Oct 24, 2012


On Monday, I attended a 3500 strong "Defend Our Coast" protest at the British Columbia legislature in Victoria, protesting the Northern Gateway pipeline. This is a planned oil pipeline running from Edmonton and the Alberta oil sands, across the province of British Columbia to the extremely rocky, yet pristine central Pacific Coast. There, massive oil tankers will navigate up a long, narrow, treacherous fjord to load Alberta oil for delivery to China or other buyers.

If the pipeline didn't traverse the high mountains and lush valleys, a multitude of fresh rivers, the sacred native lands of our First Nations, and if the coastlines weren't so pristine and seismic, it might get the go-ahead. But then there is almost a two hundred mile fjord (Douglas Channel) filled with rocky islands where hugh and mighty oil tankers will need to navigate safely. And, if the company that is hoping to build the pipeline didn't have such a bad track record for pipeline bursts, leaks, clean-ups, terrible public relations and negotiating skills, people might not be so concerned. But, the hazards of the situation have multiplied in the minds of anyone who values the country and the environment, and an ever-increasing public awareness of the situation has created a large ground swell of indignation, leading to mass protests.

An oil spill in the rivers and streams that cross British Columbia will be devastating to this environment. An oil spill along the coast will be shockingly tragic. It will ruin one of the world's most treasured places. It will kill the abundant wealth of marine life, salmon and whales along the coast. It will spill an oil slick larger than the tragedy in Alaska when the Exon Valdez hit bottom. A spill along these shores will not be clean for decades.

At this protest, native bands sang and banged their drums, their leaders, environmentalists and Green Party politicians gave rousing speeches. Ordinary folk who wanted to stand for something were roused to the point of answering chants aimed at them. "Save our coast, save our forest," they chanted. At one point a native leader asked the crowd, "Are you willing to lay down in front of the bulldozers?" A resounding, "Yes," went up from the crowd. Just being there was invigorating.

At the end of many hours of speeches and threatening weather, it began to rain, and a long, black panel was rolled out across the green lawn of the legislature, signifying the length of an oil tanker.

I left the gathering early and was glad to have participated, but I wonder if civil protests like this get through to the politicians and corporations to which they are aimed? Unfortunately, our democratic system puts ultimate power into the hands of a majority government and a protest can do nothing but be a buzzing fly in the face of a government with an agenda. Until, that is, it gets so big that it influences major votes and ousts the government. One can only hope that the other political parties, which are waiting in the wings to be elected in the next vote, will be more respectful of the power of the people and empathize with the protest.

I am an environmentalist. I came to this conclusion when I was sent all round the world filming documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Some were for The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. I saw for myself how dirty and polluted the world has become. In comparison, Canada was a clean gem. But not any more. Are we total idiots? What philosophy is this, to totally degrade our oceans, air, land? Everything that keeps us alive on this Earth is getting polluted in one way or another. Everywhere in the world we, as a species, have degraded and destroyed life itself. We hunt wildlife and sea life to extinction. Species are dying out everywhere because of us.

We are the most advanced and richest generation in all of history. We have the means to not only live clean, think clean and be creative with new ways of doing something like a massive pipeline, but to clean up the messes we have created. Unfortunately, we are the ones who will pay the price, because the fragile eco-systems that keep us alive cannot sustain our degradation much longer. The planet will survive. It will rejuvenate itself in a few hundred/thousand years and become like new again. Meanwhile, we have killed ourselves. We have destroyed our history, our future, our children's future. We have foolishly committed mass suicide.

For what?

Controlled and monitored far-thinking progress is good and perhaps a pipeline is needed to get the product to market.  But diminutive and backward thinking that destroys everything along the path to financial success is not good. This is a badly conceived, planned and reckless pipeline that is being shoved down the necks of decent citizens who know that there is a better way. There is also a better way to run a country than to destroy the things it's citizens hold dear.

In my own small way I join the protest.


"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men."
- Abraham Lincoln

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."
- Elie Wiesel

"Where globalization means, as it often does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom."
- Nelson Mandela