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This Small Town Victory Has Big Consequences for Tar Sands Pipelines

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Originally published at DeSmog.ca.

A five year battle against a key component of plans to pipe tar sands bitumen through Quebec and to the eastern United States quietly came to an end this summer.

In mid-July, Montreal Pipe Line Ltd., owned by Shell Oil, Suncor and Imperial Oil, withdrew its request with the Commission de protection du territoire agricole (the Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Land of Quebec, or CPTA) for permission to build a pumping station on 2.4 hectares of agricultural land in the eastern part of the province. The pumping station was crucial for plans to reverse the direction of the 378-kilometre-long Portland-Montreal Pipe Line (PMPL), in order to send oil from Montreal to the port city of Portland, Maine, for export.

The decision to withdraw the request has been met with cautious celebration by those who have been opposing the project since 2008.

“To our committee, this is a victory,” said Jean Binette, president of the Comité pour l’environnement de Dunham (the Dunham Committee for the Environment, or CED), in a telephone interview with DeSmog. “But we’re not fooling ourselves – this is most likely simply a postponement,” until projects like Enbridge’s reversal of Line 9B from Montreal to Sarnia orTransCanada’s Energy East pipeline comes though, he said.

The plan to reverse the PMPL, which has a capacity of 600,000 barrels per day, to send oil south was originally in conjunction with Enbridge Oil Inc.’s expansive Trailbreaker pipeline project, that would have sent tar sands bitumen from Alberta to Portland, for eventual refinement and export. While that plan was initially put on hold in 2009 and cancelled completely in 2012, Montreal Pipe Line Ltd. had held steady to its pipeline reversal plan up until this summer.

But with Trailbreaker off the table (or renamed to make residents think it was), Enbridge’s planned reversal of Line 9B a ways off, and TransCanada’s Energy East plan still seeking approval from the Quebec government, there was no reason for the company to continue with the application.

According to the company, the decision to withdraw the request was a purely financial one. Montreal Pipe Line, Ltd. (which, together with Portland Pipe Line Corporation, makes up Portland Montreal Pipe Line, Ltd.) had maintained an option on the parcel of land where they planned to build the pumping station. That option was up for renewal, and it no longer made financial sense to maintain the option, so the company allowed it to lapse, said spokesperson Denis Boucher.

Without ownership of the land, a request for rezoning from agricultural to industrial became moot. The campaign against the pumping station had nothing to do with it, said Boucher. “The decision was based on our company, on our needs, and not having an active project. We decided not to move forward with the project,” he told DeSmog.

The link between financial concerns and opposition may not be so distinct, though.

“It’s an economic decision because it’s costing them too much” to not be pumping oil, said Cameron Fenton, director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC) and a former member of Climate Justice Montreal. During his time in Montreal, he helped organize solidarity actions with the residents of Dunham, and continues to organize against the tar sands and pipeline expansions. “The longer you stall them, the more it costs them.”

And the pumping station project has been stalled for over five years.

If you had asked at the beginning, though, you would have never expected this outcome.

In 2009, it seemed like the battle to keep the pumping station off of undeveloped agricultural land in the heart of Quebec farming territory was over before it had really began. Following consultations in 2008, the CPTA released a 2009 report approving the change in the use of the land, allowing for the pumping station to be built. There was also little popular support in 2008 for the newly formed CED (Dunham Committee for the Environment), said Binette.

People didn’t think it was a big issue – the pipeline was underground, what trouble could it cause? –  explained Binette.

But for a few, the worries about tar sands oil coming through a pipeline built in 1950 was too big a risk. Dunham resident Stéphane Durand filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec, alleging the CPTA had not done its due diligence in reviewing the project, and won. He also won an appeal by the company filed in the Court of Quebec.

Montreal Pipe Line was forced to resubmit their application to the CPTA in 2011. By then, it wasn’t clear when oil would be coming from west to east. Two years later, despite growing pressure to move tar sands oil east, the pumping station is now off the table.

An integral part of keeping the fight going that long, said Binette, was the population of Dunham eventually coming around to their cause. Residents saw the 2010 Enbridge Line 6B leak that spilled over 830,000 gallons of tar sands bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, said Binette. The similarities between Kalamazoo and the eventual pipeline reversal in Dunham – both pipelines were built around 1950, and the Montreal Pipe Line would also carry the more abrasive (and more difficult to clean up) tar sands bitumen – made them realize this kind of accident could happen close to home.

South of the border, where the Kalamazoo spill has echoed even more strongly, organizers are expressing the same reserve as Binette.

“While the pulling of the plug for the building of the pumping station was welcome news to our ears, we are staying the course. Our campaign continues,” wrote 350 Maine‘s Sarah Lachance in an email to DeSmog. “We are well aware of the industry’s determination to bring this poison to market and they are well aware of our determination to stop them.”

Despite the possibly fleeting nature of this win, the CYCC’s Fenton said it is significant because it represents the first victory in the recent wave of protests against pipeline development and the expansion of the tar sands. The fight against the pumping station – and the pipeline reversal by extension – predates the battle against the Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and now Energy East. It shows that victories are possible, he said.

But, it could be a bumpy road ahead. With the Energy East and Line 9 reversal still on its way, Binette said that eventually Montreal could see 1.3 million barrels of oil come to the city per day. And with TransCanada talking about sending their oil to St. John, New Brunswick for refining, he said there’s no doubt that eventually there could be enough oil coming through to re-invigorate the PMPL reversal and bring a new pumping station proposal.

“It buys us some time, but we’re not going to ignore what’s happening – we’re following it closely,”  he said.

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Written by Tim McSorley

August 30, 2013 at 8:17 pm

18th Canadian dies after being shot with Taser

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When will they be banned?

18 people have died after being shocked with Tasers in Canada since 2003 – six of those in the last ten months. The latest? 17-year-old Michael Langan of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on July 22.

From CBC.ca:

Two citizens flagged down police officers about 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, saying they were following someone they had seen stealing property from a vehicle parked in the 1100 block of Notre Dame Avenue.

Officers located a suspect in the area behind a house in the 800 block of William Avenue, near Arlington Street.

The teen was “brandishing a knife,” police said Wednesday, and refused to obey repeated commands to put the weapon down.

“That poses a threat to the officers, that poses a threat to other members of the public, and officers made the decision to deploy the electronic control device to ensure public safety as well as their own safety,” said police spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput.

One officer deployed a Taser. The teen was admitted to hospital in critical condition and died shortly after.

The Winnipeg police commissioner has called the incident tragic and announced an investigation will be carried out by another police force, as is the case with all fatal police incidents. Flagan’s mother, who wasn’t immediately told her son had died, and Amnesty International Canada have called for a moratorium on the weapons.

Taser International, and most police, have continued to argue that the stun guns are non-lethal, with only 1,500 of the possible 50,000 volts from the gun making it into a victims body. Recently, though, the RCMP admitted that the Taser is simply a less-lethal tool, and not necessarily beyond killing an individual, directly or indirectly. The RCMP reviewed it’s policy on Tasers after the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant to Canada who died after being tasered by RCMP officers in the Vancouver airport. Stricter rules now apply to the use of Tasers, but the weapon has not been banned.

Proponents point to 100,000 police officers who have survived volunteer taserings. But most people hit by tasers are not fit, stationary, calm police officers. They are often in agitated states, some with drugs or alcohol in their system. While it may not directly kill people, if it is primarily used on people already in an agitated or stressed state, shouldn’t this be taken into account?

At least some people think so: The Saskatchewan correctional system has announced it would not be arming it’s prison guards with Tasers because large numbers of inmates are in poor enough health that there is a heightened chance they could die.

The Canadian Press has published a list of those who have died in Canada after being shot by a Taser.

Written by Tim McSorley

July 24, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Montrealers get insight on InSite

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In June, the Quebec government quietly announced that it would be pursuing the possibility of setting up a safe injection site in Montreal. Considering the controversy elicited by Vancouver’s safe injection site, InSite, it was surprising that there wasn’t more reaction to it.  It could be that it people didn’t take much notice of the story in the lazy, hazy days of the beginning of the summer, or it could be that people realise, like Health Canada, that harm reduction strategies like InSite work.

While we haven’t heard much more about safe injection sites in Quebec since early June, today Montrealers will have the chance to find out more about how InSite has worked in Vancouver. Today at 6:30 in room 151 Bronfman Building (1001 Sherbrooke Street West) at McGill University, Friends of InSite will be making their Montreal stop in a country-wide tour to dispell myths, drum up support and take questions about safety injection sites. Friend their Facebook event page:

The series will present two powerful speakers who have experience with the implementation of harm reduction approaches. Liz Evans, the executive director and founder of the Portland Hotel Society – the community organization that operates the supervised injection site – will be speaking along with Tony Trimingham, a parent of an addict who died of an overdose and longtime activist for the supervised injection site in King’s Cross, Australia.

They will be reporting on the health care benefits of supervised injection sites, and discussing the implications of the recent BC Supreme Court decision for communities across the country.

Even if Montreal has not seen much debate yet, words continue to fly back and forth over the future of Vancouver’s InSite. Despite a victory at the B.C. Supreme Court, which ruled that Canada’s drug laws – particularly those that outlaw safe injection sites – violate the Charter of Rights by interfering with access to needed medical services. InSite was set to lose it’s exemption from Canadian drug laws on June 30th, but the ruling means that the site will be able to stay open indefinitely. That is, until the federal government comes up with a new law that may simply allow InSite to stay open, or one that runs a circle around the Charter, changing the law just enough to shut InSite down (although I’m not sur ehow that would be accomplished). The court gave the federal government until June 30, 2009, to pass a new law.

As a primer on the debate, Adam Radwanski and Margaret Wente are going back and forth over at the Globe and Mail, with Wente having the advantage of a five-part series on InSite (no prize for guessing which side she is on). To  balance it out, I suggest visiting Eaves.ca and InSite itself. Friends of InSite have also posted this short video by Tony Trimingham:

Written by Tim McSorley

July 15, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Barriere Lake: Canada’s modern colonialism

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With all the hubub over the government’s apology to residential school survivors, it’s easy for many to overlook the fact that colonial atitudes that led to the residential school tragedy are still present today. But for Aboriginal communities across Canada, the reality is all to clear. A strong example is what has been going on in the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake. The residents have been fighting a protracted battle with the Canadian and Quebec governments for nearly 20 years now, primarily over whether the fedral and provincial officials would stick to the terms of a trilateral agreement on resource development in the north-western Quebec community’s territory. It came to a head recently, with the Canadian government, with the help of the Sûreté de Québec, out-right replacing the communities leadership with an unelected body.

Last week on the Lendemain de la veille, a radio show I have been hosting on CKUT 90.3 here in Montreal, I had the chance to speak with Michel Thusky, a resident of Barriere Lake, about the history of the dispute and actions by government officials. Django Doucet, of Solidarity For Barriere Lake, also spoke briefly about the occupation of the Lawrence Canon’s office, who is the MP for the area. The interviews are available here; just scroll ahed to the 30 minute mark. You can read more about the day-long occupation that took place June 26th on Lia Tarachansky’s blog at the Dominion and on Intercontinental Cry.

The ins-and-outs of the situation can get intricate (although the result is pretty clear). To get a good idea of what has been going on in this small community – and why more people need to be speaking out about it – check out The Algonquins of Barriere Lake, a video by a group of Ottawa University law students. It’s 41 minutes long, but definitely worth the watch.

To find out more, visit: http://barrierelakesolidarity.blogspot.com/

Written by Tim McSorley

July 11, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Help! I’m suffocating under my lack of economic freedom

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A gem in today’s La Presse:

Nathalie Elgrably-Levy, fomerly with the Montreal Economic Institute and now with the Fraser Institute, has published a scathing report on the lack of economic freedom in Quebec, ranking it 59th out of 60 in North America (last place went to Prince Edward Island).

What, perchance, is to blame for this stranglehold on my access to the accumulation of capital? According to La Presse:

[L]’interventionnisme étatique, les syndicats puissants, la création de programmes sociaux étendus et de toute une série de droits sociaux.

That’s right: state interventionism, strong unions, extensive social programs and a slew of social rights. Guess it’s time to get rid of them. Then we could be that much closer to the pinnacle of economic perfection: Delaware.

Written by Tim McSorley

July 9, 2008 at 12:11 pm

G8 eats their way through food crisis

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After disappearing from the frontpages of our newspapers, the food crisis – which never really went away – is making headlines again, if only because the bigwigs at the G8 are talking about it over eighteen course meals and driving around in fleets of hybrid cars during their latest summit in Japan. Whether or not anything truly relevant comes out of this meeting is yet to be seen. And anything short of revamping how international trade forces markets, allowing multinationals to devastate any semblance of a self-sustaining agricultural system probably won’t do much to change the long term impact.

But luckily there is more going on than the G8 meeting: A variety of culprits for the food crisis have been pointed to – rising oil prices and increasing levels of meat consumption are just two. But last week The Guardian revealed a World Trade Organization report that places the blame squarely on the explosion of the biofuel market. The report finds that 75 per cent of the increase in the prices of staples such as wheat and rice is directly (through the increasing use of grain for biofuels) or indirectly (due to heavy speculation in the grain markets, driving up prices, and the reduced amount of land being used to grow food crops) due to the growing use of biofuels. The article also claims that the reason the report was kept secret was to avoid embarassing the U.S. which has claimed that biofuels account for only three per cent of the increase.

On another note, it seems that whenever I talk with people about the food crisis there’s a question that keep comes up that we can’t seem to answer: if the price of crops is going up – especially if the increase is due to market specualtion – aren’t famers in devloping countries reaping the benefits and making more money themselves. Sarah McGregor looks at this issue over on Inter Press News, and the answer is astonishingly simple: increasing costs for fuel, machinery parts and to buy food for themselves are essentially eating away any additional profits. Some are worrying that farmers may actually be making less than they were before food prices soared.

So who’s actually winning out on these high prices? According to the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of pinko-commie conspiracy theorists: large agribusiness.

Written by Tim McSorley

July 9, 2008 at 10:00 am

Back at it

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The frenzy of moving is done, so I should be back to posting a bit more regularly again. I’ve got some catching up to do on some stories I’ve missed the past little while… In the meantime, go read the latest issue of The Dominion, fresh off the presses!

Written by Tim McSorley

July 7, 2008 at 1:35 pm

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