Holding hands with Maude Barlow and marching with Dave Coles, Tony Clarke, Graham Saul, George Poitras and a group of Aboriginal leaders, we marched slowly towards a metal fence. We were supposed to spread out at arm’s length to give each of us room to step up onto the lower bar of the fence and swing the other leg over. But the media funneled us into a narrow space and that just wasn’t going to happen. Coles was first over, the rest of us one or two at a time after. An RCMP approached and told me that I was in a restricted zone and if I did not go back over the fence he would arrest me. He asked again to make sure I understood. Plastic cuffs bound my hands behind me and that was it — my first arrest in a lifetime of political and labor activism.
This was an act of conscience against the Keystone XL pipeline which in spite of Canadian regulatory approval a year and a half ago has not yet received U.S. approval and has not commenced construction in Canada. That makes the media coverage of Monday’s Ottawa action curious. Our cynical media focused on the turnout of about 500 – 800 people, claiming it was below estimates. There were no higher estimates that I was aware of, but what did they expect at 10:00 a.m. on a Monday morning?
The 117 arrests in Ottawa perhaps lacked the television quality of some of the summit protests with police in riot gear, but they did demonstrate a passion and commitment that decision-makers must know will not simply dissipate with the next news cycle. If opposition to XL makes it clear to Albertans and the federal government that both Canadians and U.S. customers for our exports care about the downstream effects of bitumen production on First Nation communities, perhaps some real change for these suffering communities may now come about. Of course, the reverse of these possibilities is true also. XL will weld the continental model into place and make all alternatives much more formidable to achieve. All of these factors lifted me over the fence, in spite of the obvious concerns that family, friends and colleagues had over an act of civil disobedience. The reason for this protest was to try to stop the building of the pipeline from the western part of Canada to the Gulf area of Texas. The environmentalists are strongly opposed to the building of this pipeline because of the environmental effects such a project will have on the ecosystem.
Title: An act of conscience-going over the fence against the XL pipeline
Author: Fred Wilson
Faculty Advisor: Peter Phillips, Sonoma State University
Student Researcher: Sean Lawrence, Sonoma State University