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“Tar Sands Come to Ontario: No Line 9” Conference Report


Dear Friend,
Our November 17 teach-in delivered a clear grass-roots message: there is now a strong basis for organizing education and broad collective action to stop Enbridge from piping tar sands oil across southern Ontario. This is an environmental battle against global warming, in continuity with what the Bolivians initiated at the 2008 conference in Cochabamba. Here are two reports on our event, by John Riddell and Brent Patterson. 

Toronto conference lays basis for pipeline challenge

by John Riddell
The November 17 conference, “The Tar Sands Come to Ontario: No Line 9,” was a big success. Three hundred people jammed into a lecture theatre at University of Toronto for the plenary session. Every seat was taken, more than 50 people stood or sat in the aisles, and an equal number listened from just outside the door.

The unusually large turnout for an educational teach-in shows clearly that there is now a basis for organized public initiatives against the threat of hazardous tar sands oil being piped across southern Ontario and Toronto through Enbridge Inc.’s “Line 9.”

The all-day conference, which included 16 workshops led by 35 speakers and facilitators, was attended by close to 400 participants in all.

The initial session featured sixteen speakers in six simultaneous workshops. Each workshop took up a different form of the tar sands’ challenge: to communities, to unionized and migrant workers, to the Global South, to climate stability, to native–non-native relations, and to environmental movements.

Following the plenary session, the conference closed with a People’s Assembly. Five workshops considering different issues involved in tar sands resistance were followed by five more bringing together activists in different regions of Toronto and Ontario.

Piping tar sands oil east
Line 9 was built in 1975 to transport imported oil from Montreal to refineries in Sarnia. Enbridge has now applied toCanada’s National Energy Board to reverse its direction of flow, so that it can pipe Alberta oil to Montreal. The pipeline giant admits that among the possible uses of Line 9 is transport of “heavy oil,” a category that includes bitumen, the hazardous raw material extracted from tar sands.

Tar sands profiteers now face the prospect of declining demand and declining prices in the U.S., while plans to export the product to the west coast have run into a wall of popular opposition in British Colombia. The oil giants have responded with projects to ship their raw product east to Montreal and  the Atlantic Coast for export.

This puts them and their government backers on a collision course with communities in Ontario and Quebec that could be victims of tar-sands pipeline leaks and ruptures.

Indigenous challenge
The November 17 conference highlighted the role of First Nations both as victims of the tar sands threat and as leaders in resisting it.

In the plenary session, Vanessa Gray, a youth organizer from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, spoke of the dilemma of youth in her community. Aamjiwnaang residents’ health is severely undermined by pollution from oil refineries in nearby Sarnia, a present destination of tar sands bitumen. Indigenous young people “are starting from a hopeless place … frustrated and scared,” Gray said. “They are willing to fight for a better future but can’t do this on their own. They need support and help and encouragement.”

Aaron Detlor of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) Development Institute also launched a challenge to the audience, relating to Enbridge’s Line 9. “We don’t see how movement of tar sands products helps develop sustainable communities,” he said. “Enbridge says they don’t need to talk to us. We are sceptical about a court process. We have our own process… The next step is a cease and desist order from the chiefs.”

The meaning of such an order was spelled out by Haudenosaunee land defender Wes Elliott, using the example of a recent dispute with a giant corporation, Samsung. “We issued a cease and desist order…. They refused to discuss with us,” he said. “That night, word went out to our allies. With ten hours notice we had at least a hundred people [on the disputed site], some of whom are in this room. Samsung then negotiated with our Confederacy.”

Following the incident, the chiefs made an unprecedented declaration thanking the allies. “Things can be done when you have allies,” Elliot said.

“We are at a crossroads,” Detlor explained. Given the possibility of a cease and desist order, “we need to come up with some strategic means for developing a relationship among the different groups here today, and come up with something concrete.”

‘We now have the support of 80%’
Art Sterritt, Executive Director of Coastal First Nations, described how such a strategic alliance has been forged in British Columbia. A decade ago, the ten component peoples of Coastal First Nations had united all stakeholders in their region around a plan for sustainable development, winning agreement from the B.C. government in 2001.

Then Enbridge announced its “Northern Gateway” project to pipe and ship tar sands bitumen across the Great Bear Rainforest – the lands of Coastal First Nations. “It was a bomb that would destroy everything we stood for,” said Sterritt. “So we declared a ban on tanker traffic in the Great Bear Rainforest.”

To make the ban effective, the First Nations had to go beyond the 20,000 members of their alliance and “win all the people in B.C.,” Sterritt said.

“We now have support of 80% to stop Northern Gateway. That is what you will need to do to stop Line 9.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to drive the Enbridge pipeline through, regardless. “So we are getting ready legally, politically, and with direct action,” Sterritt said. At a rally of 5,000 protesters in Victoria, October 22, Sterritt asked who is prepared, if Harper bulls ahead, “to lie down in front of the bulldozers. They all said, ‘We will’ – men, women, and children. And I have 10,000 personal pledges to do just that.”

The final speaker in the plenary session was Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “We must fight the expansion of the tar sands, the most terrible energy product in the world,” she said. “We have to stop the growth of the pipelines. If we can stop the arteries, we can halt growth of tar sands extraction.”

In British Columbia, “132 First Nations communities say [to Enbridge], you will not pass.” The people of eastern Canada must now build an equally effective alliance. “What we do here in the East is for the whole world,” Barlow said.

“The oil companies have more money than we can ever dream of. But we have the passion of our people, … and with the outpouring of support we are receiving from all over the continent we will confront big oil and protect our lands and our rights.”

Time for action
Only two months ago, almost no one in Toronto had heard of the Line 9 threat. Energetic educational work has now alerted a wide range of progressive activists, and the pipeline controversy has begun receiving coverage in major media.

The November 17 teach-in was not geared to the discussion or adoption of specific proposals, but the unexpectedly large turn-out delivered a clear message from the grass roots: there is a strong basis to begin organizing broadened education and collective action to stop Line 9.

That is the challenge now facing climate justice activists in Toronto and southern Ontario.

“The Tar Sands Come to Ontario: No Line 9” conference was organized by an ad-hoc committee and was held in conjunction with the November 16-18 OPIRG Toronto+York Rebuilding Bridges conference. 

To contact the organizing committee, write or go to

First published in:

UPDATE: Ontario prepares for a fight against tar sands pipelines

By Brent Patterson
The Council of Canadians was at ‘The Tar Sands Come to Ontario: No Line 9′ public forum held at the University of Toronto today.

The morning was filled with six well-attended and thoughtful workshops on key issue such as ‘Tar sands in our communities’, ‘Tar sands, unionized workers, and migrant workers’, and ‘Strategies to stop Line 9′. During the lunch-break people gathered in the main auditorium to hear from activists who are living at the Unis’tot’en camp on the pathway of the Pacific Trails pipeline that would move fracked-gas from the Horn Rim Basin to Kitimat, British Columbia. In response to a question about what activists opposed to Line 9 in Ontario can learn from their fight against Pacific Trails, they began with a profound one-word answer - “occupy”.

By the early-afternoon it was time for the plenary panel, ‘Resistance, solutions and solidarity: Indigenous leaders and allies’. It was a standing-room only audience of about 350 people for this session. Wes Elliot, Haudenosaunee land defender, began the plenary and spoke about “the formula for peace”. He said treaties are the foundation of the house and it needs to be understood that they supersede federal legislation. The sub-floor is ‘healing’, a process that needs to happen. The floor is ‘respect’ between peoples. Walls are ‘education’, he said you can’t build a house without education. And the roof of the house is ‘friendship’. He concluded by saying the house sits on Mother Earth which is love.

Vanessa Gray of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation spoke about the area known as ‘chemical valley’, where she is from near Sarnia. She said they already have a lot going on in the “toxic area” where she lives and don’t need an oil spill also to deal with. She presented a slide-show that noted that the industrial complex near her community produces about 40 per cent of Canada’s chemicals. And she stated that youth in her community are challenged by the legacy of their parents’ experiences at residential schools, but highlighted that youth organizing is an important way forward.

Aaron Detler of the Haudenosaunee Development Institute said his people are not Canadians and never will be. He noted that this forum was taking place on Haudenosaunee territory. He said that their treaty gives them “free and undisturbed harvesting”, period, meaning they can say no to Line 9 on their territory. And he noted that they have used “cease and desist” orders when developments don’t meet the needs of the Haudenosaunee people within their jurisdiction.

Art Sterritt, the executive director of the Coastal First Nations, expressed his opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline which would run a route where there are no treaties. And he highlighted that municipalities don’t want the pipeline either. So all that really leaves is the Harper government which, he said, then undermines environmental protections and processes to have its way.

Maude Barlow shared her recent experience in Mexico and compared the struggles against mines and dams there to what she heard from the panelists about what they are up against in their communities. She stated that the tar sandsproduces “the dirtiest oil on the Earth” and that even if it doesn’t spill it will pollute the climate where it is used. She talked about how this wasn’t a fight against just one pipeline, but about the 14,000 kilometres of new pipelines being proposed. She mentioned Bill McKibben and his message that we’re organizing to make a difference for the whole world, not just for ourselves. She said that the pipelines are the bloodlines, the arteries, of the tar sands, and that we need to stop the pipelines to stop the massive already-approved expansions of the tar sands. She warned that if the pipelines are built the imperative then will be to keep them full all the time.

Barlow said given the level of opposition - including 132 First Nation communities - they will not pass in British Columbia, which means all eyes are now on pipelines that could go from west to east, including Line 9, a ‘Trailbreaker’ pipeline to Portland, and the Trans Canada East Coast pipeline which could go to Saint John, New Brunswick. She highlighted that from there the bitumen would be exported to Europe, Asia or India - and that the pipelines are not being proposed because the corporations behind them have suddenly discovered that Atlantic Canada imports its oil. She said we need a North America-wide coalition to oppose pipelines, that we need to support those in the trees blocking the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas, and work with our allies opposing Trailbreaker in New England.

And Barlow emphasized that we need to keep an open dialogue - and the love of allies - with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union and the NDP which have been supportive of a west-to-east pipeline, but likely won’t once more about the pipelines unfolds. But, she noted, Atlantic Canada and Quebec do import oil and so we do need to commit to an alternative energy future.

She concluded with a strong criticism of Stephen Harper - including how he has put 30,000 lakes across Canada in jeopardy to let the pipelines pass and how he pursuing trade agreements like the Canada-European Union CETA and the Canada-China FIPA that give corporations new rights and powers to sue for billions of dollars when they don’t get their way.

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