A coalition of First Nations, commercial fisheries and environmental groups from Canada's Pacific Northwest Coast are demanding a ban on oil tankers in the region, claiming the local economy is in jeopardy because of increased traffic.

oiltanker-map

This map shows the proposed oil tanker traffic ban area. ((Photo courtesy of Coastal First Nations))

The network of groups, including Coastal First Nations, met in Ottawa on Tuesday to plead their case for legal measures to control crude oil tanker traffic beyond their shoreline.

"If we allow tanker traffic on the Northwest Coast, a spill will happen eventually," said Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations. "It's not an if, it's a when.

"It may not happen for 10 years, it may not happen for 20 years, but when it happens, life as we know it on the Northwest Coast would be over."

The coalition is demanding a ban on oil tankers in the Hecate Strait, between the islands and the mainland, and the Queen Charlotte Sound, south of the islands and north of Vancouver Island. 

First Nations from the North and Central Coast, and the Haida Gwaii largely rely on the sea for their livelihood, and have worked hard to develop local sustainable economies based on marine resources, Sterritt said.

More than 13,000 jobs are directly related to coastal industries, and generate millions of dollars.

If there was an oil spill, the damage would be extensive, and the risk is too high, Sterritt said. "Spills happen every day. Pipelines spill, tankers rupture all over the world."

The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a cautionary tale for coastal communities everywhere, Sterritt said.

The NDP and Liberals support the coalition's call for a ban on oil tankers in the region.

Sterritt and the delegation are meeting with Conservative MPs, and officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada and Environment Canada to discuss their request.