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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands in front of Canadian flags

“The federal government insists that it is committed to acting on climate change, but approving Kinder Morgan's project contradicts its promises." (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

'Betrayal': Trudeau Approves Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion

Indigenous people, environmentalists, activists, academics, and politicians across Canada vow to oppose tar sands pipeline

Nika Knight Beauchamp

To widespread dismay, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late Tuesday announced the government's approval of the expansion of Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which will transport tar sands oil from northern Alberta to the British Columbia coast.

"We're going to stop Kinder Morgan by working together. This is everyone's problem. Trudeau's permits are worthless without our consent."
—Rueben George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation

The decision was not unexpected, but it was swiftly met with loud condemnation and promises to block the project. Trudeau's announcement galvanized Indigenous communities, environmentalists, activists, and politicians in B.C. and across Canada, who have long campaigned against the pipeline.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has launched an opposition campaign, called Coast Protectors, to which 4,000 people have already pledged support, the organizers say.

North American tribes belonging to the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion have also vowed to block the project, which will carry 895,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen from the mines in Alberta to a terminal at Burrard Inlet in Burnaby, B.C.

"Let's be clear, this is about our survival. This is about protecting our home, on Burrard Inlet and on the planet," said Rueben George, Manager of the Sacred Trust Initiative of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation. "We're going to stop Kinder Morgan by working together. This is everyone's problem. Trudeau's permits are worthless without our consent."

"People are already standing up and fighting back, and that is only going to grow," Sven Biggs, the energy and climate campaigner for, told the New York Times. "It's going to be in the courts; it's going to be in the streets; it's also going to be at the ballot box."

"I'm not surprised [by the government's decision,] I'm sincerely disappointed," said Charlene Aleck, a councillor with the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, to the CBC. "This is not just our backyard, this is literally in our kitchen."

"It's definitely the beginning of a long battle ahead for us," Aleck added.

Local politicians in B.C. also condemned the federal government's decision. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said that he was "deeply disappointed and depressed."

The decision, Corrigan said, "bows to the pressure of the oil lobbyists at the expense of Burnaby's—and all of Canada's—economy and environment, while ignoring the science-based evidence as to the harm this pipeline project will cause on land and water, even without a spill."

"Prime Minister Trudeau said 'Governments grant permits: ultimately only communities grant permission.' We agree. He does not, however, have our permission and we will continue to make that clear," Corrigan said.

Trudeau also announced approval for Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline project, which will increase the volume of tar sands crude transported each day to the U.S. Many environmentalists have decried the decision to increase fossil fuel infrastructure after Canada promised to cut emissions in the Paris climate accord.

"The approvals raise grave doubts how these and additional pipelines, including Keystone XL and Energy East, can fit with Canada's commitment to the Paris climate agreement and Alberta's cap on tar sands emissions," noted the Canadian advocacy group Environmental Defence.

Others pointed out the conflict on social media:

Trudeau argued against that charge during his Tuesday announcement, the New York Times writes:

"We've heard clearly from Canadians that they don't want to see someone trying to make a choice between what's good for the environment and what's good for the economy," Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference. "They need to go together, and the decisions we've made today and leading up to today are entirely consistent with that."

[...] while Mr. Trudeau said the government welcomed people expressing contrary views, their opposition would not change what he characterized as a decision based on science.

"The federal government insists that it is committed to acting on climate change, but approving Kinder Morgan's project contradicts its promises and undermines the government's climate strategy and its international commitments," challenged Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell in a statement.

"The Kinder Morgan project will put communities and ecosystems on the pipeline route and on the tanker route at risk like Northern Gateway would have—and it probably means extinction for the Southern Resident killer whales," Campbell said.

Trudeau also finally confirmed that the Northern Gateway pipeline project will not move forward in his Tuesday announcement.

Activists and advocacy groups remain committed to preventing the Trans Mountain expansion from being built, putting their faith in the Indigenous leadership in the campaign against the pipeline.

"Just as Indigenous Peoples are showing unwavering strength down at Standing Rock, our peoples are not afraid and are ready to do what needs to be done to stop the pipelines and protect our water and our next generations," said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

"At this historically critical time when human civilization is on the brink of climate disaster, we have no choice but to do things differently—that means looking to indigenous wisdom and teachings, but also Indigenous leadership," said Dr. David Suzuki after attending the ceremonial Treaty Alliance signing. "Indigenous Peoples did not get us into this mess, but fights like Standing Rock and the Treaty Alliance's fight against Tar Sands expansion are showing us the way out."

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