Attend hearings on Enbridge, local group urges

  • Feb. 22, 2012 10:00 a.m.

By Alex Rinfret–The local group opposing crude oil tanker traffic is urging islanders to attend the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline joint review panel hearings that will be held in Old Massett next week. The hearings will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 28 and Wednesday, Feb. 29, at the Old Massett community hall, starting at 9 am on both days. Valine Crist of CoASt, Communities Against Supertankers, said she is encouraging everyone to attend the hearings, which are open to the public. CoASt is helping to organize carpooling and transportation from Queen Charlotte and Skidegate up to Old Massett. Lunch will be provided for everyone attending on both days, she said. The Old Massett hearing will be the first for the joint review panel since it held two days of hearings in Prince Rupert on Feb. 17 and 18. Skeena-Bulkely Valley MP Nathan Cullen, the first speaker at the Prince Rupert hearing, was interrupted several times as he attempted to address the panel, with an Enbridge lawyer raising objections to his presentation. At one point, panel chair Sheila Leggett ordered a five-minute break so Mr. Cullen could revise his speech to meet the strict guidelines the panel has set out for oral evidence at these hearings. At another point, a Metlakatla dancer was ordered to leave the room after she banged her drum in support of Mr. Cullen. About 150 members of the public attended the hearing, applauding several times as Mr. Cullen spoke, and erupting in loud boos when the Enbridge lawyer interrupted his presentation. The MP, who is running for the leadership of the NDP, started his presentation by talking about trust – trust of Enbridge, trust in the safety of pipelines and supertankers, trust of the joint review process, and trust of the federal government. He then spoke about his first interactions with Enbridge, saying that he had been invited to a meeting in Vancouver several years ago to discuss the proposed pipeline and the company’s plans for consulting communities. Enbridge officials told him they had raised $100 million for promotion of the project and community engagement but when Mr. Cullen asked where the money had come from, they wouldn’t tell him. This prompted the first objection from Enbridge lawyer Laura Estep, who interrupted Mr. Cullen and asked the panel to stop him from speaking. “We would like to express an objection to this presentation,” she said. “We believe that it is argument. It is argumentative. It is a political agenda. This is nothing more than a political speech and we object on that basis.” Mr. Cullen disputed this interpretation of his speech, saying that he had read carefully the directives about oral evidence set out by the panel, and was entitled to talk about his personal knowledge about the potential effects of the project on his community. But he continued to run into problems with the panel chair, Ms Leggett, who told him that oral evidence is “the land and the history of the land”, and not anything about the company and its credibility. “What impacts will this project have on the land and the people which is sustains?” Mr. Cullen said. “The proposal that a 36-inch pipeline carrying 525,000 barrels of oil per day across some of the most rugged and difficult land to traverse and the inherent risk that is associated to such an endeavour has affected people at their core… It is impossible for me, as somebody who represents 300,000 square kilometres of northwestern BC, to suggest that the imminent threat of super tankers, bigger than the Empire State Building, plowing some of the most difficult waters to plow does not have implicit threat to the people I represent.” Mr. Cullen continued to run into problems with Ms Leggett, eventually saying that it seemed impossible for him to present his experience with Enbridge and his experience with the people he represents. After he commented that the process seemed to be “under a certain amount of intimidation from the Prime Minister of this country”, he was again shut down by Ms Estep, who called his testimony “completely inappropriate”. After Ms Leggett called a five-minute break in the proceedings, Mr. Cullen returned to the front of the room and wrapped up his presentation with an uninterrupted speech about the the connection between the people and the land of the north coast. “When the panel seeks to understand what’s being put at risk here, it’s not simply a meal, it’s not even just a job, but it’s an entire culture and way of life,” he said. “We sometimes say we are a salmon people, and when you live here long enough you understand the inherent connection of that one species to our vitality as people. And we cannot survive without it. So in your deliberations and your understanding of what the merits and the implications are of this particular project, you have to understand what the implications are for us. And it’s everything, it’s everything.”

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