British Columbia

Indigenous drummers lead pipeline protesters on 22-km march in Victoria

Indigenous drummers in British Columbia are leading an anti-pipeline protest along a 22-kilometre route that passes through Victoria and ends at a beach north of the city.

Marchers include Indigenous leaders, environmentalists and local politicians

Demonstrators march down Government Street during a protest against the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Victoria on Saturday, June 22, 2019. (Dirk Meissner/The Canadian Press)

The government approval of the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion won't stop efforts in British Columbia to halt the project, protesters gathered outside Victoria's city hall said Saturday.

About 300 demonstrators were adamant in their commitment to fight the pipeline twinning project, approved this week by the federal Liberal government, as they prepared to embark on a 22-kilometre march to a beach north of Victoria.

Indigenous drummers led the anti-pipeline protest along the route that passed through Victoria to Island View Beach, located near Victoria International Airport. The demonstrators, some carrying placards saying, "Don't be Crude," and "What part of NO do you not understand," walked down the middle of downtown streets escorted by police vehicles with their lights flashing.

Eric Doherty said he was prepared to walk more than 20 kilometres to join what he believes will be a public groundswell against the pipeline expansion.

"Governments approve all sorts of things and then they face the people on the street and they get cancelled," he said. "That's how societies turn around is people hit the streets."

The government originally approved the expansion in 2016 but after the Federal Court of Appeal shelved the original approval last summer, a second National Energy Board review was ordered to look at the impacts of oil tankers on marine life. Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci was also hired to oversee a new round of consultations with 117 affected Indigenous communities.

Kanahus Manuel, a leader of the Tiny House Warriors, speaks to reporters prior to a demonstration against the Trans Mountain pipeline in Victoria. The Tiny House Warriors are one of the organizing groups for the protest. (Dirk Meissner/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa bought the existing pipeline a year ago for $4.5 billion, when Kinder Morgan Canada investors decided to sell. The energy sector and Alberta argue existing pipelines are at capacity and the oil sands need more ways to get product to market.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said he was disappointed with the project's federal approval and the province will continue with legal challenges. Horgan has said often increased oil tanker traffic increases the chances of a catastrophic spill on the West Coast.

Victoria Indigenous leader Rose Henry told the demonstrators Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pipeline approval decision could hurt his government's chances of re-election this fall.

"We can stop it," said Henry. "We can stop it by saying, 'No,' to this unwanted pipeline. You know in the next few months we have two elections coming up."

Indigenous drummers perform a drum circle prior to a demonstration against the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline, in Victoria on Saturday, June 22. (Dirk Meissner/Canadian Press)

She said she was referring to the October federal election and United States election in 2020.

Environmental studies student Sadie Gibbs said she was looking forward to the 22-kilometre "casual stroll."

She said the pipeline project represents ongoing developments with the potential to harm the environment and quality of life in exchange for the promise of jobs and profits for big oil companies.

Jayne Hemming, right, and friend Simone Artaud are seen before a march and demonstration against the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline, in Victoria on Saturday. Both women say they are concerned many Indigenous people don’t support the project. (Dirk Meissner/The Canadian Press)

Gibbs, who painted her face in bright colours for the protest, said she supports economic ventures that do not threaten the environment.

Gibbs wore a name tag on her dress that said: "Hello, my name is the environment."

Following the demonstrators was a truck towing a tiny wood house similar to ones First Nations have built along the pipeline path in B.C.'s Interior.