Public hearings in London, Ontario for Enbridge's proposed reversal of the Line 9 pipeline had barely begun Wednesday when more than a dozen protesters, including members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, quickly shut down the proceedings.
Within moments of the disruption, the National Energy Board (NEB) panel and the representatives from Enbridge exited the room through the Hilton London staff doors.
Using the people's mic tactic, the demonstrators challenged the hearings for "failing to consider the impacts of tar sands expansion and all the treaties being breached by this proposed pipeline reversal."
No 'free, prior and informed consent' for Enbridge
They argued that the Line 9 reversal could not go ahead without the "free, prior, and informed consent of the Haundenosaunee, who would be directly impacted by a pipeline rupture."
At the conclusion of their collective speech, the protesters commenced "The People's Hearing," an alternative to the NEB proceedings featuring testimonials from the Haudenosaunee members in the room.
Hotel security and police escorted one demonstrator out of the hotel and held her for over an hour, eventually ticketing her for trespass.
The controversy continued when the NEB asked police and hotel security to completely clear the hall, including the attending media, registered intervenors and members of the public.
The hall was closed off by police for more than an hour before the hearings began again. This time, at the NEB's request, only registered intervenors and members of the press with recognized credentials were allowed in. The deadline to register as an intervenor for the Line 9 hearings was February 17.
As protesters and members of the public had words with police enforcing the NEB's ban outside the hall, legal counsel for intervening groups Equiterre and Environmental Defence forwarded a motion asking the NEB to allow members of the public back into the hearings. They pointed out that many people now excluded from the hearings were directly impacted by the project.
After deliberation the NEB decided to allow some members of the public back in as guests of the intervenors.
By mid-afternoon, the official hearings had recommenced and Enbridge's legal counsel was making the case for their Line 9 project. The pipeline company's representative focused on the intervenors that oppose the project, calling their views largely unfounded. He named the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Equiterre, Environmental Defence and the Ontario Pipeline Landowner's Association.
Enbridge failed to properly consult First Nations
While last week Enbridge announced its intentions to reverse the entire Line 9 pipeline from Sarnia to Montreal, the Enbridge representative dismissed intervenors' claims that this project is connected to the Trailbreaker Pipeline. Trailbreaker was Enbridge's postponed plan to pump tar sands bitumen to the east coast of the US by reversing a currently west moving pipeline system to allow tar sands bitumen to flow from Alberta all the way to Portland, Maine.
Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief, Christopher Plain followed Enbridge and suggested that the indigenous community near Sarnia had not been consulted properly. Chief Plain also suggested that the pipeline might exacerbate already pervasive health problems in the community.
Aamjiwnaang's legal counsel then laid out the case explaining why Enbridge had not properly consulted the First Nation. He argued that the indigenous community's treaty rights invoke a much more intensive consultation process than Enbridge undertook.
The First Nation's representative also argued that Enbridge did not provide enough information on the safe operation of storage and treatment facilities - which would potentially be outfitted to host tar sands bitumen - along the proposed Line 9 reversal route.
Aamjiwnaang's legal counsel thusly argued that the NEB should reject the project until Enbridge was able to properly consult the impacted First Nation and prove there wasn't any additional risk to operating with tar sands bitumen.
In his closing remarks, the NEB Chair said that the ban on the general public would be enforced in today's hearings as well.
The hearing is set to run through Friday, and can be watched via webcast in English and French.
Steve Cornwell is an MA candidate at York University. He is interested in the interactions of social movements, science and technology. Steve has worked on energy issues with Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defense, and Safe and Green Energy Peterborough. You can follow him @Steve_Cornwell on Twitter.
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