HAUDENOSAUNEE TERRITORY (KITCHENER)—A disquieting black hue to the water, animals struggling to breathe amid toxic fumes, a boom dragged across the river's width signaling the pipeline’s rupture and a long, difficult clean-up ahead. This scene, reflecting the many pipeline failures in recent years, was enacted by Enbridge’s emergency response during an exercise on the Grand River in September. A spill into the river is a too-real possibility if the transport of diluted bitumen (dilbit) is approved for Line 9.
The message from the emergency response exercise is clear. If energy giant Enbridge is allowed to transport tar sands bitumen and fracked oil through Line 9, crossing the Grand River, a pipeline rupture could destroy the region’s water systems. And this is why the Waterloo Region Coalition Against Line 9 was formed in July 2013: to mount local opposition against Enbridge, and to form a long-term network to defend the Grand River watershed.
The current proposal from Enbridge that sparked the creation of the new coalition would allow the transportation of Alberta’s tar sands bitumen and fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields, and would also reverse the westward flow of its 38-year-old "Line 9" pipeline eastward. This aged pipeline runs between Sarnia and Montreal, and transects Waterloo Region—Six Nations territory—in the township of North Dumfries, running underneath the Grand River and its tributary the Nith.
“Line 9 impacts the whole region,” said Kalin Stacey, a spokesperson for the coalition. “Since it violates treaties and poses real environmental and economic threats, we knew a broad base would oppose it, and that we would need this base to effectively challenge Enbridge and the National Energy Board’s rubber-stamping process.”
The coalition was initiated by Grand River Indigenous Solidarity (GRIS), a local group of settlers working towards decolonization. In building a coalition, GRIS “aimed to create a longer-lasting network of groups within Waterloo Region,” said spokesperson Kathryn Wettlaufer, in order “to mount sustained local resistance that engages the intersectionality of colonial land destruction and toxic contamination wrought by industry, focused primarily near marginalized communities.”
The coalition’s campaign included presentations to Waterloo Regional Council, the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) and the National Energy Board (NEB), as well as meeting with individual councillors and local Member of Provincial Parliament Catherine Fife.
Local councillors, previously not engaged with the project, were moved to concern by the coalition’s efforts. In the September 18, 2013, council meeting, Rob Deutschmann, mayor of North Dumfries, stated clearly, “We certainly don’t want to be left with a mess.” Councillor Tom Galloway commented, “We don’t have any regulatory authority, but we certainly have a stake, and the one that pops out at you obviously is our water supply,” referring to the region’s dependence on ground and river water—80 and 20 per cent respectively.
In conjunction with these lobbying efforts, the coalition undertook a public education and outreach campaign, holding speaking events, writing articles, doing radio interviews and postering extensively throughout the region. By mid-October, the coalition had collected over 850 individual and 25 group and corporate signatories to the declaration, received support from MPP Fife, and caused the Region to issue a statement of concern and to support the Province of Ontario’s call for a $1 billion contingency fund and third-party assessment of the pipeline.
For GRIS, the Line 9 campaign is another step in the long-term project of pushing the Region and the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) to respect and act upon treaty obligations. “The Canadian state and smaller levels of government continue to disregard their obligations to Indigenous communities, continuing the process of colonization,” Wettlaufer explained. “We need to centre decolonization at the base of every campaign to challenge the colonial attitudes at the heart of Canadian society.”
Despite the fact that Line 9 crosses 18 Indigenous communities, neither Enbridge nor the federal government engaged in meaningful consultation or sought free, prior and informed consent for the project. In documents Enbridge submitted to the NEB, the company admitted that they have “not reviewed any treaties as a result of the project,” while the government has not intervened in the matter. Within the NEB framework, GRIS foregrounded treaty obligations, pressing the NEB to understand and uphold their responsibilities under these agreements.
The implementation of Enbridge’s proposal violates numerous treaties and agreements, including the Two Row Wampum, the Nanfan Treaty, the Haldimand Treaty, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This point was made by band councils of Kahnawake, Chippewas of the Thames and Aamjiwnaang, and individual presenters including Amanda Lickers (for Rising Tide) and Carrie Lester as they testified at the Montreal (October 10-12) and Toronto (October 16-19) NEB hearings.
Ongoing treaty violations are a common theme when examining existing industrial projects, built without community consent and negatively impacting people’s health. “The environmental racism and the eco-genocide is part of the colonialism the Canadian Government still practices today. Aamjiwnaang is only one of the examples of what is happening on Turtle Island,” said Lindsay Gray, an Anishinaabe youth from Aamjiwnaang, an Indigenous community at the Sarnia Terminal of Line 9. Gray recently spoke at a coalition-organized event in Kitchener alongside youth from Six Nations and settler organizers from Toronto.
Aamjiwnaang is located in a region called “chemical valley,” where the health effects of industry are tangible throughout the community. “Chemical Valley and Line 9 make life different for the First Nations on this reservation, with the pollution of everything around you, your sky, air, soil, water and the very skin on your back by the 63 industrial plants surrounding the 25 kilometer radius,” said Gray. “I'm serving my purpose as a young Anishinaabe woman to defend the Mother Earth that provides for me, against the Harper Government.”
The participation of anti-poverty, anti-colonial, animal rights and environmentally-focused groups allowed the coalition to develop an intersectional analysis informed by a range of struggles. “It was important for me to work on this campaign because Line 9 brings the tar sands cataclysm to my community, offering us a chance to join in the broader struggle against this bastion of environmental destruction,” said Dan Lynn, of Common Cause Kitchener Waterloo. Building relationships has been a crucial part of the organizing work. “I sought to strengthen my alliance with local friends and comrades while building new relationships and expanding on our networks for future organizing.”
Enbridge, along with the Canadian state, prop up a neoliberal capitalist ideology that depends on white supremacy, patriarchy and an entrenchment of colonialism to survive, according to Lynn. For him and others, the Line 9 fight isn’t just about a pipeline but represents a struggle against these oppressive forces.
Another of the coalition’s activities is to inform local residents of the disastrous impacts that a spill from Line 9 into the Grand River would cause. The continuing effects of Enbridge’s 2010 Line 6b rupture into the Kalamazoo River illustrate the magnitude of this threat, as dilbit remains in the river three years later. Dilbit consists of tar sands oil mixed with a proprietary toxic slurry of fracked gas and other chemicals which allow the heavy product to be pumped through pipelines. In Michigan, Enbridge is failing to compensate tribal councils and municipalities that incurred costs in the process, and is neglecting to even learn from that disaster and implement emergency response training geared to dilbit for Line 9.
Although the coalition’s focus is on public education and political intervention, direct action is an essential part of the environmental justice movement. The Climate Change Containment Unit (CCCU) had a team on the river which disrupted Enbridge’s emergency response exercise mentioned above. The CCCU is a flying squad dedicated to curtailing climate change-inducing activities, having in past years temporarily shut down gas stations in Waterloo while performing mock arrests of oil corporation elites, and monitored the 2010 Olympic torch relay through Kitchener.
During the exercise, Enbridge admitted that it considers dilbit the same as light crude, despite what was learned in Kalamazoo and in the 2013 rupture of Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline in Arkansas: bitumen sinks in water as the toxic condensate vaporises. Enbridge’s response plan is entirely inadequate due to this fundamental misappraisal, since a boom, central to their operation, only catches oil on the surface of the water.
Even though the NEB cancelled the final day of the Toronto hearings due to security concerns and allowed Enbridge to submit their final response in writing, one thousand people from across Ontario still converged on the day to mark their opposition to the project. While a decision is not expected until January 2014, the coalition will continue to work using an intersectional and anti-colonial analysis as they carry on with anti-tar sands organizing and watershed protection.
“The NEB needs to focus on the security concerns represented by Enbridge's dangerous Line 9 plan, and Canada’s colonial, self-destructive energy path,” said Stacey. “If they try to ship tar sands through the line, we’ll be there, and by then, there will be more of us.”
Rachel Avery and Dan Kellar (@dankellar) both organized in Waterloo Region against Line 9. Their efforts included presenting on behalf of Grand River Indigenous Solidarity to the NEB as intervenors. More info at http://noline9wr.ca @noline9wr #noline9