The 800k Protest

While some may have spent their holidays bundled up inside, Rachel Thevenard, a second-year knowledge integration student at UW, was out running the length of Enbridge&rsquo;s Line 9 pipeline. The pipeline runs roughly 800 kilometres from Sarnia to Montreal, and transports 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of bitumen and crude oil.&nbsp;</p>

 According to Thevenard, the pipeline violated Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which provides protection to the Aboriginals’ right to land, when it failed to gain the consent of 18 First Nations people on or near the route of the pipe. The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation are in the process of fundraising for an appeal to the Supreme Court to repeal the approval. 

“The Chippewas of the Thames should not have to ask for their basic constitutional rights in court,” Thevenard said. 

Having first heard about the pipeline in 2011, Thevenard never expected it to be approved.  According to Thevenard,  in addition to the failure to obtain the First Nations’ consent, aspects of the pipe such as its age, increase in transportation capacity from 240,000 bpd to 300,000 bpd, as well as the dangerous nature of bitumen and its transportation techniques, could lead to a “guaranteed spill that could permanently contaminate the Great Lakes. Plus, it would expand the tar sands, and encourage building a bitumen refinery in Chemical Valley, where the Aamjiwnaang First Nation is.”

In response to this, she decided to run.

“Running is something that I feel is very natural to my body. This pipeline is not natural. The tar sands are not natural. A pipeline expert has calculated that this pipeline has an over 90 per cent chance of rupture in the first five years. This is not something we need to survive. We are brainwashed to think we need oil, but alternatives are available, and we must use them.”

After completing the run Jan. 6, 2016, having started  Dec. 5, 2015, Thevenard described feelings of accomplishment and gratefulness to the organizers of the rally. 

The most challenging aspect for her, though, was learning that Line 9 goes under schools, houses, farmland, habitats, Finch Station in Toronto, and other infrastructure. 

“I ran 30 km with a reporter from NOW Toronto, and he had me going over fences and on train tracks. I was crossing the Rouge River on the train tracks in the dark, holding onto this metal wire that is your only support when you cross this bridge that is literally just the train tracks on stilts,” Thevenard said.

Regarding the future of the protest, she is “hoping those who are part of the illegal occupying force that is Canada learn about the treaties.” She wants to see Line 9 decommissioned, taken out of the ground, and have the land remediated. 

Regarding Enbridge’s statements that their top priority as a company is the safety of the public and the environment, Thevenard pointed to a previous project, Line 6B in Michigan, which showed similarities to Line 9 in terms of age, size, and type of pipe. It consisted of a 40-year-old, 30-inch pipeline designed to carry conventional oil, which was switched to carry crude from tar sands, and resulted in the largest inland spill in North America.

Enbridge stated, “[Line 9] will protect the future of Canadian refineries, safeguard jobs, and benefit Canada’s economy as a whole.”

Thevenard is not convinced. 

“Humans cannot survive at the rate of extraction. The tar sands must stay in the ground, and we must use less and alternatives to oil. These refineries, jobs, and ‘benefits’ only bring … destruction to predominantly Indigenous communities until we realize we can’t eat money and our children can’t eat money,” she said.