Protesters staged a rally in front of RBC headquarters in Toronto on Tuesday to proclaim their support for the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in its struggle against pipelines in Northern BC and to insist that RBC cease financing the Pacific Trails Pipelines, Enbridge Line 9 in Ontario and any other tar sands related project.

“These projects are incredibly destructive with a sacrifice zone that’s as large as some countries,” said rally organizer and environmentalist Sakura Saunders.

“It’s all done on indigenous land, breaking all sorts of treaties and making it so the people that live on the land cannot live traditional lifestyles. Cannot hunt. Cannot fish. Because it’s completely destroying the environment.”

And that’s why they want it to stop.

The Unist’ot’en, living in unceded territory in Northern BC, said they are against all pipelines slated to cross through their territories, which include the Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan’s northern proposal, Pacific Trails, Pembina, Spectra, and other pipeline projects.

The Pacific Trails project is a 463 kilometre pipeline connecting a liquified natural gas terminal in Kitimat to Summit Lake near Prince George in northeastern BC with a goal of transporting up to 1 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, extracted through hydraulic fracturing of shale gas, to international markets.

On November 20, the Unist’ot’en Camp website reported that “Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Toghestiy intercepted and issued an eagle feather to surveyors from the Can-Am Geomatics company, working for Apache’s proposed shale gas Pacific Trails Pipeline. 

“In Wet’suwet’en law, an eagle feather is used as a first and only notice of trespass.”

The surveyors were ordered to leave the territory and the road entering into the territory has been closed to all industry activities until further notice.

“I have invoked the Wet’suwet’en Inuk nu’ot’en (Law) called Bi Kyi Wa’at’en (Responsibility of a husband to respectfully use and protect his wife’s territory) to issue a trespass notice to Pipeline workers on her sovereign territory,” said Toghestly. 

“My Clan’s territory called Lho Kwa (Clore River) is located behind the Unist’ot’en territory adjacent to the Coastal town of Kitimat and it is our responsibility to protect our territory as well. We will be stopping all proposed pipelines.”

The Unist’ot’en have established a permanent community along the Widzin Kwa (Morice River) directly in the path of the proposed “energy corridor” and “made their opposition extremely clear.”

Freda Huson, spokeswoman for the Unist’ot’en Clan, said “PTP does not have permission to be on our territory. It’s unceded land. We said “NO!” in their meetings. 

“We’ve written them letters; I’ve sent them emails, saying “absolutely NO!” to their projects. Consider it trespass when you enter our territory without permission. You’ve received your warning. Don’t come back!”

Following the trespass notice, the Unist’ot’en called for solidarity rallies on Tuesday across the country and internationally.

“This is to show the strength of their networks and there are a lot people aware of their struggle that support them,” said Saunders.

“We want Apache to know that they have to back off, go through the right protocols and respect that the Unist’ot’en people don’t want pipelines through their territory.”

Pacific Trails Pipeline is a $1 billion partnership between Apache Canada, Encana Corporation and Enron Oil and Gas Resources.

RBC, one of the largest financiers of pipelines projects, is a major investor in Encana.

“When you’re doing this tar sands research you see again and again and again. RBC always at the forefront,” said Saunders.

Last summer, over 200 supporters from across the country attended the third annual Unist’ot’en Action Camp to build solidarity and campaign and action planning to stop the proposed and approved pipelines and mining projects.

“Because the piping of tar sands bitumen is so corrosive and potentially destructive, it’s faced fierce opposition in the Northern Gateway project and Keystone XL,” said Saunders.

She believes that this “fierce opposition” forced Enbridge to make plans to reopen the 37-year-old Line 9 pipeline in Ontario and use it to transport tar sands bitumen from Sarnia to Montreal, and eventually Maine.

“We’re also here (today) to build resistance to the Line 9 proposal,” said Saunders.

“Through Ontario, they’re attempting to pipe this extremely corrosive bitumen through this 37-year-old pipeline. Not only is it incredibly old, but it has almost the same lining to the Kalamazoo pipeline.”

In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline spilled more than three million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo river when it ruptured.

In July, the CBC reported that “the report by the National Transportation Safety Board found oil gushed from the rupture for more than 17 hours before the leak was discovered, and that Enbridge staff twice pumped more oil into the ruptured pipeline despite alarms and pressure differentials.”

The clean-up of the Kalamazoo river is still ongoing.

“This is proven bad technology,” said Saunders. “So it’s incredibly stupid that they’re trying to do this.”

Line 9 passes through 99 towns and cities and 14 aboriginal communities in Ontario and Quebec.

A study conducted by conservation areas in the GTA warned that a pipeline break could have a “significant” effect on Toronto’s drinking water. 

Earlier this year, the Watershed Sentinel reported that Enbridge had over 700 spills between 2000 and 2010.

“So why should we expect Enbridge to have learned any lessons,” she said.

Around 11:30 am, the protesters read out a letter from Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson in which she issued a warning of trespass to the companies associated with the Pacific Trails Pipelines project, including RBC.

The group then tried to make it’s way inside the RBC building to deliver a copy of Huson’s letter, but were stopped by security and police.

A while later, a representative from RBC corporate communications came out and accepted the letter from spokesperson Taylor Flook on behalf of the company.

“No pipelines on stolen native lands,” chanted the protesters.

In December 2010, RBC issued a press release on their website announcing a policy on Environmental and Social Risk Management for Capital Markets that it created after consultations with the Rainforest Action Network and First Nations representatives, recognizing the importance of community relations, in particular aboriginal community relations, in operating and growing a business.

“We noticed that link is no longer on your website, but your press release still is and we’re open to opening a dialogue as to what’s going on with that policy currently,” said Taylor Flook, an environmentalist and spokesperson for the group.

Then the group decided to head over to the offices of Jarislowsky Fraser Limited, the second largest investor in the Pacific Trails Pipelines project, to deliver the same letter.

“If they think the PTP pipeline is going to be built, they’re greatly mistaken,” said Saunders.

“Because we know that the Unist’ot’en and their allies are going to do whatever is necessary to stop this pipeline.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.