Thousands of people gathered during a rare Vancouver snowfall to mark the start of community hearings on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Opponents of the project were bolstered on Monday by the nationwide Idle No More campaign, which brought First Nations from as far as the Haisla Nation on the North Coast, near the would-be tanker port of Kitimat, B.C.

At Victory Square, protesters gathered before marching to the site of the hearings in the city's downtown and sending a message to the panel now touring B.C.

The panel will hear public comments about the controversial plan to deliver oil from the Alberta oil sands to a tanker port on the North Coast of B.C.

"The Harper government has one of the most aggressive, high-carbon strategies in the world," Eddie Gardner, of the Sto:lo Nation, told the crowd.

He blasted the federal Conservatives for changes they've made to environmental laws that will affect oversight of the Northern Gateway and other future projects.

"He implemented that legislation, it has become law, and he did it with crass and ruthless disregard for the environment," Gardner told the protesters.

"Stephen Harper is hell bent to expand the tar sands.

"Canada is coming alive to Harper's real agenda ... He is one of the biggest enemies of the environment."

Protesters also took aim at a proposed expansion of the existing TransMountain pipeline operated by Kinder Morgan.

The pipeline moves oil from the oil sands to port in Vancouver, and a proposed $4.3-billion expansion would more than double the capacity of the 1,100-kilometre line.

The joint review panel, which is weighing the Northern Gateway project, has scheduled eight days of community hearings in Vancouver in the coming weeks.

Community hearings were held previously in Victoria, and one day of statements is scheduled in Kelowna later this month.

The panel limited access to the hearings room so it could listen to statements without distractions, stated a directive posted on the panel website.

"Given the large urban nature of Victoria and Vancouver and previous protests held in both locations regarding the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the panel has decided that it will limit access to the hearing room," stated the directive.

Presenters met in one venue, while members of the public listened to submissions in another.

The hearings are also being streamed live on the panel website.

The panel held final hearings earlier in Edmonton, Prince George and Prince Rupert, where company experts and interveners answered questions under oath.

Those hearings will resume in Prince Rupert next month.