Island be clear-cut, mountains seemingly shaved from top to bottom. I wondered where the animals would go. I grew up at rallies and on picket-lines in Vancouver, with women and workers struggling for their rights. I learnt that you don't always win, but that speaking out can make a difference, and there is power in numbers.

And I've been speaking out, ever since I was 14 years old, for the kind of future I want to live in. A future that is more equitable, with ancient trees and wild spaces, where we treat each other and the land with respect and humility. I'm now 35. Harper twisted logic No.1 is that somehow foreign funding is telling me what to think and say. Sure, my activism has been shaped by people and cultures from around the world: my German refugee grandfather and independent British grandmother, my American grandparents who moved their family north to avoid a war, indigenous communities I've worked with in Mexico, an Ecuadorian agroforestry technician, a Kenyan sweatshop organizer, and so many more. I am frequently inspired by the writings and actions of courageous people around the world. But no source of funding -- Canadian or other -- is going to dictate what I say or do. Ask anyone who knows me; I've never been shy to share my opinion or to speak up for what I believe in.

Harper twisted logic No. 2 is that while foreign funding of environmental organizations is a bad thing, foreign investment in the Enbridge pipeline and in the Alberta tar sands is unequivocally a good thing. Oh of course, the international scientists are wrong and climate change isn't really a problem, so we can proceed full-steam ahead with expansion of the tar sands, Canada's number one emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. Never mind all the refugees around the world forced to leave their homes due to rising sea level. Never mind the wacky weather, beetle infestations, and predictions of water so warm by 2080 that salmon may not be able to survive on the B.C. coast. Never mind that climate change is a global issue, requiring a global response, and that Canada is the black sheep on the world stage for all we have done to block international climate action. Never mind that First Nations people downstream from the tar sands are dying of rare cancers in shocking numbers. The twisted logic states that foreign investment in the tar sands is most definitely a good thing, especially when most of the benefits accrue to the international investors, not Canadians. The bafflegab leaves me tongue-tied; the complete disregard for science is astounding, the lack of compassion appalling.

Harper twisted logic No. 3 is that we need to build the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline across northern B.C. in order to ship tankers full of crude oil to Asia, so that we are no longer reliant on selling to the U.S. When in fact, many of the tankers are destined for California. An inconvenient truth, so the spin-doctors instead repeat the mantra "we need new markets" over and over again.

And then there's this little problem of the over 4,500 people who have signed up to speak at the federal review process set up to assess the proposed Enbridge pipeline and tankers. Harper twisted logic No. 4 is that it's not possible for this many people to think for themselves and have an opinion on this project. Their solution is to streamline the review process so that not as many Canadians can voice their concerns. This is paternalistic, and undemocratic.

And speaking of paternalistic, Harper twisted logic No. 5 is that First Nations don't know what's good for them. Over 130 First Nations have declared their unwavering opposition to the proposed pipeline and tankers -- a declaration based in their ancestral laws, not to mention their constitutionally protected rights as Aboriginal peoples to determine what happens on their lands and waters. If only, say Harper's cronies, if only they could understand the benefits that would come from this project... If only they could understand that a few dollars a year is better than the taste of smoked wild salmon, better than clean drinking water, better than livelihoods in fishing and ecotourism, better than any future they might choose for themselves... This attitude reeks of racism and brings to mind our shameful history of residential schools, of banning the potlatch, of not allowing First Nations to vote or to hire lawyers, of confining First Nations to small parcels of land without signing treaties or offering compensation for the land taken away. Our history is appalling, when you look into it. And all of us who are settlers to this land have benefited in some way from the oppression of First Nations. It's time we found ways to reconcile, to apologize, to make whatever changes are required in our own lives so that First Nations can be the governments they rightfully are. Step one is to respect and recognize the decisions that have already been made by First Nations regarding the Enbridge pipeline. They are clear: they choose wild salmon, not the risk of oil spills.

Harper twisted logic No. 6 is that he represents the interests of Canadians. But these days, Canada is a petro-state. Where the logic of the Harper government gets untwisted is this -- if it is good for the oil industry, if it is good for the tar sands, we'll do it. If it means further stomping on First Nation rights, well we've been doing that since we first colonized Canada, so why stop now? If it means damaging ecosystems, causing cancer and other environmentally-related health impacts, polluting rivers, and leading to global warming, well we've been doing that for a long time also so why stop now? If it means pushing aside the opinions of rural communities and urban activists, well that isn't new either.

So here's what I think. It's time to stand together. Canadian values as we know them are under attack. Wherever we land on the spectrum that is Canada, whatever our politics, whatever our job, we share some common values. We want a say in what happens to our homes and our communities, and to the spaces where our children play. We want food that tastes good and that we can afford. We want work that feels meaningful, that we can feel good about at the end of the day. We want to feel safe, and know that our children will have opportunities.

First Nations and non-Aboriginal communities in northern B.C. are facing the loss of these most basic values. Wherever you live in Canada, I invite you to lend your voice, your strength, your ideas, and your solidarity. The current target of big oil and of the Harper government is B.C., but don't be fooled, it won't stop here. The greed is insatiable, the logic is twisted, and a pipeline may well be coming your way next. It might be you, trying to sleep at night with the risk of a catastrophic oil spill ever present outside your door, threatening to destroy your community and way of life. And it will be all of us, wherever we live, who will be impacted by the increased global warming if the Enbridge pipeline gets built.

What it comes down to is this. Do you love the land like I do? Will you stand with me to protect it? I will stand with you, when your home is under threat.

Caitlyn Vernon

Sierra Club B.C.

Caitlyn Vernon is a member of Sierra Club - British Columbia and a contributor to Rabble.ca

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