Face-to-face with Enbridge

Terry Dance-Bennink is a breast cancer survivor who volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society and local environmental groups. She’s a former vice-president academic of an Ontario community college and a writer/personal historian.

With some trepidation, I signed up to speak at the Enbridge hearings in Victoria last January. I felt I had a duty to speak out as a former vice-president academic of Fleming College, known for its School of Environmental and Natural Sciences.

On the day of my presentation, I joined a roomful of others at the Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel. We had to present photo ID at the door and swear on the Bible to tell the truth. Three of us at a time were escorted to the actual hearing room, which was set up like a courtroom. I felt like a witness at an historic trial presided over by a judge without power to issue a binding verdict. The Joint Review Panel can only make recommendations to Harper and his cabinet.

I sat down before the three panel members and two Enbridge representatives – finally, I was face to face with Enbridge. I maintained eye contact with them throughout most of my presentation, which was videotaped. A live audio broadcast was also placed on the panel’s website.

Fearing conflict, the panel refused to allow the public to attend the live hearings. We were forced to watch a video feed in the Ramada Inn a few kilometres away, and as a result, very few people showed up. In contrast, the open hearings up north attracted hundreds of concerned citizens. I guess Victoria has a reputation for violence!

Like 252 other presenters, I had carefully researched the proposed route of Enbridge’s pipeline and the effect of 220 supertankers winding their way from Kitimat through 125 km of narrow, rocky passes. And like every other presenter, my answer to Enbridge was a resounding “NO!”  Here are some excerpts from my presentation.

“My husband and I moved to Victoria seven years ago and we live in a condo by Victoria’s harbour. We watch tankers and freighters pass by our home every day. As a coastal resident, I’m primarily concerned about the risk of oil tanker spills, which history shows are inevitable. The Hecate Strait is the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world, according to Canada’s Marine Weather Hazards Manual. And human error is always a danger, along with the weather…

“When the predicted big earthquake happens, it will take only one pipeline crack and one tanker oil spill to wreak devastation on our coast. We live in a ring of fire where oil has no place…

“I’ve tried to put myself in Stephen Harper’s shoes, but cannot for the life of me, fathom why he gutted so many of our environmental protections last year, while actively promoting this pipeline. Is he preparing for a big cover-up?

“Is this project in Canada’s public interest? My answer is NO for two reasons. First, it violates First Nations rights under Section 35 of our Constitution. 130 First Nations are opposed to this pipeline. And B.C. First Nations have not signed away their rights under bogus treaties. The Idle No More movement is just one sign of their growing anger at centuries of neglect and racism.

“As a white person, I want to be on the right side of history for once. It’s my moral duty.

“Secondly, this project is not in our public interest because, as a planet, we’re on the verge of environmental collapse. I’m aware that your panel considers global warming to be beyond its scope on the grounds you are concerned with oil transport, not extraction. But if transport is expanded, so is extraction. And the oilsands are a notorious contributor to global warming.

“You’ve included “cumulative effects” under the topic of environmental effects in your terms of reference. An increase in tarsands production and hence global warming is certainly a ‘cumulative effect…’

“Something can be done to stop this but it requires a bold moral vision – not tankers filled with crude oil headed for Asia. Our whole way of life has to change.

“I know it will be incredibly hard to wean ourselves off oil, but the first step in breaking an addiction is to admit the depth of the problem. And there are all sorts of healthier green industries springing up around the world. I trust human ingenuity will find a way.

“I’m no longer an arm-chair critic. I intend to get active in provincial and federal politics for the first time in decades. I’ll campaign this spring for whichever party has the strongest No Tankers Off Our Coast stance. B.C. still has the power to stop this project.”

As I left the room that day, I felt proud to have joined the chorus of “No Tankers” and I was encouraged to see the panel take my comments seriously. But the battle is far from won. I’ve got work to do this spring – door to door, phone to phone. Will you join me?

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