Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel hearings in Victoria: criticism of project continues

Speakers compare Northern Gateway project to rape, drug addiction

Speakers in the waiting room
Caitlyn Vernon reads to the panel
Don Vipond
Dr. Janet Ray
Sarah Verstegen
Speakers at the Enbridge Join Review Panel hearings. Photos by Erin Flegg

At yesterday’s hearings, Bruce Carter suggested to the Joint Review Panel that the answer to the question before them is self-evident.

“By now, you probably know the truth, I guess, I and when the truth is known, the negative impacts of this project are obvious.”

A resident of the Cowichan Valley, Carter said a failure to recognize facts is no excuse.

“Some people still deny climate change, global warming, whatever the terminology might be, but it’s obvious things are changing at rates that have never been know before.”

Student Amy Collins also expected the panel to know all it needed to by now.

“At this stage of the hearing, you’ve already heard all of the facts of the Northern Gateway pipeline repeated to you over and over again,” she said. “You are probably sick of hearing by Enbridge’s own report that between the years of 1999 and 2010 they had 804 spills.” But she continued on, determined to add her voice to the chorus.

“After all of the voices you’ve listened to, you could probably tell me better than I could you of the devastating impact an oil spill would have on Indigenous people, on their culture, water quality and food supply.”

Several presenters used bleak analogies to convey how dire they believe the situation to be.

Jean Jordan compared Enbridge’s attempt to built on First Nations territory to a traumatic event in her own life.

When I was 18, I was raped,” she told the panel. Why do men, and it’s usually men, why do they ignore the word no?”

Dr. Janet Ray, a family physician from Victoria who has worked in addictions medicine, said the thought of the pipeline brings to mind a familiar situation in her field.

“When I think about the trajectory of destruction that will result if this pipeline goes through, what comes to mind is the before and after pictures of a crystal meth addict,” she said “Could this really be the same person? How could anyone let themselves get like that, we ask.” She compared the way the short-term gain blinds the drug user to the long-term damage to the economic benefits Enbridge it touting.

“I believe the proponents of this pipeline are not willfully destructive people, nor are they unwilling and uncaring,” she told the room. “But the lure of intense relatively short-term, monetary gain of the pipeline is blinding the proponent to the long term destruction that will results.”

It became clear today that speakers thus far are not only unanimous in their rejection of the pipeline; they’re also playing off of each other. Long-time Victoria resident Jane Mertz referred to Brooke Wilken, a speaker from Saturday’s session who detailed the toxic elements found in bitumen.

“Please reread her presentation, because it was very good,” she said.

Two people attempted to show first hand the thick sludge that comes from the tar sands, each bringing small samples of oil to the hearings. Neither was allowed to show it as a visual aid.

Writer, photographer and single father Bruce Dean had his in a small cup wrapped in a plastic bag. He pulled it from his pocket to show the panel and was immediately told to put it away. He asked the panel to multiply that small increment, about half a cup, to the size of a spill.

“Picture a line up of a quarter billion people, each with a little baggy, going to your favourite river, favourite stream, favourite lake. How many people in the quarter billion line up would you allow to dump in your lake? One person, maybe? Then you’d realize. But a whole corporation? Not at all.”

Robert Smith, a retired engineer, told the panel how oil has a way of causing messes far larger than oil companies can anticipate.  He helped clean up the 1970 spill in Nova Scotia when the tanker Arrow ran aground in Chedabucto Bay. Authorities thought the oil would stay on top of the water, that oil and water wouldn’t mix, but they were wrong.

“It was an emulsion. It was a total surprise,” he said. “The time to find these things out is not after the fact, it’s before the fact.” He said there are far too many unknowns in Northern Gateway project.

Lorraine Nygaard, mother of five and owner of a bed and breakfast told the panel a pivotal event in her life was responsible for her concern for the environment.

“When I was 20, I got a melanoma on my back. I have a massive skin graft on my back. When you’re 20, it impacts you like, wow, human activity really does have an affect on our health and that made me very, very aware of what we’re doing in our environment.” 

She has devoted much of her life to getting outside, travelling under her own steam and encouraging others to do the same. She has worked for more than a decade as a personal trainer and yoga teacher. Last summer, for the first solo vacation she had taken in more than two decades, she chose to ride her bike up through the province, around Banff and back through her hometown of Creston, BC.

“I could have gone to Maui, played by the pool, had martinis. But no. I wanted to use my body. Inhaled fresh air, I slept until stars,” she said. “I was brought to tears by the beauty of this province.”

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