Last Friday, the long awaited Joint Review Panel hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project began in Prince Rupert.
Kicking off the two days of hearings were those who signed up to be intervenors, the people who would be allowed to give oral evidence during the hearings.
The hearings began bright and early that morning and the North Coast convention centre in Prince Rupert was packed. Many people were wearing deep blue scarves with a salmon embroidered on them as a sign of solidarity; others were wearing ceremonial regalia or t-shirts with anti-pipeline slogans on them.
At the front of the room at their own table sat the panel sat the three members of the National Energy Board, who are the ones who will have to recommend to the Federal cabinet either that the pipeline should go ahead, or that it should be rejected. At a table in front of them the small group of representatives from Enbridge Inc. including company spokesman Paul Stanway and the lawyer representing the Northern Gateway project, Laura Estep.
The hearings began with a procession of the intervenors intending to speak that day – and their supporters – entering the room. It was lead by Metlakatla members who sang and drummed before an elder said a prayer to begin the hearings.
CULLEN GETS CUT-OFF
Local MP, Nathan Cullen, was the first intervenor to give oral evidence, but ran into problems concerning what counted as oral evidence.
Cullen began his testimony with criticisms of how Enbridge has been dealing with communities since the project was first proposed years ago and suggested that Northern BC does not trust the company or the oil industry or the federal government.
The energy company’s lawyer objected saying that the politician’s presentation was against the rules on what counts as oral evidence.
“We would like to raise an objection with this presentation: it is argument, it is argumentative, it is a political agenda. This is nothing more than a political speech and we object on that basis . . . it’s not oral evidence what he’s been giving so far,” argued Estep.
The panel’s rules on giving oral evidence state that intervenors must only talk about their own personal experiences and opinions that would help illustrate for the panel how the pipeline would affect the region if it were to go ahead, and it could only be information that couldn’t be submitted in writing.
Arguing the specifics of the pipeline, making political statements, presenting scientific data or technical information or speaking outside of your own personal experience was not allowed. All of that would have to be saved for the intervenor’s closing arguments in April.
Cullen said that he was unable to accept that concerns over the company’s behaviour was not relevant to the panel’s discussions and essentially argued with the panel for close to half an hour about what he was and was not allowed to say.
“I don’t know if I’m in the bounds of procedural direction number four, but it feels to me that the two cannot be separated. That the way the company conducts itself within the local communities and with the First Nations is inherent to the way the company will conduct itself in the engineering and the clean-ups if there’s an accident,” argued Cullen.
As Cullen argued his position, he had to be reminded several times to stick to the oral evidence rules. People in the room cheered points they agreed with, booed the Enbridge council’s objections and some shouted, “let him speak!”. The panel chair had to call again and again for order.
At one point a Metlakatla Dancer was told to leave the room after being asked twice to be quiet. She was let back in later though.
After more objections and reprimands from the panel about Cullen’s testimony, the hearing took a quick break for Cullen to think about what to say. After it reconvened, Cullen talked about coming moving to Northern BC and about traveling it as MP and his trip down the proposed tanker route with its sharp turns. His presentation lasted less than 10 minutes.
METLAKATLA SAYS ITS WAY OF LIFE IS AT STAKE
The next speaker was the chief of Metlakatla, Harold Leighton, who bristled at the fact that a Metlakatla dancer had been asked to leave, saying it was very disrespectful.
“To us that’s disrespectful and that shouldn’t have happened. We’d never do that in our peace talks. So we expect the same respect from the panel and Enbridge,” said Leighton.
After Leighton began his presentation, he talked about the culture, history and political structure of the Coast Tsimshian. And about a study that had found DNA evidence, he said, showed that modern members of the group can trace their ancestry in the area back 5,000 years, and the diet had not changed much in that time. He said now ancient culture is at risk.
“It would take one accident to destroy our whole way of life,” Leighton told the panel.
“Metlakatla isn’t opposed to development, but there has to be some respect from proponents on who we are, of our archeological sites and ancestors, of our ecosystem to make sure its protected. If we can do business that way, we will. Otherwise its very difficult to do business with us.”
Hereditary Chief of Metlakatla, Clarence Nelson, described for the panel the history and practices of how his people collect their food.
Metlakatala has survived off what it can collect form the sea and it still does saying that they are a “grassroots people” whose pantry is the ocean itself.
“It provides the Metlakatla people with the most important resource in our traditional life: food security,” says Clarence.
The next presenter for Metlakatla was Robert Nelson who works as a fisherman and lives in the village. He went into at great length describing what how fishermen go and harvest their traditional foods and how that has been impacted by development on the North Coast in recent years.
Fish stocks are depleting all around them which Nelson credits not just to fishery mismanagement but to overzealous recreational fishing, boat accidents, and the pollution that already exists in the Hecate Strait, which no one bothers to try to clean up.
Fanny Nelson described for the panel the cultural importance of teaching their younger generations the how to catch, clean, store and eat their traditional foods.
Fanny says that even something as seemingly significant as learning how their family strings up fish in a smokehouse (every family has a different way of doing it) connects them to their culture, and the sharing of the day’s catch, preparing for winter or feasting together is an important part of the fabric of their communities. All of which would be lost if there was ever a tanker spill.
“If we lose our traditional foods, then we have nothing,” says Fanny Nelson.
David Leask works for Metlaktla’s treaty office and talked to the panel about the impact the tankers could have on his nation’s future developments. Leask says that Metlakatla knows that the North Coast has a lot of economic pressure bearing down on it and says that their treaty office is “not anti-industry or anti-development,” but it will fight for the First Nation’s priorities and goals for their territory, and the pipeline puts too much at risk for it to fit in with them.
The Enbridge pipeline isn’t alone though, Leask says they worry about the cumulative affects on the environment of all the development that has been going on already. With this in mind, he says, Metlakatla has been lobbying with some success for more things like conservation boundaries to protect certain areas of their territory.
To conclude Metlakatla’s presentation, Harold Leighton reiterated his community’s opposition to the pipeline, characterizing negotiations with the company as “trying to buy off First Nations.” Metlakatla, he said, will never be bought off. He also took aim at the federal government.
“They call us radicals. If trying to protect our traditional resources and the environment is radical, then we are radicals,” concluded Leighton.
GARY COONS RAMBLES
Next person to give evidence was local MLA Gary Coons. Unlike Cullen who was told repeatedly to stick to his own experiences, Coons did just that, but perhaps a little too much. The North Coast MLA started out with an account of him moving to BC, how he taught a hockey coaching seminar, attending potlatches, and even a story about how he chased off a bear from his yard with a weed-whacker.
After listening for 40 minutes Estep asked the panel how anything he was saying was relevant, Coons was asked to get to the point four times by the energy board chair, Sheila Leggett.
“We are having trouble finding the relevance in what you’re telling us this afternoon. I’m listening hard as are my panel-mates but could you please get to the punchline a little bit faster,” asked Legget.
At the very end of his presentation Coons appeared to give up on trying to skirt around the issue began listing his concerns about the project instead.
“If this project is approved I am concerned that a spill would impact the jobs and the economy of the northern central coast for decades to come,” says Coons.
“I’m concerned about the impacts on traditional harvesting. . . right out there is a breadbasket and it must be protected.
“I am also deeply troubled about how this may impact relationships. It appears to be pitting neighbours against neighbours friends against friends, governments against governments. I am deeply concerned how this will affect relations between First Nations and non-first nations if this is approved.”
HAIDA GWAII COMPLICATIONS.
Private citizen Glen Naylor went next. And shared personal stories that he felt showed potential complications for the project if it went ahead. He told the story about how a storm that had hit the Haida Gwaii produced winds strong enough to blow him across the street and how he had once traveled on the ferry back to the mainland and the ship had struck bottom.
“[The ferry] is a relatively small vessel when compared to the tankers,” says Naylor.
He talked about his time living on one of the Gwaii Hanaas islands and how there are wetlands in the interior of some that would be impossible to clean if they were ever polluted by a tanker spill.
MARTY BOWLES BRINGS THE SNACKS
At the start of the second day of hearings, sportsman Marty Bowles went to the front of the hearing room with some snacks for the panel members. Bowles had brought some deer garlic sausage, moose pepperoni, smoked salmon, crab dip, and sushi for them and those watching the hearings to try – the panelists later did during a break.
“I’m appearing before you because I believe the pipeline will put everything we have in grave jeopardy. I’m sure you see endless statistics and charts and there is nothing I can add to that pile of paperwork that would make a difference. So instead I would like to share some of our bounty with you,” says Bowles.
Bowles says that a spill would destroy a beautiful natural environment that so many people live depend on for food. He even offered to take the panelists on his sailing boat for a week-long fishing trip if they wanted to experience the area for themselves.
LESSONS FROM INDIA
Lee Brain told the panel that he was no one in particular and wasn’t there to represent any organization, but he had a story to tell the panel. Brain is a 26-year-old after-school program coordinator in Prince Rupert but he’s originally from Alberta.
Brain’s father is an oil man “who oversees some of the largest projects the world has to offer.” And his son was destined to join the oil industry too. In 2009 Brain’s father sent him to an oil refinery in India along near the border with Pakistan so that he could “finally experience the magnitude and power the oil industry has to offer.”
Brain says the month he spent at the massive 1.2-million barrel per day refinery changed him forever. He learned a great deal about the oil industry as he worked closely all the different parts of the facility.
One day, some of the Indian managers decided to take him down to the jetty where the supertankers are filled with oil. Brain says the traveled down the route of the short pipeline that ran from the refinery the few miles to the ocean.
“On our way down there we drove passed many different villages, each one of them looking extremely
impoverished,” says Brain.
Brains says he learned that the villages had once sustained themselves on farming and fishing. But that changed after the refinery and a pipeline running through nine villages was approved.
“After a period of time there was a breakage that contaminated an underground aquifer and spoiled the wells and water supplies of the surrounding villages.”
Men from the villages become dependent on cheap refinery jobs to survive says Brain.
Brain says the managers told him the refinery used a floating terminal to fill the supertankers farther away from shore because the huge ships can run aground easily. They also told him something else:
“ [The manager] replied with a unexpected sobering tone, ‘we are destroying our future generations for now and forever . . . I looked over to see the other managers slowly nod their heads in agreement. It was such a profound statement,” recounts Brain.
Brain concluded his presentation by ignoring the rules of oral evidence and launching into a full-on attack of the pipeline and the company, calling for the country to move on from fossil fuels. When the panel told him to stop he joked that he had been “so close to finishing without being interrupted.” Legget frowned.
HIGH-SKILL JOBS BEING PUT AT RISK
The last intervenor to present at the hearing were local members of the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union as well a vessel owner and vice president of the Native Brotherhood of BC.
One member, Conrad Lewis, criticized the hearings for being so restrictive in what people were allowed to say.
“The sentiments of those who do get to speak are interjected, point of order, these sort of things, forms of restricting people. Forms of intimidating people,” said Lewis until he was stopped by the panel chair.
Each one of the thirteen people from the union seated up front got to speak about what they do and how their industry industry was important to them. Some people teared up about the loss of a way of life if there was ever a spill while others talked about the economic benefits of the fishing has to communities
Arny Nagy has worked in fish processing for decades and even worked his way through college there. He says that the pipeline is putting at risk skilled-labour jobs in the fish plants. But its not just about the job or the money that would be lost if there was a spill.
“My family’s relation to the commercial industry and as a first nations person form Haida Gwaii is irreplaceable. Compensation is not an answer. You cannot compensate me for the loss of my right to make a living in the commercial fishing industry,” says Nagy.