Defending Our Coast: A message from the front lines.

Photo by ianmackenz |

I am almost hesitant to confess such a thing, but prior to this week, I had never been directly involved with (or even observed) a major environmental movement, despite the fact that I study environmental management.  This past Monday, however, I boarded a ferry to Victoria, and stood on the lawn of BC Parliament during “Defend Our Coast”, the most recent movement to stop the construction of oil pipelines (read: Enbridge) and the international export of extracted bitumen from the British Columbia coast. 

I learned pretty quickly that protests – or at least this one – reflect precisely the way such events are depicted in movies: witty signs addressed to key members of parliament, shouts of, “Yes!”, “No!”, and “Shame!” from the audience after each anti-pipeline and anti-tanker statement, and of course, canine protesters dressed up in their finest.  Stereotypes aside, the turnout was exceptionally impressive – between 3,000 and 5,000, according to event organizers. 

First Nations representation was significant, both on stage and within the crowd, which is not surprising considering that oil extraction and pipeline construction directly affects much of their land and resources.  Concerns expressed by members of various First Nations communities expressed the intrinsic value of nature; there is a certain value in catching just the right amount fish for dinner or living on undisturbed land that simply cannot be expressed in dollars and cents.  Time and time again, these communities remind the government that no amount of money will convince them to relinquish the purity of their land.  This day served as a personal reminder that, as the saying goes, some things in life cannot be bought.

Perhaps the most powerful moment of the day came from an Aboriginal woman with family residing in Northern Alberta.  She shared a very personal story for which I am extremely appreciative.  As the tar sands began to expand, her family contacted her to report signs of illness.  She began to cry on stage as she recalled the unbearable experience of reporting to them that, yes, the tar sands were responsible for their declining health.  Personification of a heavily publicized issue genuinely allowed me to internalize not only the possible, but observed, repercussions of this type of investment.

As an Ontarian only recently exposed to B.C. politics, I cannot pretend that I know much of the ins and outs of politics on this side of the country, but I do know that opposition from public figures like politicians brings us one step closer to successfully defending our coast.  This was the first time I had heard Elizabeth May speak live, and needless to say, she sparked even more passion in the crowd (if that’s even possible).  She heavily emphasized the inevitable consequences of the Canada-China version of FIPPA and educated us on what this agreement really means for Canadians.  I could write an entire article (novel?) on the economic and ecological devastation facing Canada with the passing of this agreement, starting with giving China the power to demand compensation from Canada if exports are ceased in the future.  May is much better at hostile writing than I, and so I allow you to read her view on the issue

During the ‘action’ component of the protest (of which I was not an active participant), a black banner spanning the length of a typical tanker expected to maneuver through an obstacle course of narrow passageways off the coast was put into the ground in front of the Parliament building.  If it was even possible, this whole project made even less sense when I realized that this banner extended the length of the Parliament building itself.  Now, all I visualize is this Parliament building removed from its foundation and tossed into a river to travel through tight passageways thousands of times each year.  To me, this is truly nothing short of absurd.   (On a side note, Enbridge depicted tanker travels to be a much less dangerous task than it is in reality). Again, I could go on and on about public deception on this issue, but I may just save that for next time.

To be honest, I have never been too fond of protests.  I’m a firm believer in using rational action to find solutions, and I usually view protests concerning environmental issues as a type of ‘extremist’ action - a behaviour that normally makes me quite uncomfortable.  This time, however, I actively speak against pipelines and tankers on our coast.  I may not have lived in this beautiful province for long, but knowing that just one oil spill will permanently devastate our coast sends me to the front lines.  So much will be destroyed for the benefit of only a few.  And even more importantly, this is urgent.  Decisions requiring no vote and no participation are being made so quickly that we may be completely oblivious to serious threats to our coast. 

If you are interested (or even just curious) about the “Defend Our Coast” mission, click here.