Click on the points on the map above to see some of the locations where Enbridge Pipelines Inc. has made donations to different municipalities.

A Hamilton environmental group protested outside police headquarters Thursday because the biggest oil and gas pipeline company in Canada has given tens of thousands of dollars to the Hamilton Police Service in recent years.

Representatives from Hamilton 350 filed a policy complaint against Hamilton police services board Thursday morning for accepting $44,410 in donations from Enbridge Pipelines Inc. The money was given in two separate installments — $34,910 for a new ATV unit and $9,500 for mapping and GPS equipment in 2010.

"It's inappropriate. This is a public police force and it should be funded by the public," said Don McLean, a Hamilton 350 co-ordinator. "If they're of the view that municipalities need additional money, they could raise it in taxes. The appropriate way for these costs to be covered is the taxation process."

Follwing the delivery of the compaint, about 40 protesters gathered in front of the Hamilton police central station at 11 a.m. They draped a mock sign that read "Enbridge Police – Hamilton Division" over the station's sign and presented a toy tricycle to the officers on hand to use instead of the ATV's bought with the Enbridge donation. They also left fake bags of money around the station.

In a letter to the police board, the group argues that if police were involved in a "standoff" between Enbridge and protesters, it would be difficult for officers to remain completely impartial because of the donation. You can read the full text of the letter here.

"While we don't dispute the advisability of the HPS having such equipment at its disposal, we do object to the Board accepting the money to purchase it from Enbridge Inc.," said representatives from the Hamilton 350 committee in a letter to police administrator Lois Morin.

In the letter, the group says there is a "fundamental question of principal involved" in accepting money from Enbridge. "That question of principle is the public perception of favouritism on the part of the HPS on behalf of a private corporation," the letter reads.

Police spokesperson Catherine Martin declined to comment on the complaint itself, saying it is a Police Services Board issue. The police services board did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Martin said the complaint would likely go to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

Worries about spills

Protesters are fighting Enbridge's plan to reverse the oil flow of the line 9B pipeline which runs from Montreal through Westover, in rural Hamilton. They say the flow reversal could raise the risk of a spill into places like the Beverly Swamp in the headwaters of Spencer Creek, Hamilton's largest watershed.

But Enbridge is in no way trying to manipulate any municipalities, says Ken Hall, senior adviser of public affairs for Enbridge. The money comes from Enbridge's "Safe Community Program," which started in 2005 in the U.S. and came to Canada in 2009.

The program has given financial aid to hundreds of fire departments, police services and EMS units in North America where Enbridge has pipeline operations, Hall says.

"There are no expectations attached to this funding," Hall said. "It's just to help them do their job better."

The Program is invitation-only. Every year Hall identifies communities along the pipeline between Sarnia and Montreal and sends them letters of invitation asking them if they would like to participate. There are hundreds of organizations so it takes a couple of years to make that request to everyone, Hall says.

Every year Enbridge invites around 50 organizations to apply for funding, and they then come back with applications for what they want. A review panel then makes a decision on the request.

In Hamilton police's case, they made the requests to Enbridge twice — in 2010 and 2013.

"I worked very hard to come up with $35,000," Hall said. "That was a very large financial funding request. Typically our programs are in the range of $10,000."

Hall says emergency response organizations are "extremely important" to Enbridge. "They need to understand our pipeline. They need to know where it is, they need to know what's in it," Hall said. "They need to know how we would respond to an emergency if we had one."

But that explanation rings hollow, says protester Michael Rae.

"They don't need these to correct a spill. You don't call in the police when there's an oil spill," Rae said. "I think it's entirely inappropriate that this gift was accepted."

A cloudy history

Emergency crews have had to deal with spills related to Enbridge pipelines in the past, like the one that leaked about three million litres of oil from a pipeline that ruptured in July 2010 near Kalamazoo.

More recently, Enbridge was found to be breaking National Energy Board safety rules at 117 of its 125 pump stations across the country.

Enbridge was ordered by the Canadian energy regulator to disclose whether or not it had backup power to operate emergency shut-down systems in the facilities that keep oil flowing through its pipes. The company told the NEB only eight of its pump stations complied with the board's backup power system regulation.

On top of that, Enbridge disclosed that 83 of its pump stations were missing emergency shut-down buttons. This sort of history has fueled protests throughout North America.

But Hall says he still finds this letter frustrating.

"The same people that are criticizing Enbridge's pipeline and saying it's not safe and is prone to failure are now criticizing us for taking measures to enhance the safety of the communities where we operate."