Standing within the throng of demonstrators at last month's Defend Our Coast rally it became clear to me that a palpable shift in the collective expectations of Canadians had taken place.
Defend Our Coast
This past weekend trade investment lawyer, Gus Van Harten, spent his time in his basement, rifling through old files. He knew that somewhere, buried in piles of international investment and legal trade documents, there was the answer to this one nagging question he couldn't shake: hadn't British Columbia already refused an investor-state treaty like the China-Canada Investment Deal once before? And wasn't that rejection because the trade deal was 'unconstitutional?'
If there was one message that stirred me during Monday's Defend Our Coast action, it was this: First Nations need you to join the fight to protect British Columbia's forests and coast from tar sands pipeline and tanker threats.
The message came loud and clear from Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt in his speech delivered to thousands spread out on the lawn of BC's legislature building in Victoria. Addressing the crowd he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, today is all about you. Coastal First Nations and all of the tribes of the interior, we've been stating our opposition for a long time now. But we're so happy that 3000 of you have come out to join with us today, 3000 people. And it's your voices that are important today, not ours. It's your voices that we need to join with us.”
Sterritt asked the crowd, “Who is going to lay down in front of the bulldozers?” To which the crowd resoundingly replied, “We will!”
Monday's Defend Our Coast rally demonstrated the extent to which First Nations and other British Columbians are prepared to stand together to protect the province's right to refuse the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. The overwhelming emphasis during Monday's event was “the people, united, will never be defeated,” a line sung in unison across the crowded square.
Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is arguing that Shell Canada's proposed expansion of the Jackpine Mine in the tar sands is in violation of constitutionally protected aboriginal rights outlined in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and Treaty 8, which the ACFN signed in 1899. Arguments against the proposal will be heard by a provincial-federal Joint Review Panel.
The ACFN participated in a Fort McMurray rally today, asking for individuals, organizations and communities across Canada to stand in solidarity with their tribe.
“We are here today because a legal challenge may be the only remaining piece of law that can stop the destruction of our land,” said Allan Adam, chief of the ACFN. “We are thankful for the mountain of support we've been receiving. People understand the significance of this challenge and what we must do for our land.”
The proposed expansion will increase Jackpine Mine's production capacity from 200,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) to 300,000 bbl/d and will extend the mine's lifespan to 2049.
The project will add 1.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, roughly the equivalent of 280,000 additional cars on the road. The waste from the expanded project will amount to some 486 billion litres of liquid tailings including mercury, arsenic and lead, which Shell proposes to permanently bury in what is called a 'pit lake,' according to a press release.