Idle No More supporters gathered outside Dundurn Castle historic site Monday as part of a worldwide mass day of action to mark the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, a historic document that legally mandated Canada to recognize indigenous land rights.
The fact that they were demonstrating on the eve of the last round of National Energy Board hearings on the controversial Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal was not lost on protesters.
“As these indigenous nations have been ignored our voices have grown louder in opposition to the destruction of the land and the contamination of our water,” said Danielle Boissoneau, who spoke at the demonstration.
“Line 9 is going to be running through our territory … it runs directly through Hamilton’s watersheds.”
Join CBC Hamilton and musician Sarah Harmer Tuesday at noon for a live chat on the NEB hearings re: Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline reversal. Harmer will be speaking at the hearings later this month.
Line 9 has been running through one of Canada's most populous corridors for nearly four decades, pumping oil between southern Ontario and Montreal.
While it hasn't generated much national attention in the past, Line 9 is now being thrust into the spotlight as Enbridge Pipelines Inc. seeks approval to reverse its flow and increase its capacity.
Enbridge insists safety is its top priority. But opponents say the company plans to run a heavier, and what they claim is a more corrosive, kind of oil, through the line that will stress the aging infrastructure and increase the chance of a leak.
'It's not jobs, jobs, jobs'
Hamilton activist Ken Stone says he is hoping the NEB puts a moratorium on the reversal or expansion of the pipeline until there is a much more in-depth, public debate on the issue.
Stone is one of many who have submitted a letter of comment to the NEB who suggest the project will put a number of communities at risk.
Stone, a well-known environmental activist in Hamilton, shaped his argument around the economic impact Line 9 could have on southern Ontario’s manufacturing sector.
'It's been a hard thing to really get our story out in an independent way.' - Dave Lawson, Enbridge vice-president
With the assistance retired McMaster professor Atif Kubursi, Stone is suggesting that the planned 25 percent increase in Line 9 volumes will only have a detrimental effect on jobs in Ontario. He says workers will end up leaving manufacturing jobs for the booming oil industry out west, leaving Ontario in the lurch.
“Increases in oil production provide very little to the provinces that aren’t directly affected,” Stone said. “It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs for everyone like Harper is saying.”
“There should be a moratorium on this until such time that the Canadian people can really discuss it.”
Targeting the oilsands
But Enbridge — which is still cleaning up after a 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan — says there's a lot of misinformation being circulated.
"It's been a hard thing to really get our story out in an independent way," Dave Lawson, Enbridge vice-president of major projects, told The Canadian Press.
"The environmental groups...it's difficult for them to target the oilsands but if they slow down the pipeline or stop the pipeline from moving that oil, that's shutting in the oilsands crude. We've seen a lot of that."
Enbridge says the 831-kilometre-long line is constantly monitored from an Edmonton control centre and can be shut down in up to 10 minutes if an unexplained reading comes in. A sudden loss of pressure means an automatic shutdown. The line is also patrolled on foot and by air.
If a leak occurs, a team can be on site in up to three hours, but the company is working to improve that by adding an emergency crew in Mississauga, Ont., to deal with problems in the Greater Toronto Area.
"If a leak happens we have to be able to respond to it, but the focus isn't on planning for a leak, it's really focusing on making sure we've done the operations and maintenance component to make sure this doesn't happen," said Lawson.
If the company receives approval, Enbridge plans to move 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day through the line, up from the current 240,000 barrels.
The demonstration in Hamilton was just one of many across the country. The rallies also coincide with the official visit by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya who begins his nine-day visit to Canada to gauge the progress of the human rights situation of the indigenous peoples of this country.
“This is our people calling for this,” said Krystal Williams, who spoke at the Hamilton demonstration. “We are taking this day back. We are reclaiming the royal proclamation.”
The National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo said the anniversary was an opportunity to reflect and reset the relationship between the Crown and First Nations.
"For 250 years the laws and policies of federal governments have been paternalistic at best, and assimilationist at worst. We must resolve the long-standing issues of First Nations control over our lands and our lives," Atleo said during a news conference in Ottawa Monday morning.
Atleo and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt will spend the afternoon meeting with students in Ottawa to commemorate the importance and significance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763.