High-profile activist vows to join pipeline blockade
Tzeporah Berman, one of Canada’s most prominent environmental activists, has vowed to stand with First Nations protesters should their fight against the controversial Enbridge pipeline project come to a standoff.
Berman’s show of solidarity came one day after Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, warned that protesters would form physical blockades against the Northern Gateway pipeline if all legal attempts to halt the proposal should fail.
“We’re in a tipping point moment in our history,” Berman told CTV News. “The First Nations have vowed that they are going to organize blockades and protests, and many of us who haven’t stood on the line in 20 years, since Clayoquot Sound, will be standing with them.”
The environmentalist went so far as to compare the mounting pipeline opposition to the Clayoquot logging protests she helped organize in the 1990s, which culminated in a gathering of more than 10,000 people on the west coast of Vancouver Island and resulted in roughly 900 arrests.
“This is a debate that people are having everywhere from their kitchen tables to their board rooms,” Berman said. “And like Clayoquot, I think there’s no question that we’re going to see more and more protests.”
“The fact is that the risks of this pipeline are too great and the people of British Columbia are saying no.”
According to the provincial government, B.C. is positioned to assume 100 per cent of the marine risk and 58 per cent of the land-based risk of transporting raw bitumen from the tar sands to Kitimat. But a Canadian Energy Research Institute report released Tuesday found Enbridge’s pipeline would generate just $8.9 billion in taxes for B.C. by 2035, compared to $551.6 billion for Alberta.
On Monday, Phillip drew comparisons between B.C.’s ongoing pipeline battle and the 1990 Oka and 1995 Ipperwash land disputes that led to months-long occupations, hundreds of arrests and two deaths in Quebec and Ontario.
Phillip added that the fight over the $6-billion pipeline also eclipses any other B.C. cause rallied around in his lifetime.
“This is far bigger, it’s far more significant in terms of what’s at stake here and that’s why our people are prepared to go the distance on this,” Phillip said. “We have no choice.”
The warning represented the most aggressive public stand made by an aboriginal leader against the pipeline to date, but it’s unclear how many others agree. CTV News tried to contact Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo Monday, but was told he was unavailable to comment.
But Keith Henry, president of the B.C. Metis Federation, said Tuesday that Phillip’s position echoes those of many in the First Nations community and beyond.
“People are prepared to stand on the line and use whatever means they have to to stop this project,” Henry said. “It would be unfortunate if it ended up in that kind of violent standoff, I do believe though that the ingredients are there.”
The B.C. government has suggested it has tools at its disposal to fight the pipeline – namely, refusing to supply hydro power and denying the roughly 60 permits required for development – but Premier Christy Clark remains undecided on the project.
In the meantime, Environment Minister Terry Lake said the government, which is currently caught between the federal Conservatives who supports the pipeline and a growing crowd of critics at home, is hoping the increasingly heated rhetoric will cool down.
“Sometimes we need to turn the language down a bit. There is a process in place and I think we need to respect that process,” Lake said.
The National Energy Board’s joint review panel assessing Enbridge’s proposed pipeline is scheduled to continue into 2013 if necessary. Should the panel approve the project, First Nations and environmental leaders have pledged to challenge the pipeline in court before resorting to blockades.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Scott Roberts