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UPDATE: Ontario prepares for a fight against tar sands pipelines

The Council of Canadians was at ‘The Tar Sands Come to Ontario: No Line 9′ public forum held at the University of Toronto today.

The morning was filled with six well-attended and thoughtful workshops on key issue such as ‘Tar sands in our communities’, ‘Tar sands, unionized workers, and migrant workers’, and ‘Strategies to stop Line 9′. During the lunch-break people gathered in the main auditorium to hear from activists who are living at the Unis’tot’en camp on the pathway of the Pacific Trails pipeline that would move fracked-gas from the Horn Rim Basin to Kitimat, British Columbia. In response to a question about what activists opposed to Line 9 in Ontario can learn from their fight against Pacific Trails, they began with a profound one-word answer - “occupy”.

By the early-afternoon it was time for the plenary panel, ‘Resistance, solutions and solidarity: Indigenous leaders and allies’. It was a standing-room only audience of about 350 people for this session. Wes Elliot, Haudenosaunee land defender, began the plenary and spoke about “the formula for peace”. He said treaties are the foundation of the house and it needs to be understood that they supersede federal legislation. The sub-floor is ‘healing’, a process that needs to happen. The floor is ‘respect’ between peoples. Walls are ‘education’, he said you can’t build a house without education. And the roof of the house is ‘friendship’. He concluded by saying the house sits on Mother Earth which is love.

Vanessa Gray of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation spoke about the area known as ‘chemical valley’, where she is from near Sarnia. She said they already have a lot going on in the “toxic area” where she lives and don’t need an oil spill also to deal with. She presented a slide-show that noted that the industrial complex near her community produces about 40 per cent of Canada’s chemicals. And she stated that youth in her community are challenged by the legacy of their parents’ experiences at residential schools, but highlighted that youth organizing is an important way forward.

Aaron Detler of the Haudenosaunee Development Institute said his people are not Canadians and never will be. He noted that this forum was taking place on Haudenosaunee territory. He said that their treaty gives them “free and undisturbed harvesting”, period, meaning they can say no to Line 9 on their territory. And he noted that they have used “cease and desist” orders when developments don’t meet the needs of the Haudenosaunee people within their jurisdiction.

Art Sterritt, the executive director of the Coastal First Nations, expressed his opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline which would run a route where there are no treaties. And he highlighted that municipalities don’t want the pipeline either. So all that really leaves is the Harper government which, he said, then undermines environmental protections and processes to have its way.

Maude Barlow shared her recent experience in Mexico and compared the struggles against mines and dams there to what she heard from the panelists about what they are up against in their communities. She stated that the tar sands produces “the dirtiest oil on the Earth” and that even if it doesn’t spill it will pollute the climate where it is used. She talked about how this wasn’t a fight against just one pipeline, but about the 14,000 kilometres of new pipelines being proposed. She mentioned Bill McKibben and his message that we’re organizing to make a difference for the whole world, not just for ourselves. She said that the pipelines are the bloodlines, the arteries, of the tar sands, and that we need to stop the pipelines to stop the massive already-approved expansions of the tar sands. She warned that if the pipelines are built the imperative then will be to keep them full all the time.

Barlow said given the level of opposition - including 132 First Nation communities - they will not pass in British Columbia, which means all eyes are now on pipelines that could go from west to east, including Line 9, a ‘Trailbreaker’ pipeline to Portland, and the Trans Canada East Coast pipeline which could go to Saint John, New Brunswick. She highlighted that from there the bitumen would be exported to Europe, Asia or India - and that the pipelines are not being proposed because the corporations behind them have suddenly discovered that Atlantic Canada imports its oil. She said we need a North America-wide coalition to oppose pipelines, that we need to support those in the trees blocking the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas, and work with our allies opposing Trailbreaker in New England.

And Barlow emphasized that we need to keep an open dialogue - and the love of allies - with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union and the NDP which have been supportive of a west-to-east pipeline, but likely won’t once more about the pipelines unfolds. But, she noted, Atlantic Canada and Quebec do import oil and so we do need to commit to an alternative energy future.

She concluded with a strong criticism of Stephen Harper - including how he has put 30,000 lakes across Canada in jeopardy to let the pipelines pass and how he pursuing trade agreements like the Canada-European Union CETA and the Canada-China FIPA that give corporations new rights and powers to sue for billions of dollars when they don’t get their way.

For more about today’s conference, please see http://rabble.ca/whatsup/tar-sands-come-ontario-no-line-9 or http://www.facebook.com/events/505545582789129/. The Council of Canadians-Toronto chapter co-sponsored today’s forum - and so special thanks to Tara, Michael, Tracy, and Brian for their work on this. It was also great to see activists from the Guelph, Simcoe and York University chapters - many long-time supporters of the Council of Canadians - and Ontario-Quebec organizer Mark Calzavara, water campaigner Emma Lui, Prairies organizer Scott Harris, organizing assistant Ailish Morgan-Welden, and health campaigner Adrienne Silnicki (in Toronto for an Ontario Health Care coalition meeting) - there today.

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