Threatening skies and encroaching curtains of fog weren’t enough to deter upwards of 2,000 concerned Toronto residents from attending a protest concert against Enbridge’s “Line 9” oil pipeline proposal in North York’s Mel Lastman Square on Sunday afternoon.
Kingston roots-rocker Sarah Harmer, local singer/songwriter Hayden, Guelph’s Minotaurs and the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie performing with Toronto’s Sadies as his backing band, came out to add their voices to a growing chorus of worry across Ontario and Quebec over the project, which would see flow reversed on the pipeline to pump crude oil and chemical-laced “bitumen” from the Alberta tar sands to markets in the east.
“I’m really happy,” said Harmer — set to serve as one of more than 100 interveners at National Energy Board hearings into the Line 9 proposal beginning in Montreal next week — of the impressive rainy-day turnout for the “Rock the Line” concert, which she dreamed up in collaboration with Environmental Defence. “It was really quick. Music festivals often take a year to plan, but this was (done) done really quick, about a month out. It was just one of those phone calls. ‘Well, should we try to do something?’ This is when the hearing is happening. This is our time to strike.”
The show took place mere blocks away from where Line 9 passes through North York near the Finch subway station on a route from Sarnia to Montreal. Of particular alarm to environmentalists is that the pipeline crosses a number of watersheds that drain directly into Lake Ontario, a source of drinking water for the most populated region of the country.
These were among the facts that Environmental Defence hoped to get out with the Rock the Line event, wherein a petition was circulated that specifically asked the province of Ontario to conduct a thorough, independent environmental assessment of the Enbridge project. Environmental groups have already expressed anger that they’ve been shut out of the consultation process over Line 9 due to changes to the National Energy Board act introduced in the Harper government’s contentious Bill C-38.
“The biggest issue with Line 9 is that most people aren’t aware that it exists, so for communities around, as soon as they find out the pipeline is there, they’re outraged,” said Environmental Defence’s Adam Scott. “This pipeline has been rammed through. The application for this proposal has been so quick, and the changes to the laws have streamlined the process so there hasn’t even been time to let people know ‘Hey, there’s a serious issue in your community.’”
A petition circulated amongst the crowd was, thus, directed “specifically at getting the provincial government to come in and do an environmental assessment — basic due diligence on the safety on this thing,” he said. “At the very least, this process needs to be stopped and we need to actually do that evaluation before we can move ahead.”
Scott, like Harmer, was heartened by the size of the crowd — one chockablock with familiar faces from the Toronto music scene, suggesting there’s the potential for more events of the sort in the future.
“It’s a big step to come out to an event rather than just signing a petition, so it’s pretty impressive seeing how many people have come out today,” said Scott.
For Harmer’s part, she will be presenting the NEB her concerns about “vibrational stress” on the ageing pipeline. Line 9 — which could potentially carry 300,000 barrels of oil a day across “every river and watershed in Southern Ontario, everything that drains into all their source water and drinking water” — passes through her farm north of Kingston, and also just 40 metres from a nearby quarry that routinely conducts blasting operations.
“The house rattles and the windows shake and our neighbours’ windows have broken, so I thought ‘What is going to be the stress on this pipeline with all this bedrock shaking for 40 years twice a week?’” she said. “So I thought part of what I could bring to the hearing … was looking at vibrational stress.”
Harmer has had some success in the past with crusades to protect the Niagara Escarpment from potentially damaging quarrying operations, so she’s optimistic about public efforts to make sure Line 9 is either stopped or held to the strictest environmental standards possible.
For its part, Enbridge said in an earlier statement to the Star that the company is serious about its safety commitments in all communities along Line 9.…