Activists in this small city are challenging Enbridge’s plan to pump tar sands bitumen through sensitive lands near the shore of Lake Ontario.
by Victoria Thoms
Activists protesting against the progress of the Line 9 pipeline shared their opinions with members of the community in a not-so-subtle way on Friday afternoon. Marching through downtown Belleville, Lindy Powell, Maribeth Bateman, Anthea Weese, Wesley Weese, Susan White and John Lewis carried a large banner stating, “Stop Line 9.”
As downtown shoppers and residents looked confused and surprised, the small protest carried on downtown showing their bold statement against Enbridge Inc., the company at the centre of the controversy. Enbridge was not available to provide an interview with The Pioneer before the publishing date. “Short term, what I want is for the tar sands to stop,” said Lewis, one of the protest participants.
Enbridge is a large corporation that protestors say is stepping on small communities to get what they want. The reversal of a pipeline segment between Sarnia and Montreal is their current mission, but the project won’t end there. The tar sands industry is growing bigger and bigger every year, consuming money, land and natural resources, which is worrying local residents.
With the chance of a break in a pipeline causing a devastating oil spill, Enbridge is facing petitions and protests across the country. Nation-wide petitions have been started, and well as provincial discussions and speeches by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. “Groups like ourselves have to resist this, because what we’re trying to do is slow down,” said Wesley Weese, one of the participants. “By taking a stance on Line 9, we are in fact slowing down this whole process.”
Protests are being held to make local citizens more aware there is more risk than reward involved in this process, the protestors say. Belleville citizens have no direct say in the matter, they add, and are having a hard time having their voices heard. Bateman also participated in the activities of Friday. She said the risks and rewards are not equally balanced. “What’s in the pipeline, and do we get any reward from that?
And the answer is probably not. Unless someone has a relative working in Alberta, then they might. What are the risks, because there is certainly not many benefits,” said Bateman. Enbridge Inc. made an effort to reach out to the citizens of cities and towns along the pipeline route. Hosting small “town hall” meetings, they awarded prizes and gifts to different towns for their participation. Belleville’s prize was $25,000 to refurbish a bus, in preparation for disaster co-ordination. Enbridge did not state the cause of the potential disaster, saying the bus could be for tsunamis, earthquakes or any other natural disaster that may occur. “I tell you, it would be a disaster if Belleville didn’t have any clean drinking water,” said one participant. Many participants in the latest local protests have been concerned that there are not more people in their communities expressing concerns.
In fact, as the group paraded along downtown, one observer shouted out “What is Line 9?” Many people seemed confused by the sign, or simply unaware of what the cause was. Other citizens say that they’ve seen it far too often, or feel too pressured to step up and say something. “Tar sands, smar sands. People can feel that way, or get overwhelmed and not want to hear any more about it. But as soon as they hear that the tar sands are coming here, to our water and our lake, they change right away. Their opinion becomes ‘We’re connected; we care.’ It’s our community and we’ve got to take care of it,” said White. Local protesters have asked Enbridge questions, and say they have not received responses.
“If I was sitting in a chair at Enbridge, I would say, ‘Well why respond?’ I would be saying ‘Let’s just put out our statements, and not respond to the opposition, not react.’ The minute you react, you get into a situation that you might be led in someway to somewhere you don’t want to go,” said Wesley Weese. The group of protesters showed up along the MoiraRiver, and downtown Belleville on Friday. They are planning to show up in other locations across Belleville with their banner to create awareness of the pending issue that may soon become permanent.
This article was published February 11, 2014 in The Pioneer, the student newspaper at LoyalistCollege in Belleville, Ontario.