Meet my friend Vanessa Gray.
This exceptional young, Indigenous activist from Aamjiwnaang First Nation -- in what is called Chemical Valley -- has been hard at work educating Canadians on what it's like to live in one of the most polluted areas of the country.
When you can top the toxicity of the tar sands, that means something very bad is poisoning the land, water and people who live near Sarnia, Ontario.
Gray, 23, along with two Guelph residents, Sarah Scanlon, 30, and Stone Stewart, 28, took direct action against $58-billion Enbridge Corporation's Line 9 pipeline on Monday December 21, 2015. The three shut down the pipeline carrying bitumen from Alberta's tar sands. They were released on bail the following day.
Allegedly, the trio entered the small fenced off, Enbridge-owned compound. There they allegedly turned off the valve -- a manual hand wheel valve -- and chained themselves to it with bike locks around their necks.
All this while someone somewhere in Canada made an anonymous call to Enbridge's call centre in Alberta to alert the company of the direct action in rural Sarnia, Ontario. This shutdown stopped the flow of bitumen from travelling any further east towards Montreal.
The pipeline travels through Aamjiwnaang First Nation traditional territory, in an area already deeply contaminated with toxins from refineries, which is one reason that motivated Gray to take action.
But of course, the courts don't always see eye-to-eye on this issues. According to Crown attourney, I. Maedel, shutting the valve themselves in protest, "could have resulted in a leak or rupture anywhere along the line," running from Sarnia to Montreal.
After a locksmith was called in to cut through the bike locks around their necks later that day, they were arrested and the trio charged include mischief over $5,000 and mischief endangering life. Stewart was also charged with resisting arrest.
In a press release about the action, Gray said, "It's clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide."
"I defend the land and water because it is sacred," Gray says. "I have the right to defend anything that threatens my traditions and culture."
She is now seeking the community's support and has just recently launched a new website called Line 9 Shut Down where the makes her case to defend Mother Earth from the risks of pipeline ruptures. Here, supporters can stay abreast of any court dates.
On her website, it states, "locally, Aamjiwnaang First Nation experiences skewed sex ratios and high rates of cancer, respiratory illness, and developmental disorders as a result of pollution from nearby petrochemical refineries."
For her direct action, Gray has been charged with counts of Mischief Over $5,000 (maximum sentence of 10 years in prison) and Mischief Endangering Life (maximum sentence of life in prison).
She is selling t-shirts to raise funds to pay legal fees for the trio here.
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