Break Free 2016!

When I heard the call-out for Break Free 2016!—a global day of action against fossil fuels—I knew we had to go. The plan was to surround Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, with marchers on land and ‘kayaktivists’ on the water.

Kayaking is the whole reason I am an activist—a 1990 circumnavigation of Vancouver Island shocked me into realizing how little old-growth forest was left, and that Clayoquot Sound is the Last Great Rainforest on Vancouver Island. This led to my involvement in organizing the Clayoquot Summer 1993 blockades—and the rest, as they say, is history.

So Bonny and I tied our kayaks on the car and headed for Tsleil-Waututh territory. Saturday dawned sunny and warm—a perfect day to shut down some fossil fools! We got to Cates Park / Whey-ah-Wichen in North Vancouver, and saw one hundred colourful kayaks adorned with bright yellow flags reading “Break free from fossil fuels”. Before embarking, First Nations leaders from across the continent made impassioned speeches about the need to protect Mother Earth. It felt right to be there.

The horde of kayaktivists
While 800 people rallied at the front gates, three RCMP boats hung back a respectful distance and watched as the horde of kayaks crossed Burrard Inlet to Kinder Morgan’s terminal. The containment boom was pushed under the water, and most of the kayaks paddled on in to see what the police would do.

What could they do? It would have been extremely difficult to arrest kayakers within the boom—how would you get at them, or get them out of their kayaks, and then what would you do with those kayaks? We got off scot free that day. It was easy to see the empowerment which always builds during direct action—and who would have thought taking action could be this much fun? The entire event was peaceful, thanks to Greenpeace and 350.org providing free training sessions beforehand.

More kayaktivism coming
No doubt there will be more actions like this, because the following week, the National Energy Board recommended Ottawa approve Kinder Morgan’s proposal subject to 157 conditions. Kinder Morgan has plans to “twin” their diluted bitumen pipeline from northern Alberta to the city of Burnaby on the BC coast. The project would triple the current pipeline’s capacity, but would increase tanker traffic sevenfold—from about one per week to more than one per day—because the new capacity would be devoted to export.

The tanker route is in places only fifty kilometres away from Tofino. This places Clayoquot Sound outside of K-M’s designated Enhanced Area of Response, which means if a spill were to occur, no assistance would be coming for the first 72 hours. One only has to think back one year to the wee spill in English Bay, let alone twenty seven years back to the disastrous Nestucca spill here in Clayoquot Sound, to realize that governments are completely unprepared to deal with major—or even minor—oil spills.

New pipelines won’t be needed
The myth that new pipelines are needed to get Albertan oil to Asian markets is no longer true, due to low prices, and new climate change policies and focus on energy efficiency in many key countries. According to the International Energy Agency, “additional Canadian exports are not dependent on the expansion of Trans Mountain or construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway…Rather, crude will follow existing routes to Asian markets…”

During the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau promised to fix environmental legislation gutted by Harper’s omnibus bills, but has not done so yet. He promised to fix the broken NEB process, but in the end has accepted their recommendation. The federal government has delayed their final decision on whether or not to approve TransMountain until December.

Trudeau has stated repeatedly, “governments can grant permits, but only communities grant permission.” No doubt he will hear that line coming back at him throughout the summer and fall. If the pipeline receives federal approval, it will be up to we the people to put our bodies (and kayaks!) on the line to make sure this pipeline will not be built.

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.