Hundreds of people marched through downtown Vancouver streets today (March 26) in a boisterous display of opposition to oil tanker traffic along British Columbia’s coast.
Organized by first nation and environmental groups, the demonstration came just days after the 23rd anniversary of the infamous Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
A noon rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery drew an estimated 1,000 protesters who chanted and held signs that read: “No tankers on our coast” and “Oil and water don’t mix”.
Speakers criticized Kinder Morgan’s planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline to Burnaby and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat.
Edwin Newman, of the coastal Heiltsuk Nation, said his community is firmly opposed to oil tanker traffic in B.C. waters.
“We are trying to protect a way of life, a way of life that we’ve enjoyed as Heiltsuk people and as coastal people since time immemorial,” he told the crowd.
“We’re pleading with our coastal neighbours to stand with us to fight this issue.”
A declaration was also read stating the Heiltsuk Nation will not allow pipelines and oil tankers in their territory.
U.S. environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke out against efforts to turn B.C. into a “carbon gateway” to transport oil to the rest of the world.
“We just can’t let that happen. That oil has got to stay in the ground,” he said.
McKibben also took aim at the federal government’s suggestion that “radical” groups are behind the opposition to pipeline expansion.
“Don’t ever let them say that to you. All we want to do is keep the world a little bit like it was when we were born into it.”
Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard acknowledged the risks from tankers and pipelines, but cautioned that the environment faces a threat from more than just spills.
“Scientists are telling us that rising global temperatures from burning coal, oil, and natural gas will devastate ecosystems all over the planet, and that we’re heading rapidly to temperatures that the earth has not seen in millions of years,” he said.
“If we’re realistic about the threats to the ecosystems we want to protect, we must stop development of oil pipelines and oil tankers in B.C. But, at the same time, we have to convince the rest of society that fossil fuel expansion must stop now.”
Nikki Skuce, of the environmental group ForestEthics, encouraged people to fight expansion of oil tanker traffic.
“This battle will be tough and long. We know that. A lot of us have been fighting this for a long time, but we know that we’re going to win this one,” she said.
Also in the crowd were B.C. members of Parliament from the Green, Liberal, and New Democrat parties.
At the end of the rally, the noisy but peaceful protesters marched along busy downtown streets to the Enbridge office near Burrard and Pender.
The crowd, escorted by Vancouver police, blocked off the street outside the office building and chanted: “We say ‘no’ to Enbridge oil”.
The protesters began disbanding at around 2 p.m.