Opposition to Line 9 heats up in the weeks since its reversal

Image: a man turns a valve to shut down a pipeline behind a chain link fence

A few weeks back, I wrote about the badass direct action in Ste-Justine-de-Newton, Quebec, which shut down Enbridge’s Line 9B for several hours, as an exemplary model of how pipeline resistance can move forward in the face of a disgustingly racist and industry-captive National Energy Board review process which all but guarantees that oil and pipeline companies will ultimately get their projects approved.

And it’s heartening to me to see just how much public outcry there has been in the wake of the NEB’s final approval of the line’s reversal, which runs contrary to all evidence, common sense, treaty rights, and democratic sensibility. Folks who are opposed to this pipeline for a vast multiplicity of reasons are continuing to make their voices heard, and are both engaging in the political process and working outside of it to build momentum towards a reversal of this foolishly wrong-headed decision.

First off, let’s take a look back at those heroic anarchists who manually shut the line down before chaining themselves to the valve back in early December.

Somebody closely involved in the action wrote a fantastic piece which was published over at Earth First! Newswire which is well worth a read. The key quote:

There is a general sense that this action has breathed new life into the anti-Line 9 campaign, which NGOs long ago abandoned as unwinnable. For the first time in a long while, activists are expressing optimism that Line 9 can be shut down before it spills. We’ve arrived at a critical juncture, and the time for bold direct action has come.

It’s hard to argue with this contention. There’s been an outburst of renewed interest in this particular pipeline project, which has been overlooked in recent months in favour of Energy East, TransMountain, and the U.S. pipeline Keystone XL, which was finally shot down by President Barack Obama after more than five years of dithering. By their bold and concrete resistance, these brave folks hope to not only encourage others to help take down Line 9, but also to directly challenge the noxious and odious law C-51, as their comrade expresses in his piece:

This whole action was a test of Canada`s new anti-terrorism law C-51, which expands the definition of terrorism to include tampering with critical infrastructure, specifically naming pipelines. Our line of
thinking was this: If they charged us with terrorism, what they’d be saying is that a large segment of the population supports terrorism, and the state would lose the usefulness of the terrorism label to demonize an isolated political element. It wouldn’t be in their interests, but it would be good for our movement, since in all likelihood, once C-51 is tested in court it will (eventually) get thrown out as unconstitutional.

And the sooner that happens, the better. So get out there and start pushing the envelope, comrades!

Though it was undoubtedly in the works before this action was taken, it’s notable that just two days after the paralyzing of the line (which incidentally sent Enbridge’s stock tanking by 8%) a broad coalition of eighty groups published an open letter to Justin Trudeau condemning the NEB’s “undemocratic” decision on Line 9B and calling on the Prime Minister to intervene and place the reversal of the line on hold pending a new review process which is in line with his campaign promises:

Furthermore, in your mandate letter you express that there is no relationship more important “than the one with Indigenous Peoples.” First Nations communities in Ontario and Quebec have been on the frontlines of this fight, resisting Line 9 and the social, economic and ecological risks it poses to the land and to their communities. You say that “it is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership,” and yet treaty rights are being expressly and illegally denied with the advancement of this project.

The approval of the Line 9B pipeline and the current ‘Leave to Open’ status, were decisions imposed on residents of Canada by a non-elected regulator composed of biased corporate actors prioritizing industry goals and objectives. You have advised that “it is important that [the federal government] acknowledge mistakes when we make them”. It is our strongly-held conviction that the prior government’s support for the NEB structure and review process has resulted in an erroneous decision that threatens communities, water sources, local ecosystems, and the planet.

We ask that you do more than simply acknowledge this mistake, but promptly take the actions necessary to correct it.

The letter also makes specific reference to the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s Supreme Court challenge of the NEB’s review process of Line 9B. Just weeks after the election, I flagged this case as a litmus test of whether Trudeau was earnest in his pledge to engage in meaningful nation-to-nation relations with First Nations across Canada, and so far, he’s fallen far short of the mark. In fact, in indicating that his reform of the National Energy Board will not include additional consultation of First Nations beyond the NEB’s bureaucratically absurd and racist process.

In terms of resistance, there are three main fronts. There’s the direct front, which the brave folks at Ste-Justine-de-Newton represent. There’s the legal front, which this broad coalition of community and national organizations’ open letter to the Prime Minister and the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation’s legal challenge represents. And then there’s the symbolic front, which is proudly taken up by Rachel Thevenard, who is running the full length of Line 9B in support of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

“Line 9 means expansion of the tar sands, and that means more CO2 in the air,” says Thevenard.

The distinction between speaking and acting on climate change is not lost on Thevenard. “While Canada was at the climate summit in Paris, we have turned on this giant tar sands pipeline right through our communities. It is completely unacceptable.”

Thevenard explains her inspiration. “I saw indigenous people disproportionately putting their bodies on the line in this fight to protect the land and water, and I thought that I, as a settler, should be running.”

Thevenard’s action neither directly disrupts the movement of crude bitumen through the pipeline nor directly engages politicians or bureaucrats who are in a position to make decisions on this matter. But these symbolic actions are also powerfully important.

Every city and town she passes through is an opportunity to raise awareness of this vital issue, an issue which has escaped the notice of many many people along the route.

And given the fact that a pipeline expert with forty years of industry experience states there is a 90% chance that Line 9B will experience a significant rupture within the next five years, the more people who are aware of this issue, the better.

Overall, it’s extremely encouraging to see that activists and organizations are refusing to take Line 9’s reversal sitting down. The fact is that the NEB’s undemocratic and legally flawed decision does not have to be final. With broad mobilization, a multiplicity of legal and formal appeals, and a willingness to engage in direct, disruptive action, opponents of the line’s reversal are perfectly capable of assembling a coalition which can reverse this decision and bring down the proposal once and for all.

Solidarity with all who are working against this pipeline!

Solidarity Saturday is a weekly examination of activism and protest in Canada and (occasionally) around the world. You can reach me at matt@thealfalfafield.com or leave a comment below.

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