Several thousand people gathered on the front lawn of the B.C. legislature Monday to protest against the Northern Gateway pipeline project.

The sit-in was organized by a coalition of groups that wants to send a clear message to the provincial and federal governments about the plan to pipe crude from the Alberta oilsands to a tanker port in Kitimat.

Speakers and performers appeared throughout the day, along with a 235-metre black banner, the length of an oil tanker.

After the speakers, some of the protesters were expected to engage in some sort of sit-in protest. Before the protest began, organizers offered civil disobedience training to those who think they might get arrested.

Peter McHugh, spokesman for the group Defend Our Coast, said the protesters do not take lightly the prospect of civil disobedience and they hope the protest is peaceful, but some of the protesters are prepared to go to jail.

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Protest signs lie on the steps of the B.C. Legislature ahead of Monday's planned protest against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. (Chris Brown/CBC)

"We mean to deliver a message to [Premier] Christy Clark and the federal government that British Columbians oppose these tarsands, tankers and pipelines," McHugh said.

Art Sterrit, executive director with the Coastal First Nations, hopes the protest shows that opponents of the project run the gamut from grandmothers to business owners.

"This project is not something that British Columbians want and we're also looking to demonstrate what lengths British Columbians are willing to go to stop the project."

The Northern Gateway issue is a tipping point for the public, and everyday people are mobilizing against it, said Nikki Skuce of ForestEthics.

"People have thought about the Enbridge and Kinder-Morgan pipelines as a real key issue, whether it's to do with climate change, Harper bullying, cutting environmental legislation, First Nations rights and title, shipping raw resources and the jobs that go with it overseas," Skuce said.

"This is the first, the culmination, of building on what people have said when they said they'll do whatever it takes to try to stop these projects."

The threat of protests and civil disobedience hearkens back to the War in the Woods of B.C. in the 1980s, when confrontations between environmentalists and forestry workers were commonplace as the two battled over the province's old growth forests.

Unions and celebrities sign on

The Northern Gateway protests have been endorsed by unions such as the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP), the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), the B.C. Teachers' Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union.

They have the backing of Greenpeace, ForestEthics, the Council of Canadians and several First Nations, and have been endorsed by high-profile activists such as David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis.

Several celebrities have also backed the protest, including filmmaker Michael Moore, singers Sarah Harmer and Dan Mangan, and actors Ellen Page, Mark Ruffalo and Daryl Hannah.

The provincial government is not in session, but protesters say it will get the message.

About 4,500 people have signed an online pledge on the group's website promising support for the protest in Victoria and another provincewide protest planned for Wednesday at MLA offices in 55 communities.

Lightning rod for discontent

For some, the Northern Gateway pipeline has become a lightning rod for discontent not only with the expansion of the Alberta oilsands, but with B.C.'s Liberal government and the federal Conservative government that has made sweeping changes to environmental laws.

The pipeline would carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands through northern B.C. to a tanker port in Kitimat in one pipe, and condensate from Kitimat east to Alberta in another.

Enbridge has estimated that opening up Asian markets to Canadian oil would boost Canada's GDP by $270 billion over 30 years, and would generate $81 billion in direct and indirect revenues to the federal and provincial governments. Of that, B.C. would receive about $6 billion, while Ottawa would receive about $36 billion and Alberta $32 billion.

Environmental review hearings in Prince George, B.C., have been adjourned for one week, and will resume Oct. 29. The three-member review panel has until the end of next year to complete its report.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he will be in Victoria on Monday.

"The Harper government has clearly demonstrated that it is only their blatant sell-out to industry agenda that matters," Phillip said in a statement.

He said environmental laws "are being systematically bulldozed aside in Parliament to the delight and benefit of tarsands development projects such as the Northern Gateway Enbridge project and the expansion of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline."

Kinder Morgan has proposed its own $4.1-billion Trans Mountain project that would expand an existing pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver.

With files from The Canadian Press